A-ha moments often come when the conventional method lets you down and you need to try something new. That happened on Saturday when Gmail was unavailable to me for over an hour. The outage was long enough for me to have to set up a Yahoo Mail account to send an urgent email. I also used Basecamp to communicate with my ReadWriteWeb colleagues; through that, I learned that Gmail was fine for them. So I started my research online to see what was happening. Of course I started my search with Google, which was not of much use. Then I tried Twitter.
Google Search for "Gmail Down" Was Not Helpful
One of the queries I used on Google was "Gmail outage," but "Gmail down" is how most people report problems. You can see past problems reported on blogs and media sites. We have covered the subject before on ReadWriteWeb, and ideally we don't want to focus on failures of Gmail or the cloud.
Twitter Search Scores
Searching "Gmail down" on Twitter gave me much more useful data. And you can see the data in real time (using the layman's version of the query). When I searched, I saw results that were minutes old. But I looked further and got past 36 pages before I stopped.
Twitter is simply a better medium in which to report that "Gmail is down." It takes just a few seconds, and it is clearly not worth going through the trouble of blogging about it.
Twitter search does not have any built-in latency. Google has to index a page before you can search it. A little-known page that has just been updated will get missed. Twitter gives its results to you raw (not filtered by popularity) and immediately.
What was even more powerful was getting replies from people I don't know who had the same problem, or variations of the problem. It was like an instant uber-forum.
Is This an Isolated Case?
Was this just a fluke, an isolated case? Most of the "Twitter-is-useful" stories have centered on the social networking angle: people you know telling you where to get a great cup of coffee in a new city, for example. What was interesting about my usage was that the results did not come from my contacts. It was just like using Google search, but better.
Of course, this does not mean that Twitter search will replace Google. But this is the first time that I have used an alternative to Google for a general search term and found the alternative to be substantively, immediately better. That seems significant.
Is This Where Twitter's Elusive Revenue Lurks?
Most of the commentary on our Help Twitter Find A Revenue Model post focuses on the social aspects of Twitter and uses those as the basis of a revenue model. Those models, though, mostly feel like an intrusion on Twitter's primary function.
But is there potential in search?