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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

October 21, 2009 at 1:30 PM

Bing+Twitter = search clutter

Good for Twitter that it persuaded Microsoft to give the latter’s high profile Bing search engine a dedicated Twitter search feature at www.bing.com/twitter.

Will it be the best partnership/traffic deal ever made by a startup?

It’s a coup for a young company whose service often fails and whose users tend to drift away after trying it out.

The deal also gives Bing points among people who think Twitter is groovy, namely the crowd at the Web 2.0 conference where the deal was being announced.

More and fresher Web info is better when it comes to search engines. Google also plans to add Twitter info to its results “in the coming months,” Vice President Marissa Mayer said on the company’s blog.

But I doubt average Web users will make it a part of their search routine. They’ll probably decide Bing’s a mess if they accidentally stumble into the Twitter zone.

I say this after a quick tryout of the beta version of Bing.com/twitter — Twing? — that’s now live.

When you click on a topic, like Balloon Boy, you get a handful of tweets culled by Bing. You can click through to get a duplication of Twitter’s message stream on a particular topic, displayed at Bing.

Then there’s a list of “top links shared in Tweets,” grouped by the primary source of information Twitterers are referring to in their messages.

These top links highlight a limitation of Twitter as an information source. It can be fun and handy for seeing at a glance what people who choose to use Twitter are choosing to point out. But it’s not really a magical real-time glimpse into what people are thinking — like blogs but quicker and shorter! — as the Twitter frenzy suggests. (For that, you have to act like federal spies and plug supercomputers into phone networks on the sly.)

This is painfully clear when Bing sorts and presents the “top links shared in Tweets.” It shows clusters of people saying “look at this article” and linking to the same small group of stories.

It’s hard to tell which story is better because the tweeting activity isn’t quantified. The first layer of search results gives you the source and two tweets pointing to it. If the search results work.

Here’s what you get clicking on “fail whale,” one of the hot Twitter topics Bing called out:

bingtwit1.JPG

Here’s my sighting of an actual fail whale at Bing:

twitfail.JPG

In addition to encrusting the actual news source with useless links from Twitter, the tweets and their shorthand style look awful and confusing when displayed alongside normal search results.

Isn’t this what Bing was supposed to get away from, as a “decision engine” that returns more focused results and less digital detritus?

Will Google find a cleaner way to handle Twitter? Will tweets clutter services with multiple useless entries on the same topic? It may be a boon for search marketers if they can use Twitter to goose search results by flooding the Web with tweets and retweets.

It’s nice that Bing translates the shortened URLs used in Twitter, so you know that http://www.bit.ly/ABLwE will take you to Mashable.com. But you can’t click on the original source Bing displays within the tweet listing. You’ve got to take a circuitous trip around the Web, clicking through the URL shortening service linked to Twitter to get to Mashable.

Does this triple the carbon footprint of your Web search? You get to use three data centers instead of one to get the same information.

Welcome to Web 3.0.

Comments | Topics: bing, Microsoft, twitter

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