Something seems to have happened to Twitter Search in the last month that, to my mind, is incredibly important. However, I haven’t seen any attention given to it within the broader social media converstaion – especially from the likes of @SteveRubel – an avid Twitter watcher and advocate of social search. I know I have been tardy in keeping tabs on Twitter and my RSS feeds of late – but I can’t believe that I have missed this whole conversation. Perhaps I am going mad, but surely I am not the only one who has spotted / is concerned about this.
What is it? It is the fact that Twitter Search (and therefore all the other services that rely on it) now only seems to reach back a few days. Go back further and individual tweets may still live in the accounts of those who who created them, but a conversation thread and, critically, a tagspace, have vanished from the digital record.
Twitter (or things Twitterlike) is the first real example of what is going to become a hugely important shift – the ability to create and connect information that is totally separated from a means of distribution (the end of the destination web and the whole concept of the Open Web as Rubel himself has already highlighted). A tag, for example, can live across any current and future network and distribution or publication tool. It lives only in search – this is its power – a point I have made before. Yet now (as far as Twitter tags are concerned) we can’t search it.
Twitter may be a real time conversational tool and therefore you could say its archive is relatively unimportant. How often, after all, do you really search back a Twitter thread for more than just a day or so? To think this is to misunderstand the nature and opportunity of Twitter as well as to misunderstand social media as a whole. One of the defining characteristics of social media content is its gravitational quality. The ability to be “out there” and be available to draw attention to itself over time is critical to the functioning of the social media ecosystem. It is one of the keys to social media functioning as a process rather than an institution. What is the point in using a Twitter tag to create conversational spaces (as I am advising organisations to do) if that space effectively dies after a few days? The content may still exist but the ability to aggregate it and give it meaning vanishes.
Twitter is already being talked about as the new RSS – but imagine a situation where all the content of your feeds got wiped every few days.
Now I can see why Twitter might be doing this. Twitter’s problem is that it is a space, not a place. And it hasn’t worked out a business model that allows you to make money from creating spaces rather than places. Twitter Search is essentially a service that encourages the space, rather than place, functionality of Twitter. But the future for Twitter lies in its ability to recognise that it is much more than just a transient real time medium. If it fails to understand its role as an infrastructure, rather than piece of digital real estate – and monetize itself accordingly – it will ultimately fail. This is because someone else will come along who understand this opportunity and kick Twitter into the long grass.
So – am I right? Is this important? Should we be pushing this as an issue? Should we create a “give us back our Twitter archive” campaign? The fact that no-one seems to have kicked up a fuss thus far indicates that I may be well off-the-mark on this one. But I’m stumped if I can see why.