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Published October 22nd 2015

Industry Opinion: Twitter – The Ultimate Discovery Engine?

Recent weeks have seen yet further discussion about the future of Twitter – and by extension its true monetary value, and how it can set about realizing its undoubted potential.

The network has seen user figures plateau at around the 300 million mark, and there’s a growing nervousness that it still doesn’t quite know how to monetize its reach without alienating its users, or disrupting the UX.

A USA Today piece earlier this week on the conundrum fell into the same trap others have by saying Twitter is failing as a news channel, and that it is undermined by the heavily-weighted proportion of power-user journalists creating an echo-chamber effect.

This both amplifies the news element, and makes the issues the platform experiences an unnaturally high topic of media conversation.

This misses the point.

Yes, news is certainly part of the role Twitter has to play, but I think we often forget a critical factor in how Twitter functions and one of the most interesting, fascinating parts of being part of it. Discovery.

Twitter certainly seems to have sat up and taken notice, through the mooted roll-out of ‘Moments’, a curated feed made up of trends and events integrated with material from global media partners, and potentially an editorial team. It now needs the chance to realize the idea.

It’s a great opportunity, and reinforces the curation/discovery aspect of Twitter setting it apart from so many challengers.

Search versus discovery

If we consider Google a search engine, in that you find what you seek; then Twitter is perhaps the ultimate discovery engine – you find what’s presented and curated by those you follow.

I love Twitter for this very reason – it could be argued it’s a publisher in its own right.

You never know what you might stumble across next, provided you have the right people and accounts in your feed.

Some of the best things I’ve ever seen have come through Twitter, such as the Thomas the Tank Engine and Tupac mash-up (NSFW), a teacher getting pwned by a student in a rap battle, and a dog that’s afraid of Julia Roberts.


Things I’d never think to search for, because I wouldn’t know they exist.

None of the material coming down through your feed has been actively searched for by you (hashtags aside, of course), but is of interest by proxy – if it’s presented by someone you like, enjoy talking to, and who is a constant source of intriguing links, then chances are when they tweet “now THIS is great…” you’ll click through.

Right now, there’s no semantic search engine which is really pushing content to us accurately and reliably – some tried, but no-one’s nailed it – and so we’re still very search rather than discovery led.

Taken en masse, Twitter is less a social platform and more a content publisher. Something the company could monetize, surely.

Chris is a regular contributor to the Brandwatch Blog. Find out more about Grayling by clicking here.

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