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Jackson death highlights Twitter power – for good and bad!

Henry Elliss
Henry Elliss
Managing Director
30 June 2009

Like most people my age, I was very saddened to hear about Michael Jackson‘s death last week. And like most people of my technological inclination, I first heard the news through Twitter. Actually, to be fair I *first* heard it through a text message from my brother – but his message was pointing me towards Twitter anyway, and it was the next step in my morning Blackberry-round-up, so I’m giving the points to Twitter here. Anyway, I digress…

twit-trendsReading through Tanya’s post “The Internet is not dead… and neither is Jeff Goldblum” just now, it reminded me of how well Twitter served me as a web user last Friday – and how let-down I felt by Google and Google News.

After the tip-off from my brother, I headed straight over to Twitter – and whilst I couldn’t see the “Trending Topics” panel on my blackberry, a quick scan through my feed of the 350-odd people I follow quickly confirmed the news for me. Oddly, I then decided to have a quick check on Google for verification – but disappointingly, on Friday morning (UK time) over 8 hours after the news broke, Google News was giving me very little of any substance. Whilst this isn’t necessarily Google’s “fault” as such (they rely on their news sources to report the news), it shows a real hole in Google’s search coverage.

When I eventually got to a PC, Twitter fed my need for information on the subject brilliantly – through posts from a mixture of industry insiders and regular folk, I was able to find all the latest on the (very sad) subject at hand – with the added bonus (?) of finding out a huge number of people’s opinions on the subject at the same time. I certainly can’t get that on a regular search engine, at least not yet.

142289861Google on the other hand once again showed how much they need to work on user-intent recognition. As Danny Sullivan points out in his post on Search Engine Land (after a tip-off from yours truly), Google weren’t returning particularly useful “added” value results at the top of the page less than 24 hours after the event… (see left!)

This highlights an issue that Google must surely have close to their hearts at the moment – they just don’t do real-time search very well. The growth of sites like Twitter is only serving to reinforce this, and it’s something that they’ve got to fix very quickly. As a searcher, I’ve all but given up on Google for any emotion or opinion-based searches – as I mentioned recently (though I can’t remember where!), if I want to know where to eat in New York, or whether or not to upgrade to the new iPhone, Twitter gives me a much better response than Google currently can. Whilst this isn’t going to be having a massive effect on Google’s market share at the moment, if they don’t start adapting to the changing needs of searchers, they could find themselves on the back foot for the first time in a long time.

Of course as Tanya also mentions in her post, Twitter also nicely demonstrated the dark-side of social media for information sharing – both Jeff Goldblum and Rick Astley will have found themselves digitally killed-off in the days since Jackson’s death, thanks mainly to two pieces of false reporting which got picked up and spread in exactly the same was as the Jackson news. Both have since been confirmed to be alive and well, but it’s always worth remembering how you have to check multiple sources before knowing something for certain – perhaps Twitter and Google could find a way to work together in harmony for that very reason?

P.S. If you haven’t seen it already, check out the Twitter-tribute to MJ at Billie Tweets – it’s brilliant!

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