Twitter: We Can Do What Google Can't

Venture Capital Backer Says Search Is Reason It Walked Away From Facebook Deal

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Twitter sees lucrative opportunities in search, albeit a different kind of search than what Google offers, and, as co-founder Biz Stone told Ad Age recently, "we'll certainly be exploring those."

It's because of the potential it sees in search that the Twitter co-founders walked away from a $500 million offer from Facebook -- not just the terms of the deal, said Todd Chaffee, an Institutional Venture Partners general partner and a new Twitter backer. He said contrary to some reports, Facebook offered not just stock but substantial cash in the deal.

Twitter's search engine, purchased with the acquisition of Summize last summer, bills itself as a search of "what's happening -- right now," and in Twitter's small but growing world, it is.

While being a searchable database of what is being said at a particular time is unique, it doesn't take Twitter too far afield from Google, which is a catalog of the world's recorded knowledge. Google looks back at what documents have been produced and can be surfaced, while Twitter looks back at what was said on a given topic.

Certainly there's an AdWords-like business there, but, as Mr. Chaffee told us, Twitter has another "wild card."

In the future, searches won't only query what's being said at the moment, but will go out to the Twitter audience in the form of a question, like a faster and less-filtered Yahoo Answers or Wiki Answers. Users would be able to tap the collective knowledge of the 6 million or so members of the Twitterverse.

"You put a question out to the global mind, and it comes back," Mr. Chaffee explained. "Millions of people are contributing to the knowledge base. The engine is alive. You get feedback in real time from people, not just documents."

Here's how it might work: Someone posts a query on, say, the best basketball shows (is @The_Real_Shaq listening?), or what to look for in a single-malt Scotch, or where to have a drink at 6 p.m. in New Orleans. Then the Twitter community (hopefully) comes back with useful links or other information.

It's the difference between asking the Twitter community where to go for drink after work and searching for any relevant tweets about a bar in New Orleans, which you can do now, and which may or may not yield relevant tweets.

Twitter users who make themselves useful have the added incentive of attracting more followers to their feeds. Like AdWords, this really only works if there's scale, and of the active Twitterverse transcends over-sharing journalists and social media "experts."

But it's one reason Twitter's founders and backers who have ploughed $55 million into the company: They believe the best of Twitter is yet to come.

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