Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Just How Much Search Share Does Twitter Really Have?

Twitter notched yet another milestone yesterday when it finally showed up on comScore’s index of Web search milestones. The catch: It barely registered, pulling down a search share of just 0.001 percent.

ComScore says Twitter logged 30.1 million search queries in May, more than Time Warner Cable (TWC), but not even on the same playing field as search also-rans like Ask.com.

But what if comScore is dramatically undercounting Twitter’s search–not just the standard undercounting that Web publishers always complain about, but something more significant?

It’s a given that comScore is undercounting. I know this because the research outfit told me so: The company confirmed today that it only measures searches executed at Twitter.com. But at least half of Twitter’s users are accessing the service without visiting the site, via third-party clients like Tweetdeck. And within that group of users is the power-user set, which is far more likely to be executing searches, many times a day in some cases, than Oprah fans who just joined the service last month.

So it’s easy enough to conclude that the majority of Twitter’s searches are going uncounted by comScore (SCOR). But how big is the gap? I’ve asked Twitter to share its search numbers, but I’m not holding my breath on that one. (UPDATE: See bottom of post)

In the meantime, let’s do some guesstimating.

Start with this year-old post by John Borthwick of Betaworks, who at the time was an investor in Summize, a Twitter search engine at the time (Twitter later bought Summize outright).

Borthwick reports seeing a huge number of search queries on Twitter on the opening day of Apple’s (AAPL) 2008 developer conference, topping out at an average of 190 queries per second. Tease that out over a full day, and you get 16.4 million searches in 24 hours.

For argument’s sake, let’s say that most of those searches occurred in an eight-hour stretch before, during and after Steve Jobs’s pronouncements that day, and knock that total down by two-thirds, to something like 5.5 million queries.

Steve Jobs pronouncements are rare things so it would be wrong to assume that Twitter sees similar usage patterns every day. But then again, Twitter has had an insane growth spurt in the last year: The most recent comScore traffic numbers peg monthly visitors at 32 million world-wide, up from a couple million a year ago.

See where this is going? Again, for argument’s sake, let’s say that Twitter’s peak traffic a year ago is now close to daily traffic today, and extrapolate that 5.5 million query guesstimate out for a month: You get something closer to 165 million queries.

Want to tweak any of my assumptions above? Be my guest. But no matter how you cut it, I’m sure that Twitter’s real search numbers are going to be several times higher than comScore’s number, at the very least.

Again, this matters in the end because Twitter’s most compelling investment thesis is that it can provide real-time search. And for that to mean something, the company is going to have to start registering as an actual search competitor at some point, not just to Time Warner Cable but to Yahoo (YHOO), Microsoft (MSFT) or even Google (GOOG). So how close, or far away, is that from happening?

UPDATE: Twitter cofounder Biz Stone responds, but declines to hand out any numbers. No surprise. I am a bit surprised to see him play down the importance of search at Twitter. I wonder if his investors are also surprised.

We don’t share absolute data such as total requests or queries per day but we do look at the whole ecosystem when we measure these things (not just Twitter.com).

Also, we are focused on the sharing and discovery of tweets so comparing Twitter to web search is interesting but not necessarily how we would measure success.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald