When you spend most of your day using, looking at, or thinking about Google, it's easy to come down with the dreaded disease of tunnel vision.
Google dominates the search space, they have the most complicated algorithm, they can make or break your rankings in a single update. So naturally we spend a lot of time obsessing about them
But every now and then I like to take a step back and watch "normal" people (read as: people not obsessed with Google) use the internet. It helps me keep some semblance of perspective and has more than once alerted me to emerging trends. You see, when people like my mom start forwarding around one of Oatmeal's comics you know he's pretty much made it.
During one of these recent observation periods, I noticed an interesting trend that I think Google should be worried about.
Among my somewhat internet savvy friends (which basically means they use FireFox & know it's cool to make fun of IE) Google suddenly has a challenger as the first place to turn… Twitter
On several occasions, when faced with a question their first instinct was to tweet it, not search for an answer in Google.
When I asked one of my friends about it, he responded simply, "Why sort through the results when Twitter already knows the answer?"
Now sure, this means my friend probably deserves to be pointed to this site, but it also means that Google could have a bit of a problem on it's hands. As I began to consider the issue a bit more, I realized that I've made the switch in my own behavior as well.
When I have a question about PHP, I tweet it. When I want to know whether the latest blockbuster movie was worth watching, I tweet it.
If you think about it, that sort of makes sense. Why trust an algorithm, or the random people who's sites the algorithm points you to, when you already have a gathering of people you trust selected on Twitter?
And when you realize that the alternative to Twitter is a SERP full of Yahoo Answer clones that may or may not actually have a useful answer for you, the burgeoning habit of turning to Twitter is only reinforced.
We're social creatures. We like to interact with each other. Almost everyone I know would rather ask the person next to them how to spell a word rather than looking it up in the dictionary. And unfortunately for Google, that social dynamic is lacking in their search engine results.
Examining Google's recent changes and releases suggest they're aware of this limitation. They're personalizing their search results to try and show more sites you're familiar with. They're integrating your social circle into their result pages. Google's even incorporated real-time Twitter results for popular topics! Unfortunately for Google my (admittedly anecdotal) evidence doesn't seem to suggest many people are using these new social features.
Twitter on the other hand is busy making it easier for us to connect to more and more people. They're making it easier to track conversation topics, not just the people you're following.
Don't get me wrong, this post isn't a proclamation of Google's imminent death or Twitters ascension to the throne of the internet. But as long as people prefer to interact with people they know rather than an automated math equation, Google should fear Twitter and what it could become.