Infographic Of The Day: How Twitter Exposes Google's Limits

People outsource questions to Twitter all the time. And what they ask reveals much about the shortcomings of search.

Can anyone suggest a good couch for under $1,500? Are French Bulldogs too much maintenance?

If you use Twitter at all, you've probably seen plenty of people lobbing questions to their followers-- when they could have easily just gone to Google and searched for the answer.

This habit actually has its own hashtag, #lazyweb, and InboxQ and Column Five Media created an infographic laying out exactly the types of questions people tweet out when they're too lazy to search. But it reveals a lot more than the depth of people's laziness -- it also betrays the types of things that current search technology just doesn't find very well.

First, a bit about the #lazyweb hashtag: Its use peaked around 2008, and since then it's a pretty muted phenomenon, garnering about 50 questions a day. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the hashtag is insignificant -- without it, imagine how hard it would be to find the questions that people ask on Twitter specifically when they're too lazy to do their own research.

lazyweb-top

Things get interesting once you drill down into the actual questions that people ask. Programming apparently is quite popular, as is technical support. Recommendations follow close behind that: for products, local businesses, and web services:

Lazyweb

These are the types of questions that the human mind is still better at answering than a computer -- situations where context, personal taste, and semantics play a big role. Step back, and you realize that there are dozens of huge startups vying to create work-arounds for this search problem: Websites from Gilt.com to Svpply.com are trying to reinvent the shopping experience with curated experiences, thus doing much of the work of a search engine. Yelp, of course, helps you find businesses using the filter of consumer ratings.

But none of these services is all that good at searching out something specific; you have to sift through pages upon pages of information to find what you're looking for. I'd wager that there's got to be an easier way: A type of searching format that would do to Google in 2011 what Google did to Alta Vista in 1999. You'll notice that Google is inching toward an answer with its new image search features. And that same idea of improving search is what lies behind many of the attempts to use social networks to filter information, whether it's news or music.

These all feel relatively provisional, and they still don't work as well as a question posed to your Twitter followers. If I was a VC in the Valley looking to find Google 2.0, that's the user experience I'd be piggybacking off of and trying to refine -- and not all this stuff using algorithms, social networks, and "people like you." Long live #lazyweb.

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5 Comments

  • jmacofearth

    I believe there is a #lazyweb and thanks for sharing this infographic. I think however there is another, more powerful, reason people throw questions into the Twitterverse. To connect. Even as slim as the connection might be, sometimes the results can be astounding.

    I wrote a post about it called, "Social Media is More Fun Than Googling It."
    Thanks again for the thoughtful post.

    @jmacofearth

  • Mike Sullivan

    I propose a followup Infographic: "How Special Olympics Exposes Olympics' Limits." 

    This all reminds me of people from ~Omaha,  or desperate PR flacks pretending to be ~Omahans, who email pop culture inquiries to Sunday supplements ("Brad Pitt is my favorite actor; does he have anything coming up?" or "Michele Bachmann is so interesting and her story so compelling; where is she from?") but don't seem capable of turning on their computing machinery.

  • Travis Stiles

    #lazyweb is part of it, but, as you note, I'd propose it's something like the #humancuratedweb that's prompting these requests. What's more motivational, a fairly impersonal google search leading to diggin in to reviews by distant strangers, or a quick request to my somewhat nearer friends and strangers on twitter? The social network layer and behavioral patterning) is the Google 2.0 - adding my friends thoughts and preferences to my search.

    But again, as Netflix seems to have discovered, my friends preferences aren't necessarily mine - better recommendations are based on my actual behaviors and contextual goals.

    Cool stuff, great graphic! Thanks for sharing.

  • Al Stevens

    Have been thinking about this recently and until a Google 2.0 think 'asking twitter' could become on of the most effective uses of twitter for marketing/customer aquisition. For example when a user tweets 'Whats a good scanner printer combo?' - thats a perfect opportunity for a white goods retailer to start a conversation with the customer. Nothing new there - just a new channel for customer service - but at the same time marks an important shift of bringing the content to the user, rather than the user having to get out there and find the content.