In its battle for success, Twitter just made what looks like a minor change, but it could actually transform the lifecasting networking site in terms of increased relevance, and also turn it into a very powerful tool. The microblogging service added "search" and "trending topics" boxes to everyone's homepage.
Doesn't sound like a big move does it—especially since the facility was available before, just tucked way down on the bottom of the page in tiny text. While the change is subtle, it adds a whole new dimension to Twitter.
Before Twitter was merely an easy way to keep in touch with your friends, learn interesting facts from politicians, Silicon Valley types, or maybe even to find out amusing trivia, follow what your fave celebrity is up to and promote interesting stories on the Web. But remember: Twitter has a life blood in the millions upon millions of users who pour information into it on a per-second basis. That information may be trivial, incorrect, or nonsensical—but it also contains real gems of "live" information. And the general topics that people are talking about, in a hive-mind style, also reveal what's going on in the world.
All of this information is now available, live, in real-time, via every Twitterer's home page. It's a speedy, socially-relevant search engine that surpasses Google, in some ways. Want to find out what people think about a movie, and even chat to them about it? Just search for the movie's title, and respond to the Tweets. Want to see if traffic is bad on the freeway? Search and see if anyone is twittering from a traffic jam. The other day we covered how swine flu news is being spread via Twitter—as I write this swine flu is still the number two and three "trending topic". But "happy may day" is number one, with much of Europe on public holiday. And the new X-Men movie Wolverine is number four. And that's just as I type—the list has changed already.
This new information is useful for every Twitterer, and also has massive potential for sociologists, psychologists and social-network analysts who want to investigate different aspects of public thought in real-time. It may even be useful to marketing types who want to figure out how to best spread their latest advert most efficiently.
On its quest for ways to make money, I suspect Twitter has just taken a very positive step.