Whenever you want to take a reading of the current zeitgeist, popular search terms can tell you a lot about what’s on people’s minds. Right now, for instance, the hottest search terms on Google Trends include “lakewood police shooting,” “tiger woods mistress,” “surviving Christmas,” and “cyber monday 2009 deals.” If you look at Trending Topics on Twitter, however, you’ll see “#isitme,” “Google Wave,” and “Soul Train Awards.” I suspect only the last one might make it as a trending search term.
The overlap between trending search terms and Tweets is remarkably low (even if Twitter itself is a popular search term). A couple weeks ago I was moderating a realtime search panel when Vik Singh (the engineer behind Yahoo Boss, soon to be an EIR at Sutter Hill Ventures) declared that only 2 percent of all Tweets match trending search terms.
His stats came from an analysis of 10 million Tweets he crawled last summer. He looked at all Tweets, not just trending topics. When he stripped out the non-essential words, he found that the average Tweet consists of 6.28 terms, or the equivalent of a really good search query. But there is not much overlap between what people are Tweeting about and what the general population is searching for. Maybe that is because people tend to search for what they don’t know, whereas they Tweet about what they do know or think they know. Or maybe it’s just because people on Twitter are not normal.
Some other data Singh found:
- Percentage of Tweets with URLS: ~18%
- (Percentage of those which were unique URLs: ~65%)
- Percentage of messages @replies or other @x terms: ~37%
- Percentage of messages with #hashtags: ~7%
- Percentage of messages with retweets: ~1%
Again, this data is based on a crawl of 10 million Tweets, but those Tweets were from the end of July, which was way before Twitter made retweets an official feature of the service. So I’d be surprised if the retweet rate is still so low. There are also a lot more people on Twitter now, so maybe the subject of people’s Tweets now overlaps with search trends more than the 2 percent Singh found. It would be illuminating if someone ran the same analysis today. Until Twitter becomes a daily habit for everyone on the Web (not just tech-heads and other early adopters), Tweets will not reflect the general zeitgeist.
But it does already reflect the zeitgeist of the people you care about and follow. And maybe in the end that is all that matters.