In what appears to be a test among some users, Twitter is adding “Top News” and “Top People” results at the top of its realtime search results. When you search for a hot story like “gmail” (which came out with a buggy iPhone app today) or even “Humanoid” (a new startup I just wrote about), you will see a highlighted boxed result with a link to a top news story along with a thumbnail image from that article or blog post. Similarly, a search for anyone who is Twitter-famous will turn up a “Top People” result with their Twitter profile picture and a link to their stream. Update: a search for “twitter” turns up this post right now.
Again this is an experiment only a small percentage of users can see. I first noticed this earlier today, and I thought it was a paid search ad. But it is actually a way to help users discover the most popular content and people. Presumably, the Top News items are based on retweets and some sort of whitelist Twitter keeps for news sources. Although it seems like the Top News story sometimes rotates to another source if you repeat your search.
Either way, this is a smart move because publishers are going to see a lot more traffic from Twitter if they manage to get their stories in that top slot on Twitter search. The fact that Twitter is testing this with news results shows how focussed it is on becoming the messaging bus for all media.
Beyond news, there’s a business model right there: charge for those top slots just like Google does for paid search. I hope we never see Top News as a paid product (that would result in the worst stories from the most desperate news sites and blogs paying their way to get to the top of search results), but it is not too hard to imagine paid results for searches with commercial intent like “shoes” or “cameras.”