Why Google Failed to Create Twitter: Because Google is Too Good at Being Google

Shel Israel says Twitter has gone through a wormhole (a much better phrase than breakthrough which ought to be included in every buzzword bingo). Twitter now owns a proprietary tweeting platform, holds developer conferences, and claims its archive should be part of the U.S. Library of Congress. The last item means that when U.S. scholars and policy makers need reference materials on the cultural impact of the strategic alliance between North America and Asia, they can look upon my tweets such as: A Taiwanese singer is covering Bette Midler’s From a Distance. He picked a bad song (good choice) and made it worse (even better).

But the biggest, least surprising yet most ironic part of Twitter’s selling out breakthrough wormthrough is that Google is going to add zillions of tweets to their ever-expanding search base.

The world's largest search company has announced it will make the Twitter archives searchable online and apparently has exclusive rights for now. There will be a six-month time lag before you can do this so searches will be historic rather than for finding out who became mayor of your local pizza joint yesterday.

It is big news, no doubt—considering how rare it is to hear positive news when Google singles out an organization. And it’s no news too, no doubt—considering making everything searchable is Google’s mission.

But why does it sound so ironic? Because Twitter established itself as the king of social media, a position Google failed to achieve not once but twice, with Wave and Buzz. I know, both Wave and Buzz are alive, but nobody believes that Twitter or the other king of social media, FaceBook, will be ousted by them. What Google really wanted was to NOT announce anything about making social media searchable, because everybody—in Google’s wet dream—knows that Wave and Buzz store all records.

The reason Wave and Buzz failed to attract users is obvious. Nobody, even Google employees, couldn’t describe their usage in the context of existing communication tools. What problem do these services fix? What desire do they fill? We still don’t know. (On a totally different subject which might become a separate blog entry, I think Apple’s iPad might fall into the same pitfall.)

Twitter, on the other hand, did fill our desire—one we didn’t know existed: Talk.

It’s not talk with, something that requires a partner. It’s not talk to, something that requires an audience. Just talk. Talk about interesting stuff, our private life, anything.

Unlike blog platforms which force us to “rationalize” our thinking through writing, Twitter allows us to just speak our raw thoughts. Most of our little speeches fade away in 3 seconds among the streams of tweets with hardly any attention paid to them, just like a single character in the green stream of letters in The Matrix. That’s fine. In fact, fading away is exactly what makes tweets special. Tweeting is essentially intellectual excretion. Get these thoughts out…there, I feel much better.

Google does not get that point. For Google, every piece of information must be (1) searchable and (2) a means to an end. In Google’s eyes, we do everything with a purpose, and even non-purpose is a type of purpose, therefore it must also be organized and referenced. Google never gets rid of ideas; it always stores them. Eternal storing might work for computers, but not for humans.

I admire Google because it serves the role nobody wants to take: the ultimate librarian. And the problem is that Google has become too good at doing its job. We rely on our librarians to learn about communication, but do we rely on them as communicators?