Cited as “amazing” by the master of hype, TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington, it’s…Topsy: “The first index is based exclusively on Twitter statuses and the wonderful people who write them.” Apparently they have been in stealth mode for three years!
I’ve only played around with it a little, but I think I have a feel for the quality. It’s hardly amazing (sorry, Mike), but it’s not embarassingly bad either–especially if they really are only relying on Twitter rather than crawling and indexing the web. If that is the case, then they have certainly made the case that it is possible to build a serviceable search engine using only the social stream, and that is an impressive proof point.
Moreover, Topsy is taking an approach that Google (and web search engines in general), neglect at their peril: treating people as first-class objects. For example, a search for exploratory search returns a list of Twitter users, many of which should be familiar to readers here. They also have pages associated with Twitter users, like this one.
I see Topsy as a very early proof of concept–I can’t imagine anyone relying on it in its present form. But it does deserve a look. Forget all the hoopla about “real-time” search. As far as I can tell, that obsession is a sideshow compared to the real value of Twitter and other social media tools, which is to make search as much about people as about content.