Twitter unveils new search capabilities with major impact for breaking news

Big bird: Twitter improves search and improves breaking news resultsTwitter has announced changes to Twitter Search that could have a major impact on breaking news and how we find it. We all know that we go to Twitter when news breaks and either scan our timeline or do a quick search. A search can throw up a myriad of results not all of which will be relevant as it’s impossible for a computer to understand context. For instance how would it know that a search for “big bird” was referring to politics and not Sesame Street? Or that people searching for “horses and bayonets” are interested in the Presidential debates?

While a computer system can’t work this out a human element can which is why Twitter has “built a real-time human computation engine” to help it identify search queries as soon as they’re trending and take advantage of the short-lived spike in search queries, which in some cases last just a few hours.

With these changes to Twitter Search, it can also populate its Discover section with live and topical news.

How the system will work

Twitter will monitor which search queries that are currently popular and as soon as it discovers a new popular search query it will send it to human evaluators who will categorise the query. They will work out things such as if there are likely to be interesting pictures or if the search query is about a person or event.

For instance if the story was #bindersfullofwomen the evaluators would be able to say that the story was not referring to office accessories, but to Mitt Romney, politics and the US presidential debates.

So the next time someone performs that search, Twitter will know to serve ads by @barackobama or @mittromney and not ads about office supply firm Staples.

The changes will likely present new challenges for breaking news sites and Twitter rivals.

It will also help cement Twitter’s place as a first stop destination for news when it breaks be it stories about passenger plans crashing in the Hudson River:

The death of Osama bin Laden:

Or when Obama was re-elected:

There is a much more extensive blog post on Twitter’s Engineering blog explaining all this in more techie detail.