Twitter Buys Summize to Boost Search

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-07-16

Update: Twitter, the microblogging site loved for its social networking savoir faire and despised for its lack of reliability, has bought search software maker Summize.

The news prompted the blogosphere to fall all over itself in covering this marriage, in which five Summize engineers will move to San Francisco to join the popular startup.

The key issue: Summize's search technology could help Twitter actually monetize its platform with contextual ad placement. Twitter, on which millions of users write short, one-sentence posts about what they're up to, is popular but has been lambasted for too much downtime and for not having a money-making business model.

This, most agree, will be important as it seeks to grow and move forward online. Twitter doesn't want Google and other rival platforms to render it obsolete so it needs to make money from all of its Web users somehow. Online advertising is the way to go. People aren't going to start paying for Twitter, so what other option is there?  

Summize makes a search tool explicitly to help users search Twitter. Like Twitter, Summize offers an API so other products and services can filter updates. The Summize service and API will be merged with Twitter's own API to enhance projects developed on the Twitter platform.

Wrote Twitter co-founder Biz Stone in a blog post July 15:

There is an undeniable need to search, filter, and otherwise interact with the volumes of news and information being transmitted to Twitter every second. We will be adding search and its related features to the core offering of Twitter in the very near future.

Stone also noted service performance remains Twitter's first and foremost priority and that adding five top engineers to the team should further this goal. I e-mailed him, asking him exactly how they would help improve service. He responded:

Twitter engineers are working to improve the overall system in an organic way. Getting more talented folks in here means more engineers focusing on specific components of the overall system with a strong sense craftsmanship. We're already seeing improvements and looking forward to more.

If these engineers really help Twitter scale that Ruby on Rails platform, then great. If not, I won't get too pumped about this marriage. The search function has helped me find people on Twitter. That's been enough for me.

If I want to search, as Biz wrote, what's happening in the world beyond my personal timeline, how to find updates from Mars or what people have to say about the new Will Smith movie, I'll go to Google. Sorry, Twitter, but do you really hope to change that with Summize?

Well, yes, apparently. Om Malik suggests here that because Summize results are essentially keywords they may be used to show contextual advertising next to the pages that show these results.  

I'll take a mulligan on that one until the scalability issues are hashed out. If Twitter absorbs Summize and continues to have uptime problems, the acquisition will be moot. No one wants the server to crash while users are searching for something.

Still, Stone suggests the five new engineers will work on fixing the service issues. I'll reserve judgment until the Twitter blackouts cease. In the meantime, I wish Twitter and Summize all the success and happiness in the world on their new marriage.

And, for everything you could possibly want to know about the deal and the companies' histories, Michael Arrington conducted a interesting, albeit epic interview with Twitter co-founder Evan Williams about the deal here

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