In June, Twitter users were mourning Michael Jackson before major news outlets reported his death. And, this month, as much of the nation was riveted by images of a balloon believed to be carrying a 6-year-old boy, every twist and turn was tweeted and retweeted instantaneously, drowning out just about everything else on the site.
As major events unfold, Twitter, Facebook and other similar services are increasingly becoming the nation’s virtual water coolers. They spread information quickly, sometimes before the mass media do, and their ricocheting bursts of text and links become an instant record of Americans’ collective preoccupations.
It’s no wonder, then, that pundits and investors are salivating over the prospect of an effective way to search this information. Twitter, of course, has its own search engine. But others with names like OneRiot, Collecta and Topsy are also vying to become the Google of real-time search.
Not to be outdone, Google and Microsoft reached separate agreements last week to bring Twitter posts to their search engines.
For all the buzz, however, one question remains unanswered: How easily can real-time search turn into real cash?
No one doubts that helping users find fresh, up-to-the-minute content on the Web is valuable. But plenty of other valuable Web services — including content sites, free Web e-mail and social networks — have struggled to find effective business models.
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