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Google: Sorry, Twitter, We Don’t Index the @ Symbol

January 13, 2012

If you haven’t noticed that Google pages are increasingly becoming a part of Google search results, you may have noticed Google and Twitter’s increasingly public spat about it.

Twitter argues that by promoting Google in search results, Google isn’t providing the most relevant social results. Meanwhile, Google has implied it would promote more pages from Twitter if it had adequate permission to do so. Twitter general council Alex Macgillivray then tweeted an example of why he thought Google’s new results were inefficient: Google search results for the search term “@WWE” — yes, with the “@” symbol — that did not include the organization’s Twitter page.

Now Google has confirmed to Mashable that it has never indexed the “@” symbol. In other words, the search engine has never recognized a Twitter handle when it was formatted that way.

So while a search for “WWE Twitter” still returns the organization’s Twitter feed before its Google page, “@WWE” returns the same results as “WWE” — in this case, with Google results first. Somehow a search for “ WWE” succeeds in returning a Google profile.

But really, Google? The company with a car that drives itself? In more than five years of people searching for Twitter handles, you never got around to adding the @ symbol to your index?

Even without the @ sign being indexed, however, the concern over the results for “@WWE” are valid: About 24,900 people have 1ed or added WWE to their circles on Google — but 792,642 people follow WWE on Twitter. In this case, and many others, the Twitter page is a more relevant social result than the Google page. Twitter ranks higher than Google for the WWE in Yahoo, AOL and Bing results.

On the other hand, Twitter and Facebook haven’t necessarily made it easy for the search engine to feature them in results. Facebook denies Google’s crawlers access to its private pages, for one obvious reason — they’re private. Twitter includes “nofollow” links on its pages that stop Google’s crawlers from understanding where links in tweets point to.

As Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan has pointed out, Google has indexed at least 3 billion pages. But Twitter users create 200 million Tweets every day that would be hard to index without access to the network’s firehose — access to which Google lost with expiration of an agreement last July.

In the end, exactly how Google search results came to be dominated by Google pages — either as a result of having little access to other social networks or by intentionally ignoring them — isn’t that important. The important question is whether or not this domination is good for consumers. An issue which, if a complaint from privacy watchdog EPIC is effective, could be settled by the FTC.


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