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April 22, 2010

Sency Search for Twitter: Some Cool Features with Room for Improvement

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Spring is in the air. In the natural world, that means that flowers are blooming and animal babies are springing forth. It seems the tech world is also joining in the spirit of renewal. Over the past weeks, I’ve noticed several new tools and offerings being launched.

For instance, I’m sure that by now you’ve tried the spiffy add-on for Firefox and Chrome the BCI team launched this week — Hide Google Options. Comically, it’s perfect for those who like options in how their search results are displayed, and aren’t so thrilled that Google’s testing a permanent three-column display for SERPs.

If you happen to enjoy having your search options around all the time, or it you’re not seeing the new UI, Hide Google Options may not be for you. But there’s no shortage of creative new tools hitting the market lately, and one may be just what you need to streamline your life or give you that added intelligence. There are a couple tools I’ve had the opportunity to check out recently, thanks to correspondence with their creators interested in my thoughts on their product. One of these tools is Sency and its new feature, Sency for Cities.

Sency is a Twitter-based search engine, and while there are a number of real-time search engines available, founder Evan Britton explains that the service is unique because of its uncomplicated interface that’s perfect for average searcher Joes.

The obstacle that Sency must overcome is the risk of being little more than a look-alike service, with a stripped-bare feature set that offers limited added value to the current market’s offerings. Several features of Sency and Sency for Cities are similar to services currently provided through the Twitter platform and other Twitter search engines, however there are some unique features worth pointing out.

Most notably, Sency search results provide not only recent tweets that include the query keywords, but also the most popular links that are being shared for those keywords:

Sency.com search results of popular links
Click image to enlarge

Britton told me that results for popular links “allows users to see what’s being said by users without having to wade through the spammy links that can sometimes come along with an update. At the same time, we show the most popular links today for any keyword, which allows us to benefit from the power of Twitter because the more users that share a link – the more helpful that link is likely to be.”

Bing is testing a similar feature in its beta Twitter search, so that along with tweets containing the queried keywords, it serves up the most popular links shared in these tweets. Sency goes beyond Bing’s functionality, adding a means to measure the level of popularity of that link. Searchers see the number of times these URLs have been linked to on Twitter. This information is useful for gauging just how popular and sharable the content contained in the URL really is.

The recently launched Sency for Cities lets users search for tweets being generated in 13 U.S. cities. The results are basically what you’d find if you did an advanced Twitter Search specifying a location. Futhermore, Sency for Cities lacks the popular links tab found in non-location-specific Sency searches, and I think adding popular links results to this feature would help give Sency for Cities a functional differentiator in this space.

Finally, I’m most interested in how easy Sency makes it to include on a site a stream of tweets about a particular topic. The Content Widget lets you choose the keyword you’d like tweets to include, and then you can customize how the feed will look on your site. The Links Widget performs a similar task, displaying popular links shared on Twitter about a keyword or topic.

Including streaming feeds of tweets brings to mind the time Skittles turned their home page into a Twitter search feed. Giving Twitter users the ability to publish on your pages can be rewarding because it incentivizes brand interaction, but it can also be risky. So if you do decide to include a Twitter stream on your site, consider these words of caution.

Sency is a search service that’s on a potentially fruitful track, leveraging the gold-mine of information being generated on Twitter by making it accessible in a user-friendly way. There are still some functions left to be desired, but the service has made some significant strides since it first launched. My concern is that it’s not doing enough to add value to what’s already available elsewhere, though it may be enough that it’s presented in a simple and convenient package. As always, it will be up to users to decide.

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