What Does Real-Time Search Mean to Google?

I’m doing research on real-time search to learn what all the fuss is about, so I called up Google. Why not? They’re anxious to get “real-time” search into their results, and I wanted to know what the term means to them. Turns out they’re making a “cool” announcement about it Monday, and won’t talk to me till after that.

Much of the buzz about real-time search points to scouring Twitter feeds and Facebook status updates for the most current information on the web. But that’s pretty much the opposite of how traditional Google search works—which is based on producing results according to authority rankings established over time. So how will this real-time information get roped in with (or distinguished from) more traditional content searches, and how will the relevance of results be decided?

Forgetting the mechanics for a minute, let’s get to semantics. What does “real-time” even mean? Does it mean finding info that’s just been published, because it just happened? Or rather finding websites that have just been updated, but maybe the events they describe happened awhile ago? Is it just for Tweets and the like, or will it be more comprehensive?

Danny Sullivan’s Search-Engine Land has a lengthy post from a few months ago (definitely not real time, but still worth reading) that explores this topic and also compares search results from several smaller fish like Collecta and Scoopler. Sullivan argues that the term “real-time” should refer to information that’s posted immediately, as it happens—basically, Tweets and status updates, or what he calls “microblogging” (the comments section of the post provides nice counterpoint arguments). As for news and even blogs, Sullivan suggests, that content’s already history by the time it goes live on the web.

To get itself up to speed, Google announced in October that it’s including Twitter updates in its search results. And yesterday, TechCrunch posted that Google has integrated Twitter functionality into its Friend Connect application (its equivalent of Facebook Connect), which lets people log in to various websites using their Google account information. Now, any site that has Friend Connect enabled will allow you to log in with your Twitter account, too, which will automatically link your Twitter profile and let you tweet right from the site. Looks like Google and Twitter are getting pretty cozy.

So what’s next? Will Google be getting access to Twitter’s Firehose Feed, which would allow the company to search all Tweets as they happen and index them? I was assured that the upcoming announcement would answer all my questions, so maybe we’ll find out more about how Google plans to walk the line between what’s hot now, and what’s the most relevant answer to my current query.

I hope it also gives us a hint of Google’s planned audience for real-time search. Who is this kind of search useful for, and what’s the value added? Is it just for people looking to learn what’s going on, faster than they can read a newspaper, log in to a website, or even scan a blog post or RSS feed? What about someone doing research on the history of a vacation destination? Will real-time search trump regular old Google search?

We’ll try to post as fast as possible after Monday’s big announcement.

Advertisement

Tech Talk

IEEE Spectrum’s general technology blog, featuring news, analysis, and opinions about engineering, consumer electronics, and technology and society, from the editorial staff and freelance contributors.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Tech Alert newsletter and receive ground-breaking technology and science news from IEEE Spectrum every Thursday.

Advertisement