Real-Time Search: Now It’s On

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock today, you’ve heard about the deal between Google and Twitter and that between Bing and Twitter and Facebook (I know, it’s confusing).

Essentially these deals boil down to Google and Bing getting access to Twitter’s (and Facebook’s in Bing’s case) feed of real-time status updates. These will be displayed alongside traditional results in some way that will likely evolve over time.

This is content that search engines have been trying to get their hands on for months. It’s also the first major source of competition that’s kept Google up at night. As we’ve written, the growth of the “statusphere” and real-time search have created a content index that is faster to the punch than Google’s own index.

This is particularly relevant with time sensitive content like news, admitted Google’s Marisa Meyer today at the Web 2.0 summit. In other words tweets on a breaking news item are much faster than the news cycle — involving reporting, writing, publishing and search engine crawling. This is important of course (especially the reporting) but having both puts search engines in a stronger position.

Interestingly, this could also be an important source of background data for search engines. Google et al can utilize the activity around tweets, retweets, etc., to determine topics and sources of relevance. Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch put it best:

For example, if a link to a post about healthcare reform on an obscure blog suddenly gains currency and is retweeted hundreds of times, that is a signal to perhaps rank that link higher in searches about “healthcare reform.” If people stop Tweeting about it, then maybe it goes down in the ranking. But Google and Bing can use the firehose as a rich source of signals to mine and then blend back into regular search results.

Of course, Tweets and other micro-messages will become part of results. And how the search engines display them and rank them will also determine how relevant their results are. Here is where it gets interesting because realtime search is a hard problem that has not yet been solved. Do you show the most recent, random Tweets first, or the ones with the most authority? And how do you rank a Tweet? We already have PageRank, but what we now need is StreamRank.

Lots of development to come here — including local search, which I’ll get into soon.

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