A magnitude 4.1 earthquake in San Francisco this week tested expectations and perceptions of the value of real time search, providing interesting data points as to where its real value may ultimately lie.
Real time search results started showing up in Google two minutes later, according to CNET. "A Twitter search for "earthquake" was immediately inundated with tweets about the event as the Bay Area's digitally active population uttered a collective exclamation about the event."
Still, though, the results may not have been as CNET blogger Stephen Shankland might have expected. It took several minutes more before the real time search results showed up in Shankland's browser.
"I'm in Detroit right now, which struck me as the likely explanation; my Google account locates me in San Francisco. With Google now personalizing every search result, Google account or no, different people see different results."
Also, it took 24 minutes afterward for him to see a link to the United States Geological Survey's online result in the search results, he adds.
Real time search, along with local search, is seen as the Holy Grail for Web 2.0. Unfortunately, despite the functionality recently incorporated by Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, real time search still has its limitations. Even the perfect use case - a natural disaster - held some disappointment. Another point made by Shankland: most of the posts were of the type "Whooo, earthquake in Northern Cali!”, and didn’t provide that much value.
Fact is, neither Facebook, Twitter, Google, or Microsoft have mastered real-time search, and many experts still question the value of content being surfaced through real-time search engines - although it’s pretty clear some value exists, according to AllFacebook.
"For now we'll have to wait and see how the Facebook search product evolves. It's clear that more information is flowing through the system thanks to Facebook’s privacy transition tool, however there is still a long way to go in the world of real-time search."
Such sentiments are a disappointment after the leap forward real time search made last Fall. In October Microsoft inked two non-exclusive search deals with Facebook and Twitter in which it will integrate real-time status updates and tweets into Bing's search results.
Google followed suit the following month with its introduction of Google Real Time Search - a feature that merges the public updates from social media sites Twitter, Facebook and MySpace with Google's general search results.
These real time, 'everyman' updates, also available on the iPhone and Android devices as well as on the desktop, alert readers to breaking news. A major story about GM's stabilizing car sales, for example, would appear under "News results" followed by a breaking story - GM's CEO stepping down - in the "Latest results" section.
Google signed partnership with Facebook, MySpace, FriendFeed, Jaiku and Identi.ca - as well as a previously announced deal with Twitter to develop this feature.
There are other issues that should give marketers pause even if they are welcoming real time search into their operations, according to SmartBlog.
When post author Rob Birgfeld started exploring Google real-time search after it was introduced, the first thing he searched for was his corporate publisher SmartBrief. "I was startled, excited and frightened all at once. Our primary product(s) - industry newsletters and our company home page - fall below the real-time results!"
In other words the first thing a user searching for SmartBrief sees is a tweet commenting on an article they found via SmartBrief. "The reality is that what might come up first (or second, or third) is happening right now. And what's happening right now is not always going to be on target - or even positive, for that matter - because chances are, it will not come from you. More than ever, the activities and voices of others will determine your fate."
The Case for Real Time
Despite these issues, proponents of real time search make a good case for the technology, and it is in some of these nuggets that real time search's true value may ultimately lie:
- It provides an unparalleled glimpse into what is on internet users' mind at the moment.
- Consumers get real time access to business information, such as sales or service questions.
- Real-time ads one day will likely be contextually be paired with real-time news - providing a way to monetize breaking news traffic surges.
- The data could also be harnessed to predict which seasonal items will be top sellers at any given period - allowing advertisers to divert ad spend, not to mention inventory levels, appropriately.