The recent murder of Colonel Moammar El-Gadhafi brought the real-time search debate into sharp focus. Whether you were celebrating the death of the despot by dancing in the streets or complaining about the appalling lack of due process, there is no disputing the fact that it was an event that galvanized the world and sent millions to social media news sites to obtain the minute-by-minute breaking news. Ever since Google removed its real-time results “temporarily” in July, the feature has been absent on its omnipresent search pages, driving users who prefer to see the world’s affairs scroll in front of them as fast as they are posted to resort to extraGooglicular sources.
The expiration of Google’s real-time search of tweets was precipitated by the deadlock between Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo and the denizens of the Googleplex, who could not agree on an acceptable exchange of dollars, consideration and the other intellectual property currencies of the corporate online world that remain as mysterious to the lay person as the brand of Bavarian beer preferred by the Illuminati. (Weishauptbrau, anyone?)
A Ferrari FF with a 60 Mph Limiter
As the Mountain View juggernaut shifts most of its assets to a Google+ centric strategy, the real-time search that is missing from the search pages is alive and well on the social media side, albeit limited to what the dwindling number of users-with-a-pulse on that network are typing. Google+’s circles within circles strategy may be an essential limiting factor to the value of real-time search on the platform, as by their very nature posts that are set for distribution to specific circles of participants are not for public consumption. Paradoxically, Google+ encourages users to set up internal hierarchical segregations, while in turn segregating its real-time search only to the handful of public posts on the network, which is somewhat akin to buying a new Ferrari FF and then placing a 60 mph speed limiter on it.
Adding 100 Features in 90 Days
CEO Larry Page recently boasted that Google+ added 100 features in 90 days, which left some observers wondering whether the corporate behemoth’s next investment would be to launch Googleversities to teach users what they all are and what to do with them. Twitter’s inherent simplicity remains its hole card, as the interface is little more than click-type-post. With the deep integration the service now has on iOS 5 from the other central California titan, Twitter is set to keep attracting users as the number of tweets on every subject between the latest snack choices and the latest assassinations of heads of state continues to spiral to infinity and beyond.
Sifting among the Twittertwaddle
The access to real time tweets is not necessarily a boon to any search experience. With up to 10,000 tweets per second (TPS), sifting the relevant from the Sargasso Sea of tweetertwaddle can be next to impossible. To the difficulty in making sense out of the mass of data there is the added factor of the wildly varying English spellings of the former Libyan dictator’s Arabic name, which at last count totaled 648 published versions. A search for “El-Gadhafi” would not necessarily bring up references to Khadafy, Qadhafi, et al. When the rampant illiteracy and resultant mutant spelling applied by a number of Tweeters in their everyday posts, including the top celebrities (these stars graduated from where?) is taken into account, the value of the real time search of tweets becomes questionable at best.
Twitter’s search page trumpets “see what’s happening right now,” so it is obviously not lost on Mr. Costolo that a primary driving force behind his service’s adoption by millions is its immediacy. When Steve Jobs expired or Beyonce sat on that infamous interview chair and her baby bump buckled as the plastic prosthesis that it is (or isn’t, depending on who’s tweeting) the TPS rate doubled. The market for real-time search is indisputable, so now the only thing that is left to determine is when/if Google is going to get on board. The company is not a stranger to targeting profitable niches so the best estimates are that it won’t be long.