Wednesday 16 December 2009

Google's Real Time Search: the biggest disappointment of 2009

Everyone's talking about Real Time Search. RTS. You don't even need to spell it out anymore. Even the Torygraph talks about the 'Revolution'.

Run a search for 'real time search' and you'll get a whole bunch of results with enthusiastic descriptions such as
"Scoopler is a real-time search engine for discovering what people are talking about on the internet right now."

"OneRiot is a realtime search engine. Search with OneRiot to find fresh, relevant search results as they emerge on the social web - the news..."

"Search Twitter in realtime - see what the world is doing right now." 

This is a short video of Google's RTS in action.

Well, here's my take on Google's RTS. It's just a stream of random people's drivel coming out of Twitter, Yahoo! Answers and, soon, Facebook and MySpace. How is this good?

Google's search has always - ALWAYS - been about authority. It boils down to: each link is a vote; the page with most votes wins. That's it in a nutshell. But now Google wants to serve up a stream of tweets that happen to contain the keyword.

Google ran an experiment. You could try out RTS by adding "&esrch=RTSearch" to the end of the URL when you search. For example:

I gave it a spin during the pre budget report. While I was watching the live broadcast (on Zattoo), I mentioned George Osborne in a tweet. All I said was: "Obviously, I meant George Osborne". A few seconds later (in "real time"), my tweet streamed through Google, adding a transient puff of valueless "information" to the first page of search results.

The problem is twofold. RTS is fleeting. Being "real time", it comes and goes through people's lives with barely a chance to mould your thoughts. And, while some RTS results don't even deserve to appear, some grander pronouncements - surely, there must be some - are treated as the chirping of a distant robin amongst the winter foliage: barely heard and soon forgotten.

I had thought that real time search would mean that links tweeted and retweeted at a moment in time would give a momentary boost to the page to which the link points. Scoopler is much better at it, giving one column to popular 'shares' of videos, images and links; and another to live 'posts', essentially tweets. Try it.

There are a number of other contenders in the RTS field and VentureBeat did a good round up in June. Why hasn't Google done as well as some of these offerings?

I hope that Google does better in its next iteration of Real Time Search and gives us a product that is really worthwhile. Will 2010 be the year in which it comes to pass?