The rise of real-time search: What Twitter and Facebook integration in Bing and Google means for you

Last week we learned that Microsoft had scored a deal with Twitter and Facebook to allow status updates to be searchable from Bing. Shortly after, Google announced a deal with Twitter as well.

These partnerships are a sign of the growing importance of the real-time web – that smorgasbord of sites and services which allows you to broadcast whatever is going on in your life right now. Other examples include the social network Foursquare, which lets you inform your friends when you’re at a particular venue, and a variety of sites that let you instantly upload audio and video from your phone.

But while the real-time web is becoming an invaluable resource for tracking breaking news stories and gathering perspective on important events, the vast number of updates involved is leading to quite a bit of noise online. With real-time updates, we’re basically where the Internet was in the mid ’90s before the rise of Google – tons of compelling content with imperfect ways of getting at it.

This is where the Twitter and Facebook deals come in: Real-time web searching is the next step of evolution for web search, which makes it a market that both Google and Microsoft will fight to the death to corner.

We won’t be seeing these real-time updates on Google for a few months yet, and Bing just has a Twitter beta up right now, but here a few reasons why I believe this first foray into real-time search indexing is important – both for users and the web:

Search engines will become a one-stop shop for tracking conversations

Right now tracking conversations happening on Twitter, Facebook and other such services requires you to deal with their internal search engines – which often vary wildly in terms of quality and functionality. It also means you have to repeat a search across multiple sites to gain a full sense of the online conversation. This probably isn’t an issue that average users are facing right now, but with the rise of real-time web services it is a problem worth tackling.

Twitter and Facebook integration with Bing will solve this issue, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Google finds the need to follow suit. I would also expect future sources of real-time information to be integrated in a similar fashion, although search engine providers will have to be careful so that these results don’t distract too much from standard website searches.

It would also allow Bing and Google to compete with the new generation of social media search engines and aggregation services like TweetMeme.

Finding interesting and important updates will become easier

The integration of real-time info in Google and Bing wouldn’t be useful if it was just a direct pipe of everything coming out of those services. The real value comes from their ability to sort the massive firehose of information in real time, similar to the way both search engines rank website results. This is something the internal search engines on Twitter and Facebook can’t accomplish (yet).

As Ad Age reports, Microsoft is working on a point system for determining value among tweets:

Longer tweets, those that contain added information and links, and tweets from users with many followers on Twitter will be assigned a higher value, say, than a tweet like “that sucks,” [Microsoft executive] Mr. Mehdi said. Similar tweets, the kind that overwhelm the service on a daily basis, on topics such as “balloon boy” or President Obama’s Nobel prize, will also be filtered.

I would wager that Google has something powerful up their sleeve as well – perhaps an evolution of Page Rank, Google’s revolutionary algorithm for indexing traditional web pages.

Real-time info could help with indexing traditional websites as well

I wouldn’t be too shocked if this influx of real-time data could be fashioned into something that could help traditional web page indexing approach the holy grail of “near real time” as well. Updates on major websites are already speedily indexed on Google, but the availability of real-time data could help them quickly index popular articles from smaller sites. On the whole, it has the potential to make traditional web page indexing more robust.

Closing thoughts

Even if some of my predictions end up being completely bunk, there is no denying that the addition of real-time updates into the two leading search engines is a significant milestone for the web. Finding anything on the Internet was a chore before Google came along, and now a decade later we’re seeing the next big step for Internet search.

While some may argue that the real-time web may actually end up doing more harm than good, I personally just see it as a larger-scale version of the early web publishing years, which was followed by the early blogging years. Not all of the updates were important, but those platforms matured into things that changed the world. The real-time web is just the next logical step, which makes being able to search it all the more important.

About the author:
Devindra Hardawar is a tech/film blogger and podcast host. You can find him writing at the Far Side of Tech and Slashfilm.


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