Dec 21, 2009

Just How Real-Time is Google's Real-Time Search?

As you have no doubt heard by now, actress Brittany Murphy tragically passed away over the weekend. As saddening as that news was for many, people wanted information about it. As with any other celebrity death or big news event, people scrambled to find updates. This need for fresh info is really where real-time search has its greatest potential.

Google has only recently begun showing "real-time" results in its search results, pulling tweets from Twitter, updates from Facebook fan pages, blogs, news, outlets, etc. The idea behind Google showing such results, is that people can find the freshest info possible that relates to their query.

Have you found Google's real-time search results useful for finding fresh information? Discuss here.

Real-time search is generally thought of as providing results as they are posted online. In its truest sense, that's what it is, but Google's so-called real-time search may not be as real-time as initially thought. It's close, but not quite there.

Search industry expert Danny Sullivan followed Google's real-time search coverage of Murphy's death closely. He found that Google's real-time results were "wildly out of sync" with the results on Twitter itself. He noted that while Google's most recent result would say that it was 2 minutes old, Twitter would have 700 more results rolling in.

"In fact, I found that Google’s real time results often simply stopped scrolling for minutes at a time," says Sullivan. "To get them to restart, I’d have to reload the page."

But is Google's "real-time" results being slightly behind real-time necessarily a bad thing? As Sullivan says, a lot of this no doubt has to do with Google’s own filtering, and he didn't notice any spam getting through. There is a pretty good chance that those 700 Twitter results contained plenty of spam and/or redundancies (although Sullivan did find a few redundancies in Google's results too).

Google's Matt Cutts commented on Sullivan's report, weighing in on the search engine's handling of alleged real-time results. According to him, the news of Murphy's death was broken at 1:37 PM, and first tweeted about at 1:40 PM. He says Google's real-time results began two and a half minutes later, noting tht this was "entirely algorithmic."

"I think Danny makes fair points about better tools being needed to search the real-time stream and to highlight the important links/stories," says Cutts. "At the same time, the real-time stream worked as intended to highlight a breaking story and to show the flavor of how people are reacting to the event. The rest of the search results are also there to help give important news and context. And even the Google real-time results did a fair job of highlighting news articles, not just tweets."

That said, Cutts does acknowledge that Google can do better, but thinks they're doing a pretty good job for a first-time test of real-time search. Would you agree with him?


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