Search & Real Time Madness

Make no mistake. I think real time search is indeed one of the most exciting developments that’s happened in the search space in years. But I also think search engines are acting a bit like cats getting a sniff of catnip. They’re high on real time search and acting kind of crazy.

This week, Google rolled out real time search integrated into its main results. It’s a dynamic, scrolling display of the latest tweets and other content that matches what you’re searching for.

Google search results that are scrolling? Think about that. Four years ago, Google quite famously said there would be no “crazy, flashy, graphical doodads flying and popping up all over the Google site. Ever.” I don’t know about you, but a dynamic scrolling box of results is pretty flashy and graphical to me.

Google Revives Instant Add

More dramatic, Google is effectively going back to the old days of 1997, when Infoseek had an “instant add” feature that allowed anyone to add their pages to its search index within seconds. That was dropped, because it opened the door to search spam. People would just rewrite their pages until they got a top ranking.

Fast-forward 12 years to today, and if I want a top ranking on Google for Copenhagen, it’s easy. I just tweet something about it and moments later, I’m there for a search on copenhagen:

copenhagen - Google Search

This is transitory, of course. I’m only going to be there for a few seconds. But spammers are smart. They’re happy to set up robotic accounts that do nothing but tweet all day. And Google’s smart, and can spot abuses like this. But Google’s not perfect, and spam will get through, and it’s an entire new cat-and-mouse game it’s playing.

For more on the spam potential, I highly recommend checking out Google Enables Real Time Spam and More from Outspoken Media and The anatomy of a deceptive Tweet spamming Google Real-Time Search from Sebastian’s Pamphlets.

Pros & Cons Of Real Time Integration

Why would Google expose itself to a new front in the spam wars like this? Is real time search THAT compelling? Sometimes, sure. When doing a search on Obama, it was interesting and compelling to see some reactions from those listening:

obama - Google Search

I didn’t have to go out of my way for these “person on the street” views. They were part of my overall search experience, and useful.

But then again, I didn’t need them scrolling. Google could have easily done a “snapshot” and shown me some static examples, with a link to get more. Perhaps it might also show me what it determines to be the most authoritative or most retweeted comments.

Scrolling isn’t necessary. It’s not like with the longstanding news results OneBox that shows that it scrolls. Yet some of that same content is now in the real time area where, by virtual of being sprinkled with real time pixie dust, scrolling is deemed important.

It’s News! It’s Real Time! It’s Real Time News! Or Something

Speaking of news, it gets mixed into the real time results — and that’s darn confusing. Here’s what I saw when I searched for obama nobel peace prize on Google:

obama nobel peace prize speech - Google Search-1

I get news results, then underneath that, I pretty much got news results again — only with scrolling. The first arrow points to a story from, which was just featured in Time Magazine yesterday about how it has super powers to do whatever it wants within Google News. Apparently these extend to real time search, because I got three stories in a row from the publication, as the next arrows point at.

Of course, these stories weren’t each written within seconds of each other. The probably weren’t even published within seconds of each other. Google either just found them all at once or perhaps got pinged (and maybe repinged) that they were all published. But that’s the farce of mixing in things that aren’t microblogged content into real time results.

My What Is Real Time Search? Definitions & Players article explains the distinction more. To its credit, Google does provide a way to filter to just microblogged content, if you want that (my Google Launches Real Time Search article explains more about this).

In other instances, it’s hard to see how giving up so much of Google’s most important search real estate is enhancing my experience. On the trending topic of e-bay, according to Google, I got:

e-bay - Google Search

The latest eBay items for sale, as tweeted. I guess that’s good. But why not take a feed from eBay?

The Spam Challenge

To its credit, I watched for outright spam in a variety of ways for about 20 minutes and didn’t see any. For example, consider this tweet on Tiger Woods from Twittter Search:

(60) tiger woods - Twitter Search

That never made it into Google. But nevertheless, stuff will get through. Yesterday, Google was listing “woods tiger” as a trending topic, so I checked it out:

woods tiger - Google Search

Whatever #chuckfest is, it was hoping to cash in on a variety of trending topics (Ustream, Tiger Woods, Christmas) by listing them along with its own hashtag.

If Your Friends All Jumped Off A Real Time Cliff…

Google’s not alone, of course. Today, Yahoo integrated Twitter into its results. Because? Well, because if Google has them, Yahoo better do it. And Google has them because? Well, Bing rolled out a Twitter search service, so Google had better get one.

Meanwhile over at Facebook, it’s doing extremely disturbing things with privacy settings that all seem in hopes of getting more people to effectively tweet out of Facebook itself. Facebook wants an update stream that rivals what Twitter has. Because? Because I guess Twitter’s got all this attention over its update stream, so Facebook better get its own going lest it misses out.

It doesn’t seem to matter that Twitter’s not yet making much money off its service. Facebook is willing to dive in and risk seriously upsetting existing users with privacy changes to chase the Twitter-rainbow.

Meanwhile, MySpace rolls out an API to better release its updates, all of which sounds as if it’s screaming, “Hey, we’ve got updates too!” And Google’s cut a deal to carry those, though it won’t say if it’s paying for that deal or not.

Trust me, I know. I asked Google on Monday three times, in three different ways, if they were paying for data from MySpace, Facebook or Twitter. Nada. They won’t say. Which leads to the craziest part of all this.

We’ll Pay For Chatter, But Not For News

Google is steadfast that it does not want to pay for news content. Sorry, Rupert Murdoch (who also MySpace), we don’t think we should pay to link to your news stories. And yet, Google does appear to be paying Twitter for its data.

The New York Times quoted Twitter CEO Evan Williams as saying there’s a financial component to the Google deal, though that wasn’t the “focus” of it. Twitter COO Dick Costolo confirmed the same at a TechCrunch event recently.

Facebook is less certain. The Daily Telegraph reported that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg saying that Facebook wasn’t making any money from its deal with Bing. Maybe the same is true for Google. Maybe not.

It sure is a weird strange world where it’s deemed crucial to do deals over what people are saying about news rather than the news itself. I also feel a little pimped, like what I do on Twitter, Facebook and MySpace has become their property to sell and trade. I know — I use these services freely, and I can lock things down if I want. Still, it feels odd in some way.

It also just feels weird that there’s so much effort to do something, anything with real time in terms of search rather than the right thing. Throw something on the wall now! See if it sticks.

Of course, I don’t know what the right thing is. We do need experimentation. We do need to have things thrown on the way. And I DO think real time results in some way belong in the main search results, as well as dedicated tools. Plus, I do believe that there’s a business model in Twitter, that microblogging is an important new communications channel.

Still, I also can’t help feeling the search players are all a little tipsy off that real time catnip.

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Features: Analysis | Search Engines: Real Time Search | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • pottern

    I’m curious how the google “decides” what search terms to post in Real Search, or do they just let them all flow through for now?

  • Jake-Matthews

    Wow, Danny, that’s some post you put together there. No question there should be a space for real-time results. I’m not a big fan of the scrolling and there’s no doubt that things are widening for spam opportunities, which is not a great thing for users at all.

    Real time is here to stay, but the major SE’s really need to think hard about integration and not just “jump in” b/c others are.

  • gsenser

    Good insight as always. It is funny that search engines might be more willing to pay for what people say about the news, rather than the news itself. Very counter-intuitive!

  • Chris Silver Smith

    Beyond the mere spam issue, isn’t it fair to ask whether some content, even realtime tweets, actually merits having a voice that’s equally as loud as the biggest name-brands?

    For instance, I’d experimented yesterday and found that I could immediately get content to appear on the first page of search results for searches for “Coca-Cola” merely by Tweeting about it:

    It’s all well and good, and I love the egalitarian and democratic nature of the internet and all, but I don’t know that it’s a good idea to render any tom-dick-and-harry’s words about Coca-Cola so immediately prominent and visible.

    While all of us marketers wish to have the power to make our clients rank on page one, we mostly have only influence rather than direct control, and Google’s various ranking factors and algorithms damp down and balance our influence with some degrees of — dare I say it — “fairness” (admittedly there are many arguments, pro and con, as to just how fair certain policies and factors are, and even their attempt to mitigate the power of money versus relative merit is only so successful).

    But, in this case, the product has been pitched into production so hastily that there seem to be few balancing factors included whatsoever.

    We’ve all seen cases where a blogstorm breaks out in the blogosphere, shining light and attention upon unflattering aspects of companies and individuals. But, the more prominent the individual or company, probably the more “buzz” must strike before a particularly unflattering post will hit page one. If it’s just a post from a random crank who has little attention from other bloggers, it’s maybe less likely to reach sufficient “buzz” to really do all that much damage. So, there’s at least some amount of balance involved, somehow…

    I don’t have a problem with something abruptly ranking, if it’s somewhat balanced by some degree of prominence comparable to what it’s ranking against. So, if a sufficiently prominent individual/organization like Oprah abruptly stated that she was going into the Betty Ford clinic for a Cocacola addiction, or if Arnold Schwarzenegger stated that the water in Cokes didn’t meet California’s water purity standards — that would make sense to have appear rapidly in the SERPs.

    But, I’d ask: is it really fair that anyone could potentially say any crazy thing and have it show up immediately, smack on page one of SERPs for “Coca Cola”? Even in the wonderfully democratic test-tube of the internet, should the post of a random crazy person rank on page one, smack alongside the website of a major corporation that has thousands of employees and millions of stockholders? Is that truly fair?

  • Eric Ward

    The option to one-click toggle-off any livestream source will have to be implimented sooner or later. I find the it just gets in the way. Like when a music video TV show has live IM’s scrolling along the screen. That or I’m just old :) If I searchfor golf news, I could care less if @whoever thinks Tiger Woods is a weenie.

    Push the stream over to a sidebar, long ways, like I do in Gmail with that twitter app thing. Launch livestream source data in daughter mini windows. Do something better than this. Google Search is/was supposed to be about trust, especially above the fold.

    Now, with tweetstreams and product links and news or image universal inserts, many search results don’t have a true algorithmic based organic result until below the scroll. That’s a pretty remarkable shift in what we all expect from them. Just give us a check box to toggle this non organic stuff, and see what we do with it. I will agree that depending on my search, I might want to see tweets (a ballgame I’m not at but want updates). Other times, I don’t want tweets at all.

    In any event, I got ten bucks that says scrolling livestreaming will go away, at least from top page of Google’s real estate. Oh yeah, Real Estate. That’s another vert they are in that can reduce organic search result space even further. Imagine a day when the first organic algo driven result is on page two. As for organic position, I don’t see the order changing much for the highest merit content, just the effort the user will need to go through to even see them. On the other hand, I’m doing screencast prodcution shorts now for my vert, which when posted I’ll tweet about, solely to make sure blended/universal/real-time search has some signals. But it’s a defensive strategic move more than a desire to make a bunch of screencasts. Still, I gotta say it is a great time to be in this biz, ay Danny? I need my kids to grow up quicker so they can manage my niche link curator contact list . Twello doesn’t list those folks :)


  • online

    @pottern (+ others) re consorship:

    Apparently Google *does* censor the so-called “real time” results (this seems counter-intuitive, since the way I understand “real time” is that they are not filtered / censored / ranked / evaluated in any way). See e.g.

    Traditionally, Google has maintained that the keywords a user enters into the search box are the main criteria for judging the relevance of webpages to the requested information (over time Google has some refinements, such as search history, tracking what users click on, etc. — but note that a search I did an hour ago or yesterday may in fact not be a very good indicator of my present interest).

    However, my tests have shown that Google does NOT return “real time” results for queries that match the searched-for information. Therefore, it is quite clear that does in fact censor their so-called “real time” results.

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