Real-Time Search Isn't Yet What It's Cracked Up to Be

Last Updated Oct 22, 2009 10:34 AM EDT

If real-time search is your thing, yesterday was the day you've been waiting for -- Twitter announced real-time search deals with both Google and Bing; Bing also announced a real-time search deal with Facebook. The deals mean that tweets and status updates -- at least the ones meant to be public -- will be searchable. However, for the most part, I don't think this is nearly as big a deal as it's made out to be. As I wrote elsewhere, one thing spurring these deals is a belief that just because data exists means it should be searchable. But right now, there's not much of a there there.

For the fun of it, last night I looked at what would happen when I used Bing's Twitter search page to see what people were saying on the topic of "Angels", this being the Major League Baseball playoff season. The screen grab below is what I got. Scintillating? I think not. Monetizable via paid search? Iffy.

Then, I decided to try something else, based on this assertion of how useful it would be for Google's search to be applied to tweets, from :

... the next time you search for something that can be aided by a real-time observation, say, snow conditions at your favorite ski resort, you'll find tweets from other users who are there and sharing the latest and greatest information.
So, I tried searching (via Bing, as Google's Twitter tool isn't up yet), for Citizens Bank Park, where last night's Phillies-Dodgers playoff game was played, figuring maybe there'd be some people tweeting about the traffic on the way into the game ... maybe? Here's what I found: nada, zippo, zilch. Instead, it was the usual, like this pearl of wisdom: "Citizens Bank Park is a Kate Hudson-free venue. We liked Chris Robinson better!" I'm not saying that Mayer is wrong, exactly, but this seems a classic case of Silicon Valley (and a few people in Redmond) being so far ahead of the technology curve that the behavior they see us participating in isn't something most of us actually do. It requires a certain critical mass for this to be useful, and suffice to say, we aren't there yet. (I will, however, check for tweets about Okemo this winter while we're headed up there to see if Mayer has a point.)

There are things to like about these deals, among them that Twitter and Facebook are both being paid by Bing and/or Google. Even if paid search isn't where this eventually heads, that's a step toward making real money; and if paid search is where this heads -- and Twitter and Facebook get a cut of that revenue -- the beauty of it is that the ads will reside at Google and Bing instead of cluttering up the services themselves.

Another positive part of this -- and maybe this is where real-time search will become the wonderful utility that Mayer envisions -- is that Google and Bing will eventually iterate real-time search beyond where Twitter and Facebook could take it by themselves. Bing, for instance, plans to rank posts by relevancy, the influence of the author, and so forth.

There's potential here, certainly, but in the meantime, don't believe the hype.

Previous coverage of Twitter at BNET Media: