A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Real-Time Search Circus

Danny Sullivan on Digital Communications

By Published on .

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! Come see the astounding real-time search!

Yes, there's a bit of a circus going on with real-time search, and a new player seems to appear weekly. Meanwhile, we get predictions of how Google and Bing had better do something soon with it -- or else.

Danny Sullivan
Photo: Jason Meyer
Danny Sullivan has been covering the search-marketing industry for more than a decade and is editor in chief of SearchEngineLand.com.
Let's try to rein it in a bit, starting with, just what is real-time search?

You know what web search is -- do a search, get web pages. Image search? Search, get images. So real-time search gives you -- real times?

No one agrees on precisely what you should get from it. I think you should get content that's authored in real time: tweets from Twitter, status updates from Facebook, pictures pushed to Twitpic.

But most of the players in the real-time search space don't agree. I recently asked several of them on a panel at SMX East how they'd tweet what real-time search is in 140 characters or less. None could do it.

Real-time search players can be grouped into three major areas:

1. Players like Collecta or CrowdEye try to find what they believe is real-time content across the web -- CrowdEye tries to give better Twitter search results than Twitter, and Collecta pulls back tweets and more.

2. Services like OneRiot and Topsy mine what's said in real time (mostly on Twitter) to try to show you the most-discussed web pages.

3. Most important are those sites that generate most of the real-time information out there: Twitter and Facebook. Both have their own search engines. Only Twitter can easily see and search against all the real-time tweets and tap into the Twitter "firehose" of data. Only Facebook sees all status updates, kept within its walls.

And what of Google and Bing? When there's an earthquake, people turn to Twitter to verify if it really happened, rather than Google News. Deals with Twitter and Facebook to get their real-time data will help.

For advertisers, the ability to reach out via real-time search in response to a competitor's problem is compelling. If AT&T has a network outage and folks are tweeting and searching it, it's an ideal time for Verizon to be pitching ads. Similarly, it's an excellent time for AT&T to be doing some crisis management.

Those kinds of marketer opportunities will come as the real-time search space matures. Ironically, that's not something that will happen in real time.

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