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Just how big a threat is the real-time web to Google? As Om has pointed out, real-time content marks a still-amorphous but important new phase of evolution in the web, allowing for the instantaneous discovery of newly added information. And Twitter and Facebook are emerging as […]

Just how big a threat is the real-time web to Google? As Om has pointed out, real-time content marks a still-amorphous but important new phase of evolution in the web, allowing for the instantaneous discovery of newly added information. And Twitter and Facebook are emerging as an alternative to the traditional engine, which presents a big challenge to Google’s core business. As Larry Page admitted this week, the company finally gets that.

It’s easy to imagine Google falling further behind in the real-time content game. The company’s slow entry puts it in the position Yahoo has held for years in search: behind the leader, always playing catch-up instead of spending creative energy on new advances. Google has struggled with social content, producing mixed results. Orkut, for example, was a hit in Brazil, but not in other major markets; initiatives like Friend Connect have shown little traction. It’s had better success as a search partner, as with its MySpace deal.

Google’s search engine has thrived because PageRank uses democratic algorithms that tracked page links. By contrast, real-time discovery engines like Twitter and Facebok use a more dynamic kind of democracy, linking to content that users finds worthwhile. As a result, content on the web is splitting into two basic models, and understanding this distinction makes clear why Google’s centralized role is being threatened.

Simply put, it’s the difference between discovery and search, between the “Now Web” and the “Then Web.” Here’s a more specific analogy: In college, most of us spent a lot of time in the library but also in a social hub like the campus coffee shop. One was a place for digging up information, the other a more dynamic, conversational setting, where ideas were casually exchanged. Google has been the web’s library: archival, organized and oriented around research. Twitter and Facebook, on the other hand, are coffee shops: instantaneous, conversational and oriented around discovery.

I doubt Google will ever make a good coffee shop. But I also don’t see real-time content shutting down its library. Instead, it’s breaking open a new arena of the web over which Google has little control. That makes Google more of a specialized player, but still relevant.

Of course, Google is going to try to dominate this new terrain, just as it does in search. To that end, it essentially has three immediate options: It can buy Twitter or Facebook. It can create a competitor to them on its own. Or it can partner with them – maybe indexing their content into its search and even buying a small investment stake to deter similar deals with Yahoo and Microsoft.

A buyout is unlikely: Twitter has said it’s not for sale and Facebooks seems more interested at raising money to remain independent. Google’s efforts to replicate their success on its own, meanwhile, have disappointed. So it’s more likely to forge partnerships, giving it a place at the table but not the lead spot.

Such an ancillary role won’t satisfy Google for very long. Sharing more and more of the pie with others can’t really be much of an option at the Googleplex. In that case, Google has one last, longer-term option – hitting the upstarts where they are weak. For Twitter, that means its lack of an efficient filter. Google built a great filter for the millions of URLs scattered on the web. Its engineers will be working to do the same for real-time content with the hope that Google can maintain its role as gatekeeper to the web.

But whether or not Google succeeds, its presence in real-time search would push Twitter and Facebook to innovate that much faster, thus accelerating the web’s evolution even more.

  1. I know realtime is the new, new thing, especially in the Valley, but it has a huge limitation. There is no time available to develop meta data that separates the wheat from the chaff, or in recent terms, the stupid bacon jokes from real news about Swine Flu. I watched the Twitter stream during the Swine Flu panic weekend, and the amount of idiotic and racist jokes passing through were hard to take. Yes, it was realtime, but there was no decent filter. So we can use reputation right? What does that actually mean? Please don’t say number of Twitter followers. I get followed by “people” on Twitter with tens of thousands of followers, and 0 updates. Even if you came up with an algorithm that dealt with that type of problem, it can’t be based on reputation for the realtime subject, because reputation can’t develop in realtime. It has to have a past to give people’s reactions time to develop. But yes, right now if you say realtime, you certainly can get funded. In the Valley, at least.

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    1. Couldn’t agree more. When a hoax about the death of Patrick Swayze was tossed into Twitter, it circulated the news very quickly but no body checked whether or not the news was true. The real-time news on Twitter was an embarrassing thing when Swayze’s spokesperson spoke out the news was a hoax started by some radio guy in Florida.

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    2. I partially agree with Adam. We already saw some working Real time web search. Namely News blending into Web search. Now, Real time is not just news blending. It’s much more, but the news blending experience may be leveraged there.

      The key for news blending is to cluster (important!) news as soon as the fresh items are collected, in an ultra-fast way. Detecting new topics, and new trends while you get the real time fresh news. The fact that many individuals are suddendly talking about a new topic is the meta-information you need about the topic.

      There are already some academic papers http://www2005.org/cdrom/docs/p97.pdf and many patents
      http://www.seobythesea.com/?p=1333 , http://www.seobythesea.com/?p=1147 , http://www.seobythesea.com/?p=1048 . On tweeter you can additionally rank the users.

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  2. [...] 23, 2009 · No Comments Twitter and Facebook are emerging as an alternative to the traditional [search] engine, which presents a big challenge [...]

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  3. Agree with @adam. Real-time search is good for things like news, weather, etc. Google does a pretty good job at that already.

    There is no good way to build context around twitter search. Right now, its filled with garbage for the most part. You have to filter through a lot to find anything worthwhile in there on almost any decent topic.

    The only reason for anyone to buy twitter, is its audience, which you can sell ads to. Beyond that, this whole real-time-search thing is just something that lazy bloggers keep echoing. It has not meaning.

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  4. Google building a great filter for the real-time web…i could see that being a useful infrastructure.

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  5. [...] in comparison with real-time search through mediums such as Twitter. The quite apt metaphor is that Google is like the college library, whereas Twitter and Facebook are more like the campus coffee sho…. This is such a good way to think about the situation that we should examine it a little more [...]

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  6. Parts of Google’s index are real-time. Thanks to the content publish/change notification mechanisms in blog software, they are able to crawl and index blogs in near real-time. Now all we need is a global content notification framework (for the entire Internet).

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  7. There’s a great jelly talk by the search leads of Google, Yahoo, and Twitter on the future of real time and open search:

    http://jellytalks.yahoo.com

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  8. I think GOOG is whistling past the graveyard here. Their product will fundamentally becoming obsolete if they don’t change the way their build, update & index their database.

    I turn to Twitter or FriendFeed for ‘search’ about 25% of the time now, where for almost 10 years I’ve exclusively used Google. What I’m searching for isn’t necessarily changing– where I look and what I find is.

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  9. Real-time search will always be an ancillary sideshow and little more.

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    1. Agreed. The tabloid, trendoid, trivial and dubious pablum ‘news’ that gets Tweeted, Dugg, and shoved up fresh and daily under the snoots of the masses doesn’t necessarily constitute worthwhile information. It’s just an entirely different kind of data-stream of relevance to certain types of people wanting certain types of info that others more into archival and authority information simply want no part of.

      Perhaps it’s inevitable this ancillary sideshow will get blended into conventional search – I just pray that it gets FLUSHED-OUT of results as quickly as it rises to the surface…

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