Well, both Microsoft and Google have stated that they’re adding the capability to search Twitter feeds in real-time to their search engines. What does this mean to us mere mortals who tweet and search?
The example that I’ve seen given about the usefulness of Real Time Search (RTS) is to do with skiing – not a topic close to my heart, or one which I know much about. My knowledge stops at things strapped to your feet and the requirement for snow… Anyway, the example given is that you Google your favourite ski resort and along side the nromal search results returned by Google, there would also be a number of relevant, recent Tweets, that could, for example, include information about current conditions on the slopes. The Tweets will appear based on their content or, if the Tweeter has set their account up accordingly, the location from which the Tweet has been made (geocoded Tweet). On a purely technical basis, this is quite something. The hamsters powering Google’s server will be running around in their wheels like crazy…
There has been an add in available for a while for Firefox using Greasemonkey that does something similar, and the effect is pretty cool, although I’m yet to be convinced about the value of most Tweets in terms of conveying information meaningful to alot of people, except in a few sets of circumstances.
As for the importance of this combination of Tweets and Search Engine results, it’s pretty early in the game to tell but I have my own concerns and thoughts on the issue that I’ll share here. And then in a few months time I can come back and either pat myself on the back or quietly remove this post…
A little while ago I published this item – ‘Google and The Dead Past’ in which I commented on the convergence of search technologies – Search Engine, Twitter and Facebook being three data sources – and expressed a fear that we might be moving very slowly towards a form of voluntary surveillance society, where our regular use of Social Networks would result in much of our lives being available for review on search engines in near real-time if we weren’t careful. Well, we now have Tweets being folded in to the Search mix; I assume that it won’t belong before Twitpics get included, and then if Facebook open up their API to facilitate searching, my comments in that article are coming closer to reality!
Of course, just as with standard Search Engine manegemnt on a website, it is posisble to exclude your tweets form this search. Google have had a few gremlins with this, but they’re getting there, and it’s likely that, were they ever to join the party, Facebook would do the same thing. Whether people would avail themselves of these tools is another matter.
Just how the search engine’s ranking system will be applied to Tweets is an inetersting question. For example, Google’s Pagerank algorithm relies on many things, including links to a page, links from it, the nature of the links, etc. as well as content. This is simply not going to work on Tweets, so it’s safe to assume that some other form of relevance rating will be used. And Bing will have something totally different – as will any other Search Engine involved in searching Tweets. I am forced to wonder how relevant the results of Real Time Search will be. Obviously it will improve with time, but so will the ability of spammers to game the system.
Those of us old enough to remember the TV news reports of the Falklands War in 1982 would remember that events could happen in the South Atlantic a good few days before we saw it on the news. By the time of the First Gulf War, CNN was reporting on events as they happened from it’s own reporters and within hours from the wider military theatre of operations. By the Second Gulf War, in 2003, there were journalists embedded with infantry units carrying satellite phones and digital cameras and literally reporting on ongoing fire-fights. It’s been said that the Falklands were reported from the point of view of the Government, the First Gulf War from the point of view of the generals and the Second Gulf War from the perspective of an infantry Platoon leader or tank commander.
The result is that whilst the Platoon Leader point of view gives us immediacy, it allows no time for contemplation of wider issues. And the immediate perspective of one person in a large news event, for example, can give a very distorted view. I very much expect that Tweets in search result could easily give rise to ‘firestorms’ of rumour that flare up and then get corrected within minutes. What impact this will have on news gathering and the general emotional health of people doing searches on new stories – to be seeing a view of the world that is from the bottom up, changing every few minutes, I’m not sure. Whilst this sort of immediate citizen journalism is great in theory I’m not sure that it’s good in practice; tweets available to all on a Real Time Search might manipulate the news as much as report it.
So…Real Time Search important? Conceivably yes – but perhaps in the wrong way.