Google Finally Gets Real Time

At the end of 2009, Google announced that (finally) real-time results will be included in Google web search. This means that live updates from sites such as Twitter and FriendFeed, as well as headlines from news and blog posts, will appear within Google search results mere seconds after posting.

According to the official Google blog, its new real-time search features are based on new search technologies that enable it to monitor more than a billion documents and process hundreds of millions of real-time changes each day. At the time of the real-time search rollout, Google also announced new partnerships for content provision from Facebook, MySpace, FriendFeed, Jaiku, and, which, along with Twitter (announced a few weeks earlier), are some of the initial content sources that power the real-time capability. Google is also including content from blogs in results.

This is a significant development because it signals that our friends at the Googleplex finally realize the importance of real-time updates, as well as facilitating the real-time search of important new content sources such as Twitter. Since the company's inception, I've always felt that a lack of a real-time search facility within Google has been perhaps the most significant limitation of the value of the Google search engine.

However, I'm biased. I grew up in the business world understanding the incredible value of real-time content. My first job upon graduating from college was as a clerk in a bond-trading department at a Wall Street investment bank. More than 25 years ago, I experienced firsthand the frenetic world of million-dollar decisions made in a fraction of a second because of a news story. There were slews of bond traders who spent their days glued to the Dow Jones, Reuters, and Bloomberg terminals, looking for that instant news flash with the power to change prices in real time. Yet I can't deny that I too was mesmerized with the real-time information. It was incredible to see news scroll by on the terminals as it was happening.

In fact, I was so enthralled by real-time news and information that I left Wall Street to build a career at the companies that deliver instant information to financial professionals. In 1989, I joined Knight Ridder, which, at the time, was one of the largest information companies in the world. Based in Tokyo and then in Hong Kong, I was responsible for building the real-time information content from Asia. Then, returning to the U.S., I worked with NewsEdge Corp., a real-time news aggregator, most recently as VP of marketing and communications.

Having this real-time background, I always felt that Google search was lacking. For more than a decade, except for some news sites focused on breaking news, the web really wasn't a great place to do real-time research. Of course, that changed with the phenomenal rise of Twitter over the past few years because Twitter allows people to share in real time. Even though Twitter has a 140-character maximum per tweet, many people use Twitter to tweet links to breaking content, making it the default real-time web application for many people.

For the past several years, I've found it odd that I needed to go to three places to search for the information that is useful for me. I've used Google for searching the web for content that is a few days old or older. I used Twitter search (and services such as TweetDeck and Twitterfall) to find things that are happening right now. And I also rely on Google News for updates of news stories.

Want to find out what people are saying right now at a conference? Twitter search.

Want to find out what people said about the conference last year? Google search.

The ability to see what people are saying right now is of emerging importance in customer service, marketing, product development, and corporate communications. The incredible value in seeing the conversations taking place about you, your company, and its products, as those conversations are happening, is revolutionary. Customer service people respond quickly to problems. Media relations practitioners react to blog posts and online news postings immediately. Product managers update their offerings based on real-time feedback.

As part of the launch of real time on Google search, the company also added Hot Topics to Google Trends to show the most common topics people are publishing to the web in real time. The ability to instantly see what phrases are trending is also an important element because it helps you see what you don't always know. Twitter has included a trending topic feature for some time. Nice to see Google catch up with real time; it's about time.