Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Latest Google real-time search updates

Google is continuing to make updates to their real-time search offering, the latest one being noticed by Steve Rubel - when users click on 'updates' or 'latest', for most up-to-date results, in addition to the stream of updates from Twitter, FriendFeed and public Facebook streams they will also show, on the right hand side, most cited 'top links'.

This latest change IMHO further raises several issues with their real-time search offering:
  • There is one more element to add to the confusion in the format of the results - in addition to a dynamic stream of differently formatted updates on top of regular results, we now have yet another differently formatted set of results. One question is what is the relationship between 'top links' and results below? Should regular results subsume top links? Or are top links somehow inferior w.r.t. ranking of the general results? Are they supposed to be just fresher?
  • How complete, authoritative and up-to-date are the updates, as well as associated top links? After all, they are coming from a limited set of sources and also the question is if all updates from Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook are in there? What about the rest of the Web?
  • Why do we have all these formats, top links, dynamic fresh updates in the first place? Why not make sure that regular search results are always up-to-date and contain most authoritative and relevant information, including top links from these sources?
The main point I am trying to raise here is that these changes and tweaks to Google real-time search results increasingly point to limitations instead of best results.

An obvious, simple and elegant solution is to provide only regular search results that are always up-to-date and automatically include top links, with no special distinction. After, this has been the spirit of Google search from the very beginning, make it real simple and provide the best answers.

I believe the answer to these questions lies in the limitations to Google's methods of content acquisition (crawling) as well as difficulties in updating their entire index with the speed required in real-time search - seconds and minutes.

Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook as well as pretty much all of the social web clearly show limitations of crawling - as being inherently slow and incomplete. In order to get all this content, it is necessary to rely on external feeds which are all human powered. Google has chosen to display these results in a separate window that IMHO very much detracts from the simplicity and ease of use of their standard interface.

In addition, the fact that only a fraction of these results is dynamic and up-to-date, the question is naturally raised how up-to-date and fresh are all the other general results.

I believe that their current interface is only an interim, not very successful, attempt at unifying social and real-time aspects into general search. This is the ultimate goal for them, as well as the rest of the real-time search industry.