Real-time search is the new battlefield for Google

The new search deal between Yahoo and Microsoft is unsurprisingly drawing a lot of attention from the blogosphere and the mainstream press right now. But while it’s big news for these two companies, it also highlights the fact that they are several steps behind Google.

While the Yahoo deal provides Microsoft with a 28% share of search in the US (and just 7% in the UK), the search battle has moved elsewhere. Google has used its massive dominance in search, and the huge revenues it derives from it ($21bn in 2008), to fund innovation. Having conquered web search, there are new areas that Google now wants to attack, and in the search space the most important of these is real-time search.

There was another piece of news last week that sign-posts this new zeitgeist in search, and it didn’t involve Microsoft or Yahoo. This was the re-launch of Twitter’s home page.

Twitter's new homepage is all about real-time search.
Twitter's new homepage is all about real-time search.

Twitter is fully positioning itself as a Discovery Engine. Notice its new tag line?: ‘Share and discover what’s happening right now, anywhere in the world.’ This is getting close to Google’s mission statement: ‘To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’

In 2009 one of Google’s priorities is how to comprehensively integrate real-time search into its own listings, beyond the limited use of the Twitter API it currently uses. We know this because Google’s Vice President of Search Product and User Experience Marissa Mayer says so:

We think the real-time search is incredibly important and the real-time data that’s coming online can be super-useful in terms of us finding out something like, you know, is this conference today any good? Is it warmer in San Francisco than it is in Silicon Valley? You can actually look at tweets and see those sorts of patterns, so there’s a lot of useful information about real time and your actions that we think ultimately will reinvent search.

And in May 2009, at Google’s Zeitgeist conference, Google co-founder Larry Page had this to say about real-time search:

I have always thought we needed to index the web every second to allow real-time search. At first, my team laughed and did not believe me. Now they know they have to do it. Not everybody needs sub-second indexing but people are getting pretty excited about real-time.

So while Microsoft and Yahoo arrive on the mainstream search battlefield, ten years after Google launched its groundbreaking search engine, Google’s troops have already moved on. Look out for a deal between Google and Twitter within the next 6-12 months.

In ten years time, if they’re still around, Microsoft and Yahoo will be regretting not fighting the real-time search battle sooner.

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