In my morning reading, I found an article at the NY Times that got me thinking, How High Will Real Time Search Fly? It is an interesting article more for the questions it raises than any profound theories. First, the real time web is obviously a hot topic:
No one doubts that helping users find fresh, up-to-the-minute content on the Web is valuable. But plenty of other valuable Web services — including content sites, free Web e-mail and social networks — have struggled to find effective business models.
Granted, business models are hard to find in many cases especially if you take advertising out of the equation. Search advertising itself has been a major success, and Google has built its entire business on the basic concept. However, generic search is a much different animal than a real time search, and the NY Times (via Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land) think the same thing:
If real-time search is ever to achieve the same kind of magic, it needs a large volume of queries and the same ability to match users’ intent with ads. Mr. Sullivan said he expected real-time queries to be fewer and more specialized than generic searches.
The other problem is that people do not know much about real time search. Twitter may be a few years old, but in terms of the mass consumer, it only has a few months since really going mainstream. Even Google is have a problem with it as can be seen from this Marissa Mayer quote, “We don’t know enough about what kinds of queries people would issue against real-time data to know how monetizable it is.”
It is at this point that I hope you can tell that we are missing something in this real time search business. Getting an idea of what people are talking about in real time is definitely a big idea. However, search may not be the answer. Take a look at how you use Google. Most people will put a few keywords in and then look at the results for the most promising links. Maybe they go through two pages of search results, opening a few of the results to determine if they are really relevant. If they do not find what they are looking for, the probably refine their search with additional keywords or they change some of the keywords. This type of activity is not really applicable to real time search. For real time search, relevancy is important, but timeliness is the essential part. That is why the difference in what Microsoft and Google are doing with Twitter is so interesting.
Basically, real time search is just the foundation of what we are doing. Just like Twitter’s API, real time search will just be an enabler of some newer ideas that just use search as the API. The other side of this is that real time functionality has only limited applicability to the person sitting at a desk in front of a computer. There are the basic breaking news applications, which could be huge in their own right, as well as niche applications like social media monitoring.
A majority of the real time search boom will be in its convergence with another rapidly growing industry, mobile computing. There could be real time recommendations based on your current location using an application that aggregates information from real time searches as well as social sites like Yelp and Urban Spoon. Businesses can easily see the benefits of this as well with local advertisements and “limited time” discounts on your mobile phone.
Just think of the applications that could be possible when you mash together recommendations, discovery, social media and real time information. Not surprisingly, the business model for these new types of applications will probably still be advertising, but it is localized and specialized. Generic search may have known what you were looking for, but the new mobile applications will also know when and where you are looking for it.