Google Real-Time Search: a Review

You may have heard of Google’s latest effort to provide the freshest, most relevant results to searchers. It’s called Google Real-Time Search. How has it changed what will turn up where on the search engine results pages? And is it really an improvement?

On December 7, 2009, Google announced the release of “Real-time search” in the search engine results. Matt Cutts covered it in his blog. This is a new feature that will enable Google to provide the latest updates (in terms of both “freshness” and “relevance”) on any search query/topic a user researches.

According to Amit Singhal of Google’s Search Quality team (responsible for Google search algorithms), “Light can travel around the world in 1/10th of a second, and we won’t rest until the speed of light is the only barrier to getting good search results to you.”

So I am very eager to give Google Real-Time Search a try by testing it out. This article basically covers my own personal observations of what I have experienced using real time search, which should provide some idea to other users of how to learn more about this new Google search result feature. This review also offers useful input to Google in further improving real time search.

How to use

Matt Cutts states in his blog that Google processed billion of documents per day for their real time search. Well, that is a lot, and Google has really improved significantly in speeding up the crawling and indexing process, which is exceptional despite the already-enormous and increasing size of the web.

So let’s start with a basic question: how does a user get real-time search results?

Step 1: Go to www.google.com

Step 2: Type your query and press “search.”

Step 3: When the results load completely, find “Show options” under the search box. Click it.

Step 4: Under “Any time,”, click “Latest.” This will let Google give the latest results (real-time search results).

It is very impressive that Google is still able to provide updates as early as “1 minute ago.” This is very fast, and is really “real-time.” You can even see that Google frequently adds updates even when the browser is not refreshed as indicated: “New results will appear below as they become available.”

To stop receiving frequent updates, you can click “pause.”

Matt Cutts said in his blog that relevance is still a major factor in real time results. In fact, we all knew this even before the advent of real time search; Google performs very well in providing the most relevant search results, even when you’re only using its default web search.

I would like to check how relevant their real time results are by inputting a query in the search box. My first query was S&P 500 price index.

My real intention was to get the latest price/index movements of S&P 500 index. I am expecting Google to provide me with price fluctuations in real time, because the stock index also fluctuates in real time.

Before real time search, it took me about a minute or more to find both authoritative and updated sources on the web (using Google’s default web search) without using any feed or bookmark. I am expecting to get this result in less than 10 seconds using Google’s real time search feature.

Here is Google’s real time search result. I will analyze only position one, since most users click through at this position:

I am searching on December 23, 2009, so I expect to have the real time result for this day also. But Google provides the closing price on December 22, 2009 results on the landing page at position one. It is not accurate, so it is not that relevant.

What should be the most relevant and updated result? Again I spend more than a minute trying to search for the most relevant and most updated page after the real-time search did not provide me with the most relevant information. I found this one:

http://www.cmegroup.com/trading/equity-index/us-index/sandp-500.html

It seems to be the most authoritative page, since S&P 500 is handled by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. And they provide the most updated results (December 23, 2009 result).

My second query was US billboard hot 100 charts. My real intention is to get the latest update on which singles currently rank on the US Billboard hot 100 charts.

For Google’s real time search, the result in the first position was: http://www.topix.net/content/prweb/2009/12/oceans-7-members-bryan-michael-cox-jermaine-dupri-and-2

Google has the tendency to rank fresh (i.e. latest) results first rather than the most relevant. I think this contradicts their statement that relevance is always their ranking priority, rather than dates/time. Similar to the results of my second query above, the page is not related to music singles or charting. It is an article on Ocean 7 members.

What should be the most relevant and updated result? If we look at the top five results, the one that appears to be most relevant and most up-to-date is at position four: http://atrl.net/forums/showthread.php?p=3310585#post3310585

Google needs to improve their ability to return a lot of ”really” relevant results in real-time search for search engine users like me to be contented, happy and more eager to use the real-time search feature.

The Internet is now considered a form of mass media, just like television, radio and newspapers. I think Google Real-Time Search will challenge the search engine to deliver the most trusted information. The importance of delivering news which contains “facts” is essential so that readers are not misled and/or do not receive the wrong information directly from the search result.

My third query was White house press release. My real intention was to get the latest news from the U.S. president regarding certain issues like health care, governance, the war on Afghanistan, foreign visits, etc.

At position one for Google Real-Time Search was www.memeorandum.com.

I checked the page. It does provide updates relating to President Obama, etc. But once again, it may provide some inaccurate information that could mislead me as a reader. I need to hear it directly, straight from the horse’s mouth.

What should be the most relevant and updated result? I did a thorough search and I found this official White House page about their press releases:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-and-releases

This is the official, most authoritative and trusted page relevant to White house press release/news. At the time of writing, it had been updated last December 22, 2009. Google provides more recent/fresh updates than this, but they aren’t from a White House page, they’re not at all relevant and not authoritative. This again says that Google needs to tweak their real time search to provide not only the freshest results, but the most trusted information for mass media.

Google has once again proven they are really an innovative company by releasing new features for their search results. But as of December 23, 2009, it still needed a lot of tweaks to address the issues I found when I searched for the latest information on the web (using a particular query). Basically, I found two major issues.

First, it needs to do better with obvious information that is frequently updated and in demand, as revealed for my searches on stocks and music indexes. This tweak might even be relevant for more topics and areas. 

It’s up to Google to determine which queries fall under this heading. But movies might be worth adding. For example, a search query like “movie released today in US” returns http://www.softpedia.com/ at the top of the real-time results. It probably should have returned http://www.imdb.com/, which answers the query.

Second, Google needs to consider the importance of delivering trusted news and updates. Just like the news you hear on the radio, mass media needs to be objective, factual and authoritative.

Google needs to adapt to these high standards of delivering news. As I stressed before, the Internet is now considered a form of mass media. Some people get most or all of their news from the Internet. That’s a pretty sobering thought.

It is not all about freshness or purely about relevance/trust. A balance between these two desirable qualities is a must. This is where Google needs to dig and tweak their real-time search algorithm some more.

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