Everyone says Google doesn't "get" social media. What Google gets better than anyone else in the world, though, is search - combine the two and the company may have found a winning recipe.
Today Google announced (our coverage) that its real time search feature now has its own home page at Google.com/realtime and a number of new features. (If that link doesn't work, try this one for now.) The new Google Realtime is well executed, useful and certainly better than Twitter or Facebook's own search implementation to date. The downside? There's a lot that's missing that will limit the cool things that could be done with it.
- Feeds for search results. Users and developers ought to be able to subscribe to feeds of updates to search results. Getting Google Alerts by RSS may be a viable work-around for this, but there's a world of possibilities that Google appears not to have touched so far. Will it? It's hard to say.
- Archival search. Twitter's own search results are infamously limited due to database issues the company continues to struggle with. If anyone could open up a can of all-time-search on these rivers of news, it's Google, right? Unfortunately, when it says real time, it doesn't mean archival search of conversations that happened in real time. Update: Google called and pointed out that in fact the service does allow search back through February 2010 and aims to include the full Twitter archive through the very first Tweet.
- Full conversation views. The ability to view conversations around real-time messages is very nice (it's something Twitter offers as well) but it's limited right now. It appears to rely on Twitter's own "in reply to" markup in the code for a message. In many cases, you're not given the option to view replies to or conversation around a message that occurred. That's a shame. Google should more aggressively expose public replies to any given message. Update: Google got on the phone with me about this too and we were unable to reproduce the problem I saw at first glance - it appears that you can in fact use any Tweet in a conversation as a point of entry to the whole conversation. As best as I can tell. That's good.
- Neighborhood filtering. Google is offering regional search and that's awesome. I can search for updates from the Willamette Valley (a geographic area) containing the word "ducks" (the local college sports team) and get results from multiple cities within that region. That's great. But searching "Northern California" doesn't appear to work and searching inside particular neighborhoods, "Cully, Portland, Oregon" or "The Pearl, Portland, Oregon" brings zero results. Twitter has that data, many different companies provide it, and it would be nice to see. Landmark proximity search would be awesome as well. The ability to perform a search like "near waterfront park, Portland, OR" is technically feasible and would be a nice addition. Update: What would a bullet point in this post be without an update? It turns out I was wrong about this one as well. You can search by neighborhood, I just saw zero results in my initial tests because of low volume in the tested neighborhoods today and the fact that searching by location is not retroactive. It just started today. Again, good.
- Source filtering. These search results are dominated by Twitter and that's no surprise. There are many reasons why that's the case, but it sure would be great to be able to limit the search to Facebook, MySpace, Buzz, etc. Facebook's own search is awful; if Google really nailed it and offered subscription feeds, then marketers at least would flock to the new feature. Maybe they will as it stands. Update: Wrong-o! Have no fear, Google points out: you can in fact use the "site:http://facebook.com" advanced search operator in Realtime search as well. Problem solved!
- Additional sources. This isn't a complaint, it's a request. How about other real time streams of information? It would be great to show the world that real time doesn't just mean Twitter and Facebook! Search for open public webcam feeds, perhaps? In the future (maybe now) how about searching for real-time updates from real-world objects like sensors in devices? There are now more non-human devices coming online than there are human beings, let's get what public data we can indexed by Google Realtime! Someday, perhaps.
We're just in the earliest days of the real-time Web and the sooner we can get beyond "the latest Tweets, plopped on a page" in our thinking, the more brain power we'll be able to apply to leveraging real time to improve user experience and the state of the world.
Limitations aside, the addition of handy and local real-time search results to Google will likely expose millions of people to the value that real-time streams of information can offer.
It's a good addition to Google's offerings and it's a Googley-good way for the company to engage with social media. I just wish there was more meat there for advanced users.