The Real Time Hype: take it or leave it?

Search is changing rapidly. Search Engines are looking at user intent and what users want. And speed is one thing which users want badly. Get information as fast as you possibly can. It doesn’t matter if its not accurate or if its ‘only’ written in 140 characters, as long as its fast.

The need for speed makes that new tools are developed which makes information go around the web, and with that the world, faster by the second. Status updates on Twitter and Facebook off course are the best examples of content going around the web in split seconds. A continuos conversation. But what can we do with that information? Do we really care?

It isn’t surprising that the major search engines took action on the need for speed. The deals which Twitter made with Bing, Yahoo and Google makes that we now find the tweets which we are all spreading across the web back in our search results. Google displays them as ‘real time results’. You can question how ‘real time’ these are and if they are really useful or not.

Google only displays real time results when it believes that they are relevant to the situation online (are there many tweets about a specific topic) and search. This means there are many topics on which the real time search results won’t show up. And why should they. When I’m doing research for a specific topic which has no relation to what is happening now, why should I want to see real time results for that? The need for real time results is there when realtime events ask for them.

When are the real time results useful? When it comes to specific events, like the death of Michael Jackson last year, yes, they could be very useful. On other occasions, like when you are doing research, its disputable. It turns out however that exactly when you’re doing research, you notice the real time results a little, but when you are looking to buy things, you miss out on the results. Weird huh? When you don’t need them you see them.

A recent usability study, performed by Oneupweb, reveals that most users overlook the real time results. They performed an eyetracking study comparing consumers and Information Foragers. Both groups largely ignored the real time results, with information foragers looking at and clicking on the results a bit more. But in general the real time results were ignored.

Some of the outcomes of the research (which you can find here) were:

  • The consumer group averaged 9 seconds to the first fixation on real-time results, whereas the information foragers took a full 14 seconds.
  • The consumer group had 10 percent fewer clicks on the real-time results
  • Only 55 percent of the participants could easily find the real-time results.

Take a look at some of the eye-tracking results:

So should we still care about the real time results?

Yes we should. The need for speed is still there. Apparently we want the realtime. But maybe people will be looking for those results in a different way. Maybe its not Google where we want them.

I was talking to someone this week who ‘admitted’ he still used ‘summize’ as a tool to filter out the tweets. Summize has been transformed to Twitter search already, but his confession shows an indication of how people will be looking at real time results: through vertical search engines like Leapfish, Oneriot and other similar engines.

When they are using those kind of services there are looking for real time results. Which means they won’t overlook them that fast.

LeapFish CEO and Founder Behnam Behrouzi thinks users will not use Google for active real-time search queries:

“There are 2 types of real time searches. One occurs passively, the second occurs when a user is actively looking for a real time search experience for a particular topic. The second type of real time search must be answered with a more multimedia experience that not only captures the piece of news occurring in real-time but also delivers the key imagery, video and opinions that users are looking for when actively performing a real-time search.”

This kind of information won’t be found in Google’s real time results, which will make those who want to know what is happening NOW not go to Google, but find their own specific real time search engine. And then its a whole different ball game. Searchengines like Leapfish, Oneriot, Twingly and even Bing, which has a specific Twitter search page, can take market share from Google…

Bas van den Beld

About Bas van den Beld

Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.