Alistair Fairweather

What's happening, Google?

2009-12-11 08:51

The internet is an unforgiving business. Case in point: for the last couple of years geeks have begun to think of Google as a little slow.

Yes this is the same search engine that spits out tens of millions of results in under half a second. But most of those are from established websites with largely static content. Even news sites take a few minutes to filter through into the results.

Twitter, on the other hand, can tell you what's happening right now - this second - around the globe. And that information comes right from the people who are actually experiencing the events - often via their cellphones. In just three years of existence Twitter has successfully become the pulse of the internet.

But it never pays to underestimate Google. On December 7 they began rolling out "real time search". Now, when you search for something, you won't only see static pages - you'll see live, up to the second, conversations.

Hard to imagine? Watch a video of it in action here. You can tell from the music that Google considers this is an epic event - and it may prove to be.

Think of the possibilities: you'd like to visit a nearby beach or dam for a bit of exercise but you want to know what the conditions are like right now. Before you might phone a friend on the off chance they are nearby. Now you'll be able to search for "surf conditions Big Bay" or "wind at Harties" and hear it from people who've just come out of the water.

Or you're trying to decide what TV to buy, so you Google it and you see professional reviews alongside a guy complaining, 10 seconds ago, about how his model is on the fritz again.

Try it for yourself. Search for "tiger woods" - scroll down a little until you see "Latest results" and wait a few seconds. Yes, right now it's mainly bad jokes about the unfortunate Mr Woods, but imagine you were searching for a natural disaster that just hit, or a giant rock concert.

And Google aren't just indexing Twitter (though they dominate the results), they've also made deals with Facebook, MySpace, FriendFeed, Jaiku and - all services that let people share their thoughts with the web in real time, and all of which support updates via cell phones.

These services have effectively turned their users into channels, beaming out updates from around the planet. Where before we had millions of channels, now we have (potentially) billions.

If the thought of trawling through billions of channels busily broadcasting their eating habits or bowel movements horrifies you, then have no fear. Google and competitors like Bing and Yahoo have made a $300-billion-a-year business out of doing that trawling for you.

All the nascent real-time revolution has done is raise the stakes. I am willing to bet there are some hang dog expressions around the Bing and Yahoo offices at the moment.

But what's most significant here is the subtle tectonic shift in the nature of the internet. It's a shift from what has happened - from history - to what is happening - the present.

It will take a while before we come to terms with the implications of that change, but one thing is certain: everything we know about the web is about to be rewritten, in real time.

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Read more on:    google  |  twitter  |  technolgy  |  internet

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