free html hit counter What's Up? - John Battelle's Search Blog

What's Up?

By - December 13, 2009

Screen shot 2009-12-11 at 12.40.58 PM.pngScreen shot 2009-12-11 at 12.40.48 PM.png

(This piece was written for the BingTweets blog and is part of an ongoing exploration of search underwritten by Microsoft. See my series on the interplay of search and decisions here, here, and here. I wrote the piece below before today’s web-wide conversation about content farms, but I think it’s related. We need new frameworks for search, and real time points us toward one potential path.)


The rise of real time search (just this past week, Google rolled Twitter, Facebook and Myspace data into its results) has everyone buzzing. Of course, BingTweets was the first real time mashup from a major player in search (and Microsoft has already announced its intentions to go further), but we’re just at the start of where real time search might go. What might things look like a few years from now?

In my last BingTweets post (Decisions Are Never Easy) I posited the idea of a real time service that connects us to each other based on expertise. So if I wanted to talk with someone who was an expert in buying classic cars, the service would find that expert and connect me to him or her.

I think real time search is a step toward building an ecosystem that makes such a service possible. But we have to get out of our current modes of understanding search interfaces to really grok how this might work. At present, we still see search as a modal dialog box, where we type in a request, then wait for an answer. As different search interfaces develop, new opportunities arise. We’ve seen a fair amount of innovation in search interfaces lately (here’s more on Pivot, for example), but real time data presents a significant challenge.

We can see the challenge in the companies most directly responsible for feeding data into the real time search index. Twitter recently changed its opening question from “What are you doing?” to “What’s happening?” That subtle shift invited a much more robust set of potential responses to be poured into the service (and subsequently parsed by search services). And Facebook just this week announced it will make all of its members’ status updates part of its universally public feed. Its question? “What’s on your mind?”

I recently heard from a reliable source inside Facebook that there are 40 times more status updates daily on Facebook’s network than on Twitter. That’s a lot of data to parse, whether you are a search service, or a consumer of that service’s product. What might it look like?

Well, start with the use case. Why might we want to query a real time search index? My first answer is simply this: To find out “what’s up.” Now, there are nearly endless refinements of that general concept: What’s up with the smoke I can see in the mountains behind my house? What do people who bought the Palm Pre recently think of their new phone? What bands are playing in Chicago this weekend that I might like? What’s up with Jahvid Best, will he play in Cal’s bowl game? All of these questions are variations on the theme of “What’s up?”

Given the right approach to interface, algorithms and filters, all of these queries can be answered by real time search.

(more at BingTweets….)

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6 thoughts on “What's Up?

  1. Erik says:

    The rt knowledge ecosystem you describe sounds like what Aardvark is trying to deliver. Altough the service doesn’t seem to gain huge traction. What do you think is missing?

  2. I’ve been reading a lot lately on this real-time search and just like anything else it has its pros and cons. Personally, I do not see enough substance in discussion on the social networks. Although I’m not an absolute expert I have also been somewhat disappointed with Bing. I’ve done several searches and evaluated results pages and Google, in my opinion gives much better associated results.

  3. Dış Cephe says:

    I agree Erik.Thanks.

  4. Adam says:

    “I recently heard from a reliable source inside Facebook that there are 40 times more status updates daily on Facebook’s network than on Twitter.”

    Really?? 40 times more seems way too high. If you assume FB has anywhere between 7-10x the # of users as Twitter, that’s saying that each FB user is at least 4x more active with status updates than each Twitter user…where if anything, it seems like the other way around, right? The people I follow on Twitter update their status much more frequently than my friends on Facebook.

    It was only a couple of months ago that Sheryl Sandberg said that there were 40 million status updates a day on Facebook. Maybe that’s where the ’40’ figure came from?

  5. Interesting – although when you consider that 90% of tweets come from 10% of twitter users it’s easy to see how Facebook could have 40 times the amount of statues updates than Twitter.

  6. Adam says:

    Another data point from a cliqology post showing that FB isn’t anywhere near the 40x number:

    “On Facebook alone there are 45 MM status updates a day, and it is estimated that there are another 27 MM tweets (the equivalent of a Status Update) on Twitter every day”

    Regardless of who drives more status updates, I wonder how long before people are updating their status more often than they’re searching? My guess is around 5 years (but some of those status updates might come from automated check-ins)