Google+ kills real time search – Twitter and paywalls bear the brunt
It’s not something that would immediately jump out at you, but Google has made a significant change to the way it presents search engine results by killing off its real time function.
The service, which pulled information from a range of social networking sites, most notably Twitter, offered searchers a constantly updating stream of information – anyone who has ever searched for information on a breaking news story on the main Google page will have seen it in action.
Its demise seems to be down to two factors – the culmination of a contract with Twitter which allowed tweets to be used in this manner and the search giant’s plans to integrate its new social network, Google+, into a revamped version of the tool, which is set to be launched at an unspecified point in the future.
The lack of real time search won’t be a huge loss for average searchers – the various different search functions it offers mean relevant information will still be at their finger tips. However, it isn’t the best news for Twitter as it has lost what would have undoubtedly been a significant source of high-quality traffic. Tweets, as long as they are public, will still be indexed but being at the top of Google on breaking news stories looks like a thing of the past for Twitter and as everyone knows being at the top of a results page is crucial.
It doesn’t take too much imagination to see how this will damage the microblogging site – exposure levels will fall significantly as people who may have never considered signing up will no longer have it thrust in their face when using the world’s biggest search engine. Fewer people click through, fewer people sign up. It’s clear that Google, which is looking to make serious inroads into the social networking market, wasn’t exactly enamoured with the idea of sending people to one of its rivals while it attempts to build up its own user base.
Which brings us to the second group of people who will suffer from this move – publications that operate behind a paywall and those who write for them. The nature of a paywall is such that an article’s exposure to the wider internet is pretty much non-existent. Stories aren’t indexed and many of those operating with this model have also taken a stand against aggregators such as NewsNow, with the obvious consequences.
Twitter is a neat way round this. Writers working for subscription-only digital services can use the service to promote their material while giving people some idea what they’re going to be getting. Converting followers into subscriptions is never going to be easy, but at least it ensures they’re not operating in a world of total digital anonymity. Google’s real time search allowed them to have their cake and eat it. A Times journalist, for example, could fire off a piece about a breaking news story, tweet a brief description with a link and then expect to see his message floating around the top of Google despite the fact the publication itself isn’t indexed. With the death of real time search that option is no longer available to them, meaning Twitter is a (slightly) less attractive proposition for journalists than it was.
It’s tempting to view this move by Google as it sticking two fingers up at News International and other corporations who have decided they want as little as possible to do with the search engine, but it’s far more likely to be another move designed to hurt Twitter and other social networking sites.
Once real time search is resurrected with Google+ as its driving force it will be able to offer journalists and celebrities the very tempting incentive of once again seeing their messages appearing at the top of a Google results page just by joining a different social network site. If that happens, it’s not a massive leap to suggest a significant number of fans will follow suit as they look to keep tabs on the people who interest them. Is it really giving the search giant too much credit to suggest that this thought has played at least some role in the decision to reshape its real time feature?
As Facebook’s triumph over MySpace shows most people are happy enough with one social networking profile that does everything they want and Google+ is an obvious attempt to combine the plus points of Facebook and Twitter while addressing their downsides. However, social networks are nothing without people and Google+ needs to work hard to get the substantial number of users which push it past the “nice idea stage”, something the firm has failed to do with offerings including Buzz. If Facebook and Twitter can find the right response to this new rival Google+ may be left on the sidelines, no matter how many clever plans are hatched.