Things are moving fast these days.
Only a few weeks ago (er, make that months), I wrote that major search engines were finding themselves ill-equipped to keep up with rapidly-emerging trends, while Twitter and other social networks were becoming good at this realtime reporting. I also thought that Twitter’s major business direction had been set straight for search given the focus on search throughout its website experience, and that they were bound to collide somehow.
After a long hot summer and into autumn I read that new deals with Twitter allow Bing and Google to include tweets in search results. Bing scores a second time through Microsoft’s stake in Facebook by also drawing in status updates from that community. These deals help solve for the search engines’ the problem of knowing what parts of the web are changing so that they can index significant changes almost immediately after they happen.
But this post isn’t really about what I got it right. Rather it’s about what parts I didn’t see coming, and what can be gleaned from that, which turns out to be more interesting.
Though I felt Twitter’s future was in search, I was hard-pressed to see them as a general purpose search destination. The epitome of focus, Twitter keeps itself close to online conversation, and can now bring what comes out of those conversations to the major search engines like a service-level plugin, delivering a realtime data stream. Presto. The big thing I missed? The speed.
Specifically, I didn’t see these arrangements happening so quickly. Nor, thankfully, without the often-awkward stage of exclusivity agreements. Instead I expected a much longer independent effort by search engines to develop their own approach to realtime, a long and costly path that they’ve wisely avoided taking wholesale. When the first hints of almost-realtime results were appearing in Google, I thought it would take ages for them to stop trying to do it all themselves.
I also didn’t see Bing getting to sit at the table of some major players so quickly. To get common footing with Google in Twitter deals and then add Facebook before Google is impressive, or maybe that’s just the trick of branding that makes me forget that Bing is Microsoft, and Microsoft has the mass to get that seat at the table. Even without Microsoft’s power behind it, there’s a lot to like in Bing’s orientation towards results browsing instead of just scrolling and paging. That said, this deal comes none too soon as it was becoming clear the more I used Bing that they weren’t keeping up with current events.
Facebook, Twitter, Google and Bing: gatherers of realtime data and search engines in need of it, magnets of our attention and trust and now brokers of what that attention and trust produces. In these four services we have some of the web’s tectonic plates, sliding into place with each other. They’ll do what real plates do when they meet: make noise, shake things up, and create new terrain to explore. Over time, the joining and information sharing of these and countless other services will remake key aspects of how the web fits into our lives, a web that responds to the beat at which life is lived, not lagging hours and days behind.