Why’s Google Rolling Back Realtime Search?

Since I moved to Dublin back in September, the country has been in the grip of what I can only call a collective obsession: everywhere you go, everyone you speak to, really only has one thing on their mind and it’s something that is creating a huge amount of public anger and discontent. I am, of course, talking about the fact that Wagner has yet to be voted off of The X Factor.

Oh, and the economy too.

In the case of both of these 24-hour rolling train-wrecks, I have been unable to take my eyes off of live news blogs and Twitter. Seeing the mix of humour and righteous anger that has filled Twitter over the last week or so has confirmed my view that Ireland is a great place to live & work (despite the somewhat biased reporting of many foreign media companies) and also that the Irish will pull through this even though it currently feels like the rest of the world is doing everything in its power to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Whatever you think of all that though, what can’t be ignored is the rising use of Twitter to express disgust and delight, in almost equal measures, for everything from The X Factor to the bailout and it got me thinking that, what with Google’s integration of Twitter streams into its realtime search product, this sort of stuff is probably reaching an even wider audience than the still, relatively, small Twitter one. That is, until I Googled X Factor.

Because whereas, up until recently, those tweets would be right there in the main SERPS (as in the image at the top of this post), they have now been hived off into their own area, with only a tiny link from the main page.

At the time that this dedicated section was released respected search commentator Danny Sullivan blogged about how glad he was about this move, due to the ability to link directly to realtime results, and because of the added level of detail, but I’m guessing that he wouldn’t necessarily feel the same way now that this appears to be the only way to find such results.

According to the official Google explanation, kindly pointed out to me by a Google engineer on (where else?) Twitter,

Realtime counter…makes it easy to see when a news story is popular on the social web.

According to Jeremy Hylton (the helpful Googler) “Some queries show live results, some show updates count“, but as yet, I’ve only seen the counts. Surely, if Google really wishes to push realtime, it needs to do so by putting it in pride of place in its main results?

Now, it could well be that the reason for this move is simply that Google are, as Google tend to do, tinkering with things to see what works best. After all, it’s not as if they haven’t been quite busy recently, what with tinkering with everything from how results are presented, to how we shop, to how to create the ugliest social network since, well, Orkut.

But then I had always thought that Google might find realtime a bit too hot to handle. After all, if you make nearly all of your money from advertising, and a great deal of it from major brands, do you really want to risk those ads appearing next to realtime updates from people explaining exactly why they hate Brand X, or how much they hate it?

No, me neither, and I’m guessing that until they work out how to manage that risk, realtime search might just be left to its own devices, in a space where relatively few people will see it, where all the X Factor fans and angry opponents of the bailout can do with it what they will until Google works out how to make realtime search advertiser friendly.

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