Bit.ly, the popular URL shortening service that no longer wants to be known as just a URL shortening service, is trying once again to make a play for search attention, launching Realtime as a “real time” search feature that taps into the site’s treasure trove of link information.
While that news is interesting enough it has me thinking more generally about real-time search and what’s needed to make something a truly competitive and alluring offering.
First it’s clear that Bit.ly knows who their audience is. It’s not the everyday Twitter or Facebook user but instead is a publisher, whether that role is being held by a news outlet of some sort or a company/organization. Those are the parties who are going to get the most out of whatever information is surfaced through this or any other sort of real-time search engine.
But what sort of information would need to be available in a real-time search to make it truly useful on an ongoing basis?
- Identification of first-movers: Yes, something has reached critical mass now, but who was the first to flag it? If you can track this down then you, as a communications professional, have a chance to identify them as being an important cog in the distribution of a message.
- Identification of large blossoms: This is the next step from the first point in that it’s important to see when – and through whom – a link or message experienced big spikes in saves/clicks/distribution.
- Actionable information: Don’t just show when something happened, let me use it in some manner. How can I export the data? How can I interact with the people who were part of the conversation? What value does the data have for me and the program I’m managing?
These are overly broad points, it’s true. What’s important to remember, though, is that each person’s needs are going to be different, particularly as you start to dig into that third point about the information that’s found being actionable in some manner. There’s a lot that can fall under that umbrella but those are going to differ based on different companies, programs, target audiences and other factors.
What is known, though, is that real-time search is still a wide-open field for the most part since the market to date has been filled with lots of false starts and quickly abandoned efforts. There are a few players making a go of it but for the most part they just act like regular search engines, without some of the special functionality that real-time search begs for.
The danger, of course, is that having access to real-time statistics and information will cause paralysis via overload as publishers analyze what’s going on right now to an extent that they can’t make future decisions. That’s a very real concern here since when you have data that’s shifting (potentially by the minute) it can be hard to then feel confident enough to look away and execute on something.
All that being said it will be interesting to watch how this attempt at search works out for Bit.ly and for the industry as a whole. There will need to, as is the case with many things, be a critical mass of people who begin to use it and talk about its usefulness to then push it into mass adoption, something that seems to have eluded previous attempts in this game.