Microsoft July 1 added the ability for users to search Twitter tweets with its Bing search engine, the company's latest attack on Google's search stronghold.
The feature is real-time search, or the ability to locate data generated at a specific moment in time online. Microblog service Twitter has given rise to this phenomenon, with millions of users leaving brief messages throughout the day.
However, modern search engines were not programmed to account for such immediacy; high-tech reporters have been complaining for months that search engines don't index real-time search data from Twitter and other content sources. Bing's move changes that, as Sean Suchter, general manager of Microsoft's Search Technology Center noted:
"Today we're unveiling an initial foray into integrating more real time data into our search results, starting with some of the more prominent and prolific Twitterers from a variety of spheres. This includes Tweets from folks from our own search technology and business sphere like Danny Sullivan or Kara Swisher as well as those from spheres of more general consumer appeal like Al Gore or Ryan Seacrest."
For example, users who type "Al Gore Twitter" returned his last couple of tweets. A search on "TechCrunch tweets" returned tweets from TechCrunch writer Robin Wauters. Clicking on a "see more tweets" link below the subject's tweets takes users to the subject's Twitter profile.
The same searches on Google only return the subjects' Twitter profiles, but not tweets.
Beyond catering to the vanity of journalists and celebrities, the real-time search feature is most significant for Microsoft's Bing team, which is working hard to gain a competitive toehold versus Google, whose search engine logs at least 65 percent of the world's searches. Facebook is also working hard to surface more immediate data in its social network.
Suchter said Bing is not indexing Twitter in its entirety just yet; this is a gradual rollout. "We picked a few thousand people to start, based primarily on their follower count and volume of tweets. We think this is an interesting first step toward using Twitter's public API to surface Tweets in people search."
Microsoft is hardly the first to crack this nut. A legion of startups have sprouted up to leverage the Twitter API and tackle the real-time search dilemma. Sterling Market Intelligence analyst Greg Sterling told eWEEK:
"What other people do with the API will be interesting to see. You've seen CrowdEye, Collecta, OneRiot and Topsy rushing into the real-time search space because Twitter has popularized this concept. We'll see if it totally gets coopted by the big guys or if it emerges as a separate category that can be won by somebody smaller."
However, in the grand scheme of things, real-time search may not mean much, as Sterling said: "Other than doing certain monitoring activities, or tracking news stories or brand mentions, there's not a lot there for the mainstream user."
See more posts on Bing's real-time search efforts on TechMeme here.