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The data collected on Twitter may create interesting new opportunities for search engines, and that's why the major search engines, including Google, Yahoo and Bing, have done deals to gain access to Twitter's firehose.
But applying Twitter data to search in a meaningful way has proven to be a bit tough. Although there's the potential to use Twitter data as a signal for traditional SERPs, or to display 'real-time' results within the SERPS, search engines are also interested in providing consumers with search experiences explicitly built around real-time information.
Case in point: Microsoft's Bing, which a couple of months ago launched Bing Social. Billing it as "the first search experience" based around the Twitter and Facebook firehoses, Bing Social is essentially, in part, a dedicated Twitter search engine. But, as I've pointed out, it's not really all that useful.
So one might assume that Google would take a cue from Bing and know how not to build a real-time search offering. Unfortunately, that's not the case.
Yesterday, Google announced the launch of Google Realtime Search to the world, and it feels a lot like Bing Social. Realtime Search is essentially Google search for tweets. The results page listing the latest tweets is almost a mirror image of Bing Social's, which is nothing to write home about. The primary problem: there's a lot of chaff, and it appears that both Bing Social and Google Realtime Search have forgotten that it's all about the wheat.
To be sure, there are a few useful features. There's a simple graph showing the volume of tweets for a particular search phrase. There's also the ability to set up Google alerts based on a real-time search, to view a "full conversation" and to filter tweets geographically.
But even though these might impress some users, overall, the overall search experience is unlikely to make Google Realtime Search a mainstream hit. There's just not enough substance or quality.
Ironically, Realtime Search might make for a decent poor man's reputation monitoring tool. Tweet volume graphs, alerts and geographic filters will probably be far more interesting to social media managers, business owners and others who are using social media for more than casual use than they will be to the average consumer.
From this perspective, it might be worthwhile for search engines to rethink how they're positioning their real-time search products. Right now, they fall far short as consumer-oriented products, which is why targeting them at the consumer audience may be ill-conceived. They can't succeed in that market, but they could serve as the foundation for some real-time oriented business tools. The first search engine to figure out that the target audience isn't always the consumer will win in this space.