Real-time Search, Art or Science?

Erik Schonfeld at TechCrunch posted a thought-provoking piece on real-time search. Twitter and Facebook are falling over each other in the media spotlight, fighting to be the place to go to find out the now.

There is something about human nature which makes us want to prioritize information by how recent it is, and that is the fundamental appeal of real time search. The difference between real time search and regular search didn’t really crystallize for me until I had a conversation with Edo Segal, who sold his real time search company Relegence to AOL a few years ago and holds three patents on the subject. “Real time taps into consciousness,” says Segal, “search taps into memory. That is why it so potent. You experience the world in real time.”

Like a moth to the flame, we are drawn in by the seductiveness of the freshest information but when we get too much of it, we’re overwhelmed with the banality of everything by everybody at the same time. It’s like listening to 1,000 CDs at once – perfect resolution saturates the senses.

What we really want is a way to zero in on the patterns that matter. Like the proverbial early bird, when you get fresh information that’s relevant and actionable, you can go further and faster on less. Back in start-up land I would use all my alerting tools to jump on new technologies that I knew would get buzz so that we could piggy-back on their eventual coverage. Just the other day, I noticed that Marshall Kirkpatrick was trolling for ideas and I jumped on that and was rewarded with a mention in his story about Augmented Reality.

How do you monitor the hourly hum and look for emerging patterns before they become obvious? That problem is as old as the weather forecaster looking for hurricanes or the stock broker parsing the wires for tips.

When does gossip become news? In the financial industry you need to strike the right balance between moving on privilaged information. If only a few people know something, it’s not going to move a stock – it has to be common knowledge in order for the masses to place their bets.

I used to sell financial news wire subscriptions in Tokyo to equity traders and there was one broker that wouldn’t replace her Reuters subscription with one from Dow Jones even after I showed her several examples where DJ beat Reuters on market moving news. In Tokyo DJ was an underdog so it was a tough sell. She wouldn’t budge, insisting that she needed to see the same news others in the market. She didn’t want to have to think and weigh each piece of news, she looked at her quote screen and would use jumps in price to draw her to the news feed. It was a cleaner signal, albeit a commodity.

Finding relevant emerging patterns before they become trends, that is the challenge. I’ve said it before, better filters will be the next great algorithm war. We’ve all become enamored with twitter search which we all know is imperfect and self-selecting but compelling nonetheless.  I think we’ll also find that getting real-time alerting right on a broader scale is going to be more art and less science.

3 thoughts on “Real-time Search, Art or Science?

Leave a comment