Oct 21, 2009

Real Time Goes Prime Time

So it seems like both Bing and Google are in the process of cutting deals with Facebook and Twitter to use their databases for real time search.

The result would seem to be a boon for Twitter and a potential land mine for Facebook.

Most people tweet with the understanding that their tweets are public, searchable (on both search engines and on search.twitter.com) and function as a broadcast medium. As such, Twitter results on many topics will be both relevant and interesting. Particularly in regards to breaking news stories.

But Facebook? With the influx of the over-30 crowd, Facebook’s become a very different animal, far more about conversations between friends than a broadcast medium. As proof, I’d offer the number of people who’ve stopped having Twitter update their Facebook status over the past year.

Updating your Facebook status more than once or twice a day is considered bad form in most circles and with the Facebook “hide” feature, it’s easy enough to ding violators without hurting their feelings.

And so Facebook’s become the place where we talk about the larger things we’re doing in life (going on a vacation, spending the weekend shopping for a wedding gown) along with the occasional Dilbertesque quip and Bejewled Blitz score. And if we are sharing links on Facebook, it’s far more likely to be a funny video than a Mashable story about a newly launched iPhone app or a picture of Balloon Boy: Facebook seems to lack that sense of immediacy that Twitter has.

That’s why I’ll be very curious to see what the Facebook real-time results wind up looking like. First off, because they’ll most likely be opt in (or opt out, in the who-cares-what-users-think-let-them-go-to-MySpace-if-they-don’t-like-it way of thinking Facebook often exhibits.) So the results will only be from people who have a certain exhibitionist streak, the sort of people who don’t currently keep their Facebook pages hidden from the eyes of non-friends.

Because the biggest issue for Facebook is going to be that a major part of the sales pitch to the later adopters was the walled garden aspect, the notion that no one except a select group of friends was ever going to be able to see their Facebook page. And if status updates start turning up in search results, you’re going to have a whole lot of freaked out Facebookers. No matter how many times you explain it's other people's Facebook pages, not theirs.

Contrast that to Team Twitter, whose users are more likely to be absolutely thrilled to see their names turn up at the top of a Bing results page and to start trading tips on how to get them there.

We'll learn how this all plays out soon enough, as Google and Bing announce their Real Time Search strategies. In the interim, it's well worth keeping an eye on Twitter and Facebook at they prepare their users.

Or not.

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