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Searching for Real-Time Search

Google’s CEO says it’s still an unsolved problem.

News breaks faster on Twitter than just about anywhere else, and Google wants in on that speed. The search giant’s recent deal to include Twitter updates in its search results is a key part of the company’s strategy for improving its core product. In a visit to Cambridge, MA, last week, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt said that the biggest changes coming to its algorithms have to do with efforts, like the Twitter deal, to integrate real-time search.

Basic search has improved drastically in recent years, and this has intensified the competition to find key information as close as possible to the moment it appears on the Internet. For example, Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, announced it was integrating Twitter on the same day as the Google announcement.

Real-time search presents plenty of technical challenges, however. The power of Google’s search engine lies in its ability to rank the relative importance of different Web pages. But Schmidt asked, “How do you rank the tweets against themselves and against all the other content? That’s an example of work that we have done and are continuing to do.”

Compounding the problem is the growing quantity of information being posted each day, Schmidt noted. “There were five exabytes of information generated from the dawn of mankind to the year 2003,” he said. “That amount of information is now generated every two days. There’s been an explosion even in the last six or seven years, and it’s just mathematically overwhelming.” So overwhelming, he added, that “we know we don’t have it all.”

While much of that information is relevant to only a small number of people, it’s worth capturing and indexing as much as possible, he said: “We measured this, and an awful lot of queries are pretty specialized. It is a fact that there’s enough there that it’s not just a waste of capital. It actually makes sense.”

Of course, Google has many irons in the fire besides search. It’s making strong pushes in mobile, with its Android operating system, and in productivity software, where its Google Apps suite has poked at Microsoft’s dominance. Its Chrome browser and forthcoming operating system are yet another area of development.

But none of these are likely to provide comparable revenue to search and advertising in the foreseeable future, Schmidt said. “The advertising business is so big and is growing so quickly for us that I think it’ll be a very long time,” he said, for anything else to overtake search. “You’d obviously like to have revenue-source diversity, but within advertising we’re so well diversified that we managed to get through a recession that’s hit advertising pretty hard.”

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