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Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

How to Follow Oslo Now that Google Real-Time Search is No More

The expiration of Google’s deal with Twitter highlights the importance of real-time results during a crisis.

  • July 22, 2011

An enormous explosion has just rocked a block of government building in Oslo.

(This post has been updated, at the bottom, to reflect both activity on Google+ and a curated Twitter list from the Washington Post.)

What’s going on? Was it an attack? An accident? Normally the first place to go for news would be Google.

But no more.

Google ended its relationship with Twitter on July 3. Those scrolling real-time results that used to pop up when you searched for a breaking story? Gone.

Here’s how to follow the story in real time, absent Google:

Twitter Search: Oslo.

This is the functionality that Google lost when their deal with Twitter expired. It’s the human filter that not even Google can beat with its algorithims and effectively infinite amounts of processing power. Just dipping into this stream, I spotted this video taken just after the blast and this collection of photos.

TwitPic Search: Oslo

This stream has the highest signal to noise ratio of any feed aside from Twitter’s main search, and it may soon surpass it, as Twitter’s main search is probably about to be choked with less-useful personal thoughts on the blast.

TwitCaps Search: Oslo

This meta-aggregator of images posted to Twitter has more duplicates than TwitPic, since it’s a secondary source.

Google News Search: Oslo

An hour after the blast, and Google’s own real-time feed of news articles about the blast still isn’t at the top of search results for the term. Google News is great at grabbing news articles the moment they’re publishing, but news articles remain secondary sources. Pictures on TwitPic and elsewhere are covered with requests from wire services to reproduce those images, demonstrating that the real-time Web beats traditional newsgathering during a crisis.

Update: Nicholas Jackson at The Atlantic tackles this very same subject. On that post, commenter Marcos Morado points out that Google+ does have a way to track these things in real time, Twitter-style: Sparks.

So far the Spark for “Oslo” is mostly turning up news reports, just as Google News does, but it’s also highlighting YouTube videos from the disaster. (Google also auto-suggests “Oslo explosion,” showing that Sparks do have some intelligence about what’s trending.)

YouTube is one source of real-time content Google has that no one else does. (A search for “Oslo” on YouTube itself isn’t nearly as useful.)

Will Sparks be Google+’s answer to Twitter’s real-time search?

Update 2: Since this was posted, there have been even more horrific developments regarding a gunman at a children’s camp. That story comes straight from this list of people to follow on Twitter for the latest developments, curated by the Washington Post. At present it appears to be the single best source of breaking information.

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