A Social (Search) Experiment

At some point, I clicked a link that enabled my participation in Google’s social search experiment. I had yet to really see this in action until a commercial break in Sunday’s football games. One of the Southwest Airlines “Bags Fly Free” commercials came on (not this one, but a similar one):

Watching the ad, which I really liked, I wondered how many of the actors were real Southwest employees. So I googled “southwest bags commercials.”

The first link went to a blog which answered my question to my satisfaction (most if not all of them). As I looked at the other search results, I saw the expected YouTube videos, but also Google’s social experiment come to life:

See that scrollbar area with the tweets? That was updating in real-time, with newer tweets showing up dynamically and pushing down the later ones. Heck, it even has a pause button.

It was surprising to see my Google search results updating themselves before my eyes, but also really cool. Right away, I felt part of a shared, immediate experience. (I felt the same way when I was trying to find out the name of the song in this State Farm commercial, and as I typed, I watched Google auto-complete my query: “state farm commercial guy in car singing.” Eerie.) Others had watched the commercial at the same time I had and felt compelled, in one way or another, to bring their experience to the web. But while it was a new and exciting dimension to my Google searching, it wasn’t specifically relevant to my query.

I decided to do an experiment of my own and try some other topical searches. Google queries for “iran protests,” “health care reform” and “florida cold” yielded no real-time results. Googling “jay leno” and “harry reid” and “green bay packers” (the football game on at that moment) brought up a real-time stream that began with several news and blog sites, shifted to some tweets and then went back to web links (though the Packers search query yielded all tweets in the real-time feed).

It makes sense that the real-time stream comes into play most prominently for events happening in, well, real-time. Topics like my first three searches will still carry the same level of relevance in 8 hours; the Packers game will not.

Breaking news has always captivated me since my first job at Boston.com, and living in a real-time web world — not just Google; think about Wikipedia during a developing story — only enhances the breaking news experience. But it’s about more than news. Everything is a breaking story. Everything is ongoing and developing. All the angles are out there on the web, and Google is putting itself in the role of aggregator. The early results are promising, but they label their endeavor properly: an experiment, still a bit rough around the edges.

The web is archival and always has been, but it is increasingly becoming a living document. And you know what Red said in “The Shawshank Redemption”: “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.”


One response to “A Social (Search) Experiment

  1. I’ve never heard of the Google Social Search experiment, but it sounds worth checking out. Thanks for the info…

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