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Real Time Search Is Personal

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The other day, I promised in a comment thread that I’d write about what I see as real use cases for real-time search. As it happens, I’m experiencing one right now.

As my wife, daughter, and I were walking home from a playground, we noticed a large number of fire trucks congregating a block away from our house. A quick search on Twitter explained what was going on, particularly by pointing us to this post on Gothamist–which as of this writing seems to be the only reporting about this incident.

I think this example tells us a lot about the utility of real-time search. Most of us don’t need real-time search to tell us about the news in Haiti, since a critical mass of major news providers is covering the story around the clock. Where real-time search matters most is at the personal level–specifically, when our personal urgency to obtain information is higher than that of the general population. In such situations, we’re willing to accept less polished–and even risk less accurate–information, particularly if the alternative is to wait until if and when news providers cover the story. At least to some extent, urgency trumps authority.

Yes, there are other use cases for conversational media like Facebook and Twitter, such as sharing the experience of watching a live event, or simply chatting with friends and strangers about arbitrary topics. But I wouldn’t consider such use of these media to be search. Real-time search, in my view, is about helping users obtain the latest information available–in accordance with their personal needs. Twitter and Google served me well today, and I’m grateful that real-time search gave me real-time peace of mind.

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