This is just a quick blog post to share some info about Google’s real-time search based on the earthquake that shook the Bay Area this morning. I didn’t feel the earthquake myself, but the real-time folks looked at how we did. Here’s what they found:
Overall, realtime search triggered in under two minutes from the earthquake happening and within a minute of the first tweets appearing. The rough timeline (in Pacific time) is
~10:10 – An earthquake happened. (The USGS says the earthquake happened at 10:09:35 a.m.)
10:11 – The USGS government web site started to track the earthquake, with a “?” magnitude.
10:12 – Google’s realtime onebox triggers.
10:13 – USGS web site marked the magnitude as 4.1.
10:20 – USGS site updates their feed.
~10:25 – Google’s earthquake onebox gets updated earthquake info.
All in all, not too shabby, but still a perfect opportunity to identify ways to do better. For example, Stephen Shankland said it took about six minutes for him to see realtime results trigger, adding “which struck me as fairly impressive for such a mammoth operation as Google search.” We looked into it, and it looks like a data center timeout meant that a few people didn’t see the realtime results for a few extra minutes. Nothing to be ashamed of, but something we’ll look at improving in the future. Most searchers did see the realtime results trigger within a minute or two on Google.
Greg Sterling showed a screenshot (taken by Danny Sullivan) over on Search Engine Land that showed an earthquake onebox with stale info. It looks like that happened because the feed we were using from the USGS took ~10 minutes to update. Going forward, I’m sure we’ll check whether we could do anything differently on this, but if a feed has older info for a few minutes, there’s little we can do about that.
Overall though, I think Google acquitted itself quite well on this earthquake. Realtime search triggered quickly and accurately for the vast majority of people. And Google’s realtime search was able to pull in not only tweets, but relevant blogs and news articles. The search quality team will keep working to make sure that the triggering speed/thresholds, relevance, freshness and comprehensiveness of real-time search matches the high expectations that people already bring to Google’s web search results.
One last thing: I love that many Google employees’ first instinct when they feel an earthquake is to start searching on Google to see how well our real-time search works. 🙂