A short note about real-time search

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. 🙂

54 Responses to A short note about real-time search (Leave a comment)

  1. My best experience with real time search was the finale of Dexter this season. I could see every one was as freaked as I was. Not quite earthquake material, but I read for hours!

  2. That’s pretty impressive. It’s only running a few minutes behind actual events. That’s pretty good. I suppose that’s just another reason why Google is the most popular search engine in the world. Keep up the great work.

  3. Good to know about that data center. I did the screenshot that Greg used. I totally saw the real time results right along when I first started seeing tweets, so it’s nice to have some backup to it not being a six minute delay — plus understanding why Stephen got something so different. I didn’t doubt his timing — I just got it a lot sooner than that.

  4. Another great post Matt. 6 minutes for a search behemoth like Google to start kicking out live search results is awesome – and I’m sure the Google Gods can do even better as time goes on.

  5. Yup, even on my Twitter diet, I saw a couple emails pass through my inbox where you were saying that you saw the real-time results right away, Danny. And here’s another tweet that said the same thing: http://twitter.com/mikemcnertney/status/7487155249 I found that via Google’s search, so I haven’t had to break my one-week Twitter diet. 🙂

    Could Google still do better? Sure. But I think things worked pretty well, and it should only improve as we iterate more.

  6. I agree, the best part is that Google peeps were looking to see how well their real time worked.

    Cheers, to search nerds!

  7. I can understand the data center timeout problem. Due to this, many be , many times I see the result (twitter update search) within 20 secs but sometimes it takes minutes.

  8. but still Google rocks….

  9. Harith


    The present Google real-time search bring this post from 2007 into my memory. It all started with a wish of a Minty Fresh Indexing 🙂

  10. Kevin L

    Next step: Google Premonition. Results before the event happens.

  11. 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.

    I was wondering about this part myself, dude. That would be my third instinct…right after ducking and covering.

    Of course, one can always bring one’s laptop onto the floor and work that way. 😉

    Personally, what I find amazing about this whole topic is that you’re talking about improving something when you’re already so far ahead of the pack that it would be pretty well impossible for even the Bings and Yahoo!s of the world to catch up. It’ll be interesting to see this same post when you’re down to six milliseconds…”well, we could get it down into less than a millisecond. Some people may blink and refresh the SERP simultaneously and the results could change on them.”

  12. It’s really quite fascinating when you consider the Internet was in its infancy only a decade ago. The fact that you can get (practically) instantaneous news from around the globe is one word… Impressive. The fact that Google is the leader, and didn’t exist that long ago in even more so.

  13. ^ I guess they have already achieved that .. Its called Google wave. but it only shows feeds/waves on a lower scale.

  14. I simply love Google for this!

  15. madeline

    If Google brings updated information through real time networks like Twitter and Facebook

    Isn’t it obvious that the search will also be real time?

  16. unab0mber

    You shoul improve real-time search so that Google shows events a few minutes before they happen

  17. I’ve been tracking it and comparing frequency of news mentions vs brand power.

    Interesting to see it explained in this context. Thanks Matt

  18. Google seams to have the timing down quite well. Hope you can get the relevance from 140 characters right too.

  19. Considering that I live about a mile from the Hayward fault (expected to be the location of the next Big One in California), I’m glad to see that my favorite company is thinking about earthquake response. However, I wonder if anyone is asking what the value of the Onebox info is. When (not if!) a massive earthquake strikes in the US, the most useful information will be both real-time and hyperlocal — information like: where is the nearest shelter, which shelters are full, where can I go with a dog, which roads are clear for emergency vehicles? At the moment I don’t think either Twitter or Google is up to that task, but Twitter seems closer. I would love to hear that Google is working with local offices of emergency services to incorporate your technologies into their response!

    Thanks for all your work 🙂

  20. Incredible! Like Multi-Worded Adam i would have been finding somewhere to cower.

    Am absolutely in awe of Google’s work. Using real time search to keep an eye on weather conditions here in Ireland, the whole country is snowed in.

  21. Good results. I didn’t feel the quake in CA but woke to ice covered GA!

  22. I tested the real time search feature last week after configuring feedburner with both my blog, website and twitter. Needless to say, when I updated my news page, Google had indexed the page and I found it via the real time search a few minutes later. What was even more impressive was the obscurity of the search term – I wouldn’t have thought such an obscure term would have been read in so quickly! See here http://designhelp101.blogspot.com/

  23. Someone else said this, but realtime search was best for me when the finale of Dexter was on. A great opportunity to see how well it worked. I’m still pretty dubious about realtime search for Google.

  24. I think this is an example of how integrating twitter feeds can help google users.

  25. Such crazy technology. I’m skeptical of real-time search for somethings, but for events like this… amazing.

  26. Jason Crabtree

    Google can only display information that was created elswhere. Considering that it takes a couple of minutes for a human to report the event I would say that this feature did an AMAZING job! Think about this… How long did it take bay area radio stations to mention it?

  27. That’s pretty cool but I thought you were supposed to be spending quality time with your wife ;-).

  28. Udo Schochtert

    Interesting. What was your search term?

  29. Jeff

    I just used real time search to get hip to the Facebook color thing, I was very impressed.

  30. Gradiva Couzin, I think Google can look for ways to improve specifically for events like this. I know that for the swine flu we recently did a swine flu-specific onebox to show places to get shots, for example. And we did a onebox for poison too, so I can imagine doing more. Personally, I like the idea of using location to spot when an event is of interest to a searcher.

  31. Google will be there with real-time search results when the sun expands into a huge fiery ball scorcing everything on earth.

  32. Matt, the trouble with “real-time search” relying on blogs and tweets, Google becomes a slave to gossip and false information. IMO, you should only use reliable sources for “real-time search”. I.e credible news sources.

    While checking “real-time search” after an *local* event is wise, ignoring “real-time search” until such an event is not.

  33. Rob

    Another great post Matt. 6 minutes for a search behemoth like Google to start kicking out live search results is awesome – and I’m sure the Google Gods can do even better as time goes on. [edited name – sorry]

  34. Google will be there with real-time search results when the sun expands into a huge fiery ball scorcing everything on earth.

    Don’t forget Satellite and Street Views. Gotta have those when the world’s a giant ash ball.

  35. Although I agree in principle with Dave(Original) I do disagree in this particular case. I don’t think anyone would suggest that the USGS official blog is either gossipy or a provider of false information.

    Is Google aiming to make itself the provider of disaster recovery type information with a view to being a useful partner or purely as an observer? If it is as an observer then these are excellent results. If it is with a view to becomming a partner in an early warning system, for example, then real-time will need to be real-time.

    The Tsunami 5 years ago is a great example where every second counts and relying on someone else’s update period is alink that would need to be bypassed somehow.

  36. Google will be there with real-time search results when the sun expands into a huge fiery ball scorcing everything on earth.

    For about 8 minutes. After that there will be no Google and no life on Earth 🙂

  37. John

    For 30 days, stop using google as your search engine. Try to find new one you haven’t tried.

  38. I don’t think anyone would suggest that the USGS official blog is either gossipy or a provider of false information.

    Me neither, which makes me wonder exactly what you are disagreeing with?

  39. Google real time search is awesome… I can say that it really helps people to find easy and fast information on the web.

  40. It’s great to be able to see a result tracked for real-time search to see exactly how the search adapts to life events and news. Thanks for posting the info, Matt!

  41. This is very interesting. If google improves their response time, they could provide almost real time emergency services notifications. Matt, is there anything in the works where we may see google providing emergency services updates using geo location?

  42. What’s even more interesting about Google’s real-time search echoing social media updates is the fact that the news start form there and goes to the Google News next! Of course, it’s obvious that it would take more time for the news agencies to find out what exactly has happened and which authorities approve it so that they can quote the reliable sources and so on.

    This seems to belong to the past! Now, people who are on the spot where the news has broken out, take out their mobile phones and send a tweet on the web. Powerful search engines like Google reflect their info and voila! The news is out there for all. More professional news will be released a bit later for more details about it.

    And now, an even more important thing about the real-time search: In geographical locations where news are censored, they’re treated so as the words used in those news are known and filters are set to block them. If the news are broadcast within few minutes, how would it be possible to censor them? With the help of real-time technology, those traditional dependent news agencies should learn to cope with the realities of life.

  43. I think what http://www.Insttant.com is the future of real time search – They break everything down into easy to understand visuals and headlines (they launched at TechCrunch50).

  44. I will not be impressed until “real time search” can predict something in the future accurately. 🙂

  45. When Google starts predicting the future I’m never turning on my computer again lol.
    If you hear about something that happens six minutes ago don’t you really think that is real time. My lord it takes me six minutes just to get out of bed some mornings.

  46. PaulCarrington

    Matt, is there any reason why Google is afraid of islam?


  47. Great .. real time search attachment by Google. It makes Google Rock on search market. Really Now Search engine feels the real word updates in his index. great enhancement !

  48. Pro

    Yeah, I am all in favor of the real time search even as some people don’t seem to like it. I love the way google shows the latest content from the blogosphere, twitter and news sites.
    Well done Google.

  49. the last time i was so excited about something like this is when i got my drivers license 🙂
    i just wanted to say that real time search is truly brilliant !

    my family and frineds don’t understand my excitment about google,
    whenever there’s something new at google i go and tell my wife about it, and she always sais “youre such a google geek !” or “can we talk about something else except google today ?”

    well what can i say , i guess i am a google geek 🙂

  50. Fabri

    @Aaron Pratt: You’re late requesting that! 😛

    Remember, we are talking about Google! See: http://www.google.com.au/intl/en/gday/


  51. Danielle pindaro

    Hi Matt, sorry for my english im italian. I hope you can understand me anyway. 🙂
    My question is about real-time search, i would like to tell you about a new time-penalty in google (or it seems to be a penalty i dont know).
    Im talking about the Seven Days Penalty (as i call), and it looks to afflict only site of news (very much sites in italy). In fact google publish in its serps the results ONLY 7 days (or more) after it has spidered the pages. With site:www. + key they semms spidered BUT they are in serps only days and days after. This from february 2010. Before didnt happened.
    Is This a a penalty? If yes, why?? Please tell us what to do, we have original content in our sites, and we see that some news aggregator are in serps with OUR news immediatly and we show only after days and days. This is frustrating for our hard work.
    Thank you so much

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  53. As I’m looking at my Google “Real Time” Analytics and I see the number of active visitors on the site, which page their browsing, and then they land on the perfect page for me to jump in an ask “Hey, is there anything I can help you with or answer any questions which you might have about XYZ product/service/event.

    Nothing invasive, just casual.
    If someone made a plug-in or widget to do this soft selling, it would be a paradigm shift in online marketing.

    And you can take that one to the BANK………… unless it’s already been done, of course. 😉