Not to be outdone by its rivals, Yahoo is getting into the real-time search business as well.
Days after Google announced its plan for integrating content from sources such as Twitter and blogs, Yahoo on Thursday plans to launch its own feature to integrate tweets into search results. Microsoft already displays Twitter results for queries placed on its Bing search engine, although they displayed on a separate page that is not directly integrated into the main search results.
Yahoo will join Google witih integrated results as of Thursday, said Larry Cornett, vice president of product management and design at the company. But in a crucial difference between the two approaches, Yahoo has not cut a deal with Twitter for access to the "firehose," an automated feed of data from Twitter. Instead, it's using Twitter's public API and adding its own algorithms to figure out which tweets are most relevant to the query.
The thorniest problem with real-time search is relevancy. So much content is created every second on the Internet--from tweets to status updates to new blogs to new news stories such as this one--that it's a challenge to simply capture that data, let alone decide which sources of data are more relevant and authoritative than others.
Yet there's clear demand for answers to the question, "What is happening right this second?" And search engines are presumably in the best position to deliver those answers, but unless they are able to find a way to harness the flood of real-time information and make sense of it, these services are unlikely to be very useful.
For hot topics, such as Obama or Tiger Woods, Yahoo plans to use the Twitter tab it added to the News Shortcut feature already found in Yahoo search results. For other topics that are gaining traction but don't necessarily have a huge amount of news, photos or videos already associated with that query, Yahoo will surface three tweets related to the topic and chosen by its algorithms, Cornett said.
The main problem with Yahoo's approach is that it's not exactly real-time: the most recent results surfaced during a demonstration were 15 to 20 minutes old, and the user must manually refresh the page to get new results. Google's approach not only refreshes automatically due to its use of Twitter's firehose feed, but it also brings in content from sources other than Twitter.
The other major problem for Yahoo, of course, is that its search share is dropping, something Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz blamed on expiring toolbar deals during an investor conference Tuesday. While Yahoo says it is committed to remaining a player in the search market by coming up with new ideas for search presentation, this week shows just how easy it is for Google to take a similar idea (real-time search) and put out a similar-if-not-better take on the same idea.