Now that “real-time” data has become a Web 2.0 (is it Web Squared now?) mantra, Google’s keen to get the idea embedded into user’s consciousness. The search giant is including a “HotTrends” data panel right into the search results to show the most active topics. Basically, Google trying to compete with Twitter, with one important difference.
Starting from late yesterday, if you use Google’s regular search to look up what’s going on about a trending topic then right at the bottom of the search page, just above “related searches” you’ll get a panel with information on the trend. There’s a rank out of 100 for “most popular searches” in the last hour, a “hotness” rating, and a graphical chart showing how the popularity of the topic is trending over time.
The Google Trends data has been available for two years–clicking on the data panel takes you to Google Trends itself, where you can look at more detailed info on each topic, and why it’s surfacing. As I write this, William H. Macy is top of the Trends chart, and you can see how his results are shown in a standard search page:
Although it’s based on old technology, it’s clearly a move by Google to highlight the real-time powers of its search algorithm by reporting the trending data in a (literally) more real-time accessible manner in the search results. Google’s director of product management for consumer search, RJ Pittman, told SearchEngineLand that the move was a reaction to the “growth and popularity of real time information.” And Pittman completely gave away Google’s motives by then saying “Instead of the 140 character tweet, it’s the 20 to 25 character tweet, the keyword search.” Basically Google’s going after Twitter, and is cheeky enough to think a user typing in “William H Macy” (or, indeed, “live stripshow” or a trillion other trivial things) into its search box is a “tweet.” Pittman compounded the confusion by adding “…those come in much faster than tweets do. In our view, that’s the highest fidelity information for trending topics.”
But is he right? I suspect he’s putting a smart spin on things to make it look like Google’s the king of all real-time info, but Pittman neatly side-steps an incredibly vital point: Google Trends can only chart what people are asking about versus Twitter’s trends which are, by definition, what people are talking about. And that’s absolutely key to understanding real-time ‘what’s actually going on’ data. Twitter genuinely taps the pulse of the web (and the World) with its trends, while the best Google can hope to achieve is playing catch-up. You can’t yet view a Google search phrase as an information-rich, personalized, geolocated lifecasting “tweet” no matter how much Google would like you to.