Sadly, last weekend saw the passing of Amy Winehouse. As a search marketer, I immediately turned to my faithful friends, the search engines, to learn more about the story. As I began searching for details on Saturday, one thing became clear: Google once gain has lost its edge in searches on breaking news. The recent expiration of the Google-Twitter agreement certainly put Google at a disadvantage (and still does) in reporting breaking news quickly, as evidenced by the news of Winehouse's death.
Why Google Needed Twitter
Back in June 2009, the death of Michael Jackson exposed a potential, growing problem for Google - Twitter (and other social networks like Facebook) was breaking news faster than the search engine. Loren Baker at Search Engine Journal wrote a great piece back then about how Bing and Google not only failed to break the news of Jackson's death, and both engines were also very slow to update over the remainder of the day with the news.
This event proved that Google, and the way it is structured to report news, is too slow. At the time, news reporting, with the advent of real-time information sharing social networks like Twitter and Facebook, were beginning to render news reporting sites and search engines, like Google, less influential when reporting "breaking" news. And isn't that what most news is: real-time and breaking?
Google was faced with the same problem that the print newspaper and the evening television news faced with the growth of the Internet - new technologies were beginning to "break" news faster. Think about it. For a story to appear on Google News, there are least six steps that had to happen:
1. Event happens.
2. Reporter writes a story.
3. Editor edits the story.
4. Story is posted.
5. Story is indexed by Google News.
6. Story breaks on Google News.
Now compare those six steps to the three steps of breaking news on a social platform, such as Twitter or Facebook:
1. Event happens.
2. People begin sharing the news and story via social networks.
3. Story breaks via social networks.
Needless to say, Twitter (and Facebook) has dramatically cut the amount of time required to share information immediately with large groups of people. Google stood at a real disadvantage.
Enter Twitter Feed Agreement
Not surprisingly, in October 2009, Google inked a deal with Twitter to provide tweets in Web search results via a special feed. Now, Google could integrate the real-time tweets into Google web results as trending topics occurred, providing Google with a way to keep a foot in "breaking" news.
Exit Twitter, Enter Google+
On July 2, Google's agreement with Twitter expired, which meant the end to Google Realtime as well. This also meant that tweets that formerly appeared within web search results will no longer appear in those results on trending topics.
Just a few days before, on June 28, Google launched its own social network: Google+, likely designed to be a Twitter and Facebook complement or even replacement. Google indicated in its statement regarding the July 2 Twitter agreement expiration that, "Our vision is to have google.com/realtime include Google+ information along with other realtime data from a variety of sources." But in the meantime, while the Google+ team programs their vision, Google is missing out.
Huge Missed Opportunities in the Short Term
While the world waits for Google to finally get its new version of Google Realtime ready (integrating Google+ and other sources), Google users are back to the days of news search results that are reminiscent of the Jackson story in 2009.
When news of Winehouse's death began to spread on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET, "Amy Winehouse" was already the top trending topic on Twitter. And Bing already had news of the singer's death at the top of the results page for a search on "Amy Winehouse":
While Google had news of the singer's death, the Google News results were buried halfway down the page, below the scroll at 1 p.m. ET:
Fortunately, by 1:30 p.m. ET, Google's results were higher on the search results page, but still not as pronounced as Bing's version:
The truth of the matter is that, while many in the search community have applauded Google+ (and I, too, think that it is a good move by Google), the platform likely should not have been launched when it was. I personally think Google would have been better served to renew the Twitter agreement temporarily to gain more time to program a new real-time search, integrating Google+. It will come, but the question is when. And how much opportunity will Google lose in the meantime?