A Real Time Location Search Primer

Social networking sites continue to grow in the amount of status updates that are made on their sites each day.  Twitter has grown so large that it now gets over 55 million status updates posted to its site each day.  These status updates allow real time search engines to show users what’s going on right now through technology that filters and then publishes these updates in a variety of fashions.  Real time search engines continue to look for ways to innovate and make better sense of the mass of data that gets published onto the real time web every second. 

Twitter confirmed at the recent Chirp conference that an increasing proportion of its status updates are being Geo-tagged.  This means that a certain percentage of real time updates have a real time location attached to it.  Through filtering technology, real time search engines are beginning to allow the user to search for updates made from inside a given city.  So, while before the user could see what people are saying about the “Lost Season Finale” this instant – now the user can see what people inside of Boston are saying about the “Lost Season Finale”.

Real time location search takes the percentage of updates that have GEO information included with them and organizes those results in a user friendly fashion.  The current focus on real time location search is based in cities – but as the data pool grows larger, real time search engines will be able to sort by actual places within a given city.  So, in the future, you’ll be able to search to see what’s being said right now at LAX Airport in Los Angeles or Wrigley Field in Chicago. 

The use cases for real time location search continue to evolve.  This new type of search can be great to compare the sentiments in one city to the next.  In politics for example,  you can see how the country reacts to Obama or a new law passage in different cities.  It it can be very interesting as a sports fan to see how a cities fans feel about a particular player or trade and this can then be compared with reactions from a rival city.  When a new movie or TV show comes out – it is helpful to see comments about the show in different cities.   Businesses can use this data as well.  During the super bowl, when the commercials are being aired - marketing analysts can see in real time user comments and opinions about each commercial from within major cities.

As real time location search migrates to places, the use cases will increase dramatically.  By getting real time chatter from a given location – it allows the user to experience an event in a unique way without having to actually be there.  If during the world series, you are unable to make it to Yankee stadium – it can be very exciting to see in real time what people are saying at the Yankee game.  If there is an event that causes major travel delays at LAX airport, instead of waiting to see people on the news commenting from the airport – you’ll be able to see comments in real time on the web.  So, while Foursquare, Gowalla, and the other location based check-in applications can show you where people are at right now – real time search engines will be able to show you what people are saying right now at popular places.

A challenge with real time search surrounds the amount of quality data available.  While you can certainly search New York City or Chicago to see what’s being said about American Idol – if you live in Burlington, Vermont or Reno, Nevada – there wouldn’t be the depth of data available to offer a good enough user experience.  This too is a reason why real time location search has been slow to move into specific places inside of a city.  So, in Philadelphia, you can see what people are saying about the a concert – but if you search the actual concert venue for status updates made from the event - the data pool won’t be there.   Of course another challenge comes from privacy, as more data will only be here when users are comfortable with sharing their GEO coordinates alongside status updates done on social networking sites.  While the data pool is increasing, it is safe to say that the majority of status updates do not contain any specific location coordinates.

With all that being said, smart phones put a device in almost every ones pocket to help fuel this space.  It is easy for a user to publish updates from any given venue – and with more and more activity migrating to mobile devices - this simplicity of Geotagging updates along with the necessity to communicate in a mobile world will help real time location search take on added significance as time goes by.

Our site, Sency, has dove into real time location search head first.  We have launched Sency for Cities in London and 13 major US cities. Each city page makes it easy for the user to discover what people are talking about right now in a given city through search and hot topics.  The next step is to highlight the popular places people are at in a city currently and of late.

The benefits for real time search will vary from one user to the next.  Right now, it works best for people living in a major city or people living close to a major city.  Six months from now, you can expect many more cities as well as popular places to be covered and highlighted via real time location search. Once real time search covers more real estate across the world, its adoption rate will climb as this new method of searching gets intertwined with every day internet usage.