Internet giant Google has been adding to its real-time search capabilities, pulling in more and more data from sources like MySpace, FaceBook, and Twitter so users can not only search for particular topics, but find out what people are saying about them too—pretty much in real time. Now Google is taking its Twitter feature one step further, enabling users to pick a point in time and find out what people were tweeting a topic at that moment. Users can view a timeline of Twitter activity on a topic, then zoom in to find what people were saying at any particular point on the timeline. The feature is available as an “Updates” entry on Google search results left-hand column: here’s link to April’s commentary (so far!) on the iPad.
“Tweets and other short-form updates create a history of commentary that can provide valuable insights into what’s happened and how people have reacted,” said Google Real-Time Search product manager Dylan Casey, in a blog posting. “By replaying tweets, you can explore any topic that people have discussed on Twitter. Want to know how the news broke about health care legislation in Congress, what people were saying about Justice Paul Stevens’ retirement or what people were tweeting during your own marathon run? These are the kinds of things you can explore with the new updates mode.”
Right now, only tweets going back to about February are available, but Google plans to extend the feature’s reach all the way back to March of 2006, when Twitter first opened its virtual doors.
Google’s Twitter timeline search is the first serious effort to make the enormous backlog of Twitter content available, as well as provide a real-time glimpse of the so-called “firehose” of data Twitter users are constantly generating. Twitter, of course, has its own search feature, but it’s been riddled with problems and has never been tremendously useful: users can be looking at a tweet on their own page and have it fail to come up in Twitter search. Twitter also doesn’t do a good job of making old content available, even to its registered users: currently, if you have more than about 3,000 tweets to your name, you can’t get to them all.