Real Time Search, yet another oxymoron?

Is there such a thing as a do it all real time search? Probably not.

Something happens, let’s call it “small bang”.

In order to “real time” search it; you have to know about it, right ? You can only search for something that you already know about.

But if you already know about it, that’s no longer real time. Hence,  real time search is an oxymoron.

We should rather name “the need to be on the top of something as soon as it occurs”,  real time listening or real time discovery.

And this opens several interesting challenges:

1) One can listen to so many sources at a given time.

Although one can talk/ tweet to millions in one click, listening, and even automated listening does not work the same way.

The consequences is that people and brand have to prioritize and organize who they are listening to.  That’s what Facebook Friends, Twitter followers, RSS lists are all about.

I remember attending one Robert Scoble talk where he was mentioning having a 45 mn advantage over CNN learning of events like plane crashes, earthquakes …

To do that, whether on purpose or not, he was relying on a network of people spread across the globe and counting the repetition of the same tweet to validate the information and judge its importance.  He also had trusted sources he could count on to double-check.  Even implicitly, there was an organization around his listening effort.

If let’s say, 95% of his contacts were in Silicon Valley, then he would have a hard time spotting a new event happening in Italy or Brazil.

For a brand, the implication is that  they have to map their target communities and align their listening efforts and resources to their strategies and to “who matters”.

They also have to give up the dream of real time listening to a few billion people real time.  The “more is better” approach of listening  is a root cause for “systemic intelligence failure” as Predident Obama just named it.

2) Any discovery process starts with a definition of what is supposed to be discovered:  “patterns”.

Pattern can be simple ones

  • mentions of brand & product names, executive names, competitors … (yes/no, number, frequency)
  • lack of mentions of brand name in their target communities… which is usually a much bigger issue for mid-size brands.

or more complex ones.

  • expressions that have surfaced recently  in a given community
  • changes in the structure of the community (let’s say top influencers start linking back to your competitor blog, following an outreach effort this competitor just performed)
  • changes in the tonality of the conversations around your brand in a given community

Poincare (early 20th century French Physicist) once said: ” to find something without looking for it, one must have looked for it without finding it for a long time” (“Pour trouver sans chercher, il faut avoir beaucoup cherche sans trouver”).

Back to Robert Scoble example, he was not just looking for “anything” but discovering potential already known phenomenas. He also had to have an idea of  normal versus abnormal frequency of events.

This is the same for brand. They need to get an idea of what they should be searching for in order to instruct the discovery process.

This is best done with a non directed listening for a while; to get an idea of the events that are usually of interest and a generalization into “patterns” that can be looked for.

After community mapping and strategy definition, listening is a mandatory step before setting up any “automated” discovery.


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