The challenge of live search

As the web turns live — with broadcasters streaming and with anyone carrying a mobile phone broadcasting — the next big challenge for search will be how we can find what’s going on while it’s going on. How can we search the live web?

I’ve written here before that witnesses sharing what they see via video from their mobile phones will change the essential architecture of news. No longer will CNN tell witnesses to send things to them that they then vet, package, and present to the world. When a Qik or Flixwagon user sees live news and broadcasts it on the web, it won’t be through CNN. CNN’s challenge will be to find it and its choice will be to link to it or embed it or not. That changes the role of a news organization in the ecology of news. It might even take them out of the flow of much of live news unless they can come up with systems to find and recommend what’s happening now.

Even when dealing with known, branded sources of live broadcast, there’s a challenge. I want to see whether anyone — TV or radio network or citizen armed with a Nokia — is going to broadcast Barack Obama’s speech about race from Philadelphia today. But I can’t find that.

Google is not prepared for the live web. Google values pages that grow links and clicks over time. It understands the permanent web. Of course, that is a protean thing, a growing brain. But it’s not live. Technorati likes to think that it gives us the live web but I’d say that instead it gives us the dynamic web, the latest static pages. It also doesn’t give us live.

How can you find and value live? Looking at links will make you too late. Traffic might tell you something — why are people swarming around this video stream? — but that, too, will be unreliable and probably too late. Brand won’t be a help because the witness will almost always see and share news before a reporter can get there.

Nobody would have had any reason to know that I was on the last PATH train into the World Trade Center on 9/11 but if I’d had the phone I had now, I would have been broadcasting the news from eye-level — not from rooftops three miles away — as it happened. How could you have known that?

There will need to be a new system where, Twitterlike, he who’s broadcasting live can alert the world about what he’s sending and others — audiences or armies of interns monitoring these feeds — help the good stuff bubble up and quickly.

If this doesn’t exist, the live web’s value will be as perishable as smoke. If it does exist, we’ll probably find what’s going on — what’s news — around the present news architecture. And then we’ll have to wonder how we vet and confirm that what we see is real.

Live changes everything — again.

* * *

Seconds after posting this, I see Dave Winer — who else? — at the start of such a structure of leading us to the live web. He Twittered: “I’m making an MP3 of Obama’s speech. I’ll publish it a few minutes after the speech is over, 15 minutes from now.”

  • Sorry for the off-topic comment, but what happened to the “The Politics of Politics” post?

  • Kevin,
    Weird. I don’t know why it disappeared but I republished it. Must be a vast conspiracy. thanks for the alert.

  • No problem. Vast conspiracy, indeed. :)

  • Places like Tweetscan seem an obvious place to find such material – it seems to be a live search. It also provides a further demonstration why journalists should be part of networks generally – when something breaks it’s the ones who are on Twitter etc. that get it first, rather than relying on some ‘live search’ engine to find it. (witness the half hour delay between the UK earthquake breaking on twitter and facebook and then reaching BBC)
    Then plug in geotagging – a story breaks in Birmingham UK you want to find people there. Or you want something to pick up that there has been a sudden upsurge in tweets from Birmingham UK which alerts you to the fact that something may have happened. GPS mobile phones could make a massive difference here.

  • Interesting concept. Certainly one that does call for some wonderful algorithmic stuff combined with interns ;).

    First impressions you would be looking at something that ingests a load of dynamic feeds of video, sound and text. Do some evaluation on emotional stress levels, nature of the video (e.g. how quickly the image changes from scene to scene) and look for keywords in the text. then is probably something about looking for a number of similar reports or more importantly how rapidly these reports are coming onto the web.

    Not perfect I grant you but certainly a good first step.

  • Very interesting discussion. These are questions I deal with every day. To cover the world live on the Internet, I’m thinking a multi-pronged approach will be needed – a Twitter-like system in which individuals all over the world could alert millions at once to breaking news in their area, a geotagging metric such as Paul discusses to help viewers disseminate between all the tweets as well as the hypothetical “room full of interns” to organize it all into a format that’s effective for a casual Internet user who just wants to know what’s going on.

    Add to that a sophisticated understanding of what drives traffic that would allow an editor to predict some popular search terms before they happen (not possible with earthquakes, but certainly possible with Obama’s speech today), and then you’ve really got something. What, I’m not sure…but something.

  • mikke

    I think the solution is in some kind of “Aggregators”. Maybe one for each type of live video, such as News, Sports, Entertainment or what have you.
    Just recently I have started to follow a swedish start-up, that’s trying to do exactly this, and their solution might be exactly what you are looking for. Take a look:

  • Great post…. we’re building the news room of the future at Mahalo that has dozens of video and audio feeds coming in to the “hive” and 30-40 guides building pages in real time.

    blurry/bad photos here:

    At some point this room will have 100 people in it covering the news 24 hours a day in real time.

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  • B. Nelson

    Even when dealing with known, branded sources of live broadcast, there’s a challenge. I want to see whether anyone — TV or radio network…


    is managed by “faux news” it links to many other network affiliates, and has a live moderator available. I find it useful for searching for live news feeds such as coverage of a live political speech or “breaking” story.

    B. Nelson

  • James

    Google does do live search today – several times I’ve seen people search for a term just mentioned in a post and it turns up at the top of the Google search results page. I’m guessing they’re using RSS feeds to inject results quickly.

  • James

    As an example, I just did a search for “WWGD book” and got your post as a result: “ – 2 hours ago – Similar pages”

  • I gave a talk at the BIL conference a few weeks ago and at eComm08 last week on “Millicomputing: The Future in your pocket”. I look ahead to the hardware capacity we can expect to have in the next two years and then start thinking about what kind of applications this would enable. With more performance and storage capacity in a much more openly programmable platform we get closer to an always-on mode.

    Possible uses for this include “Lifelogging” – storing everything you see and hear into a private archive in your pocket. Include a brainwave sensor and capture what you feel as well as using thought to control your device (see Neurosky). Publishing and broadcasting parts of a lifelog in real time is starting to happen with sites like qik and bambuser. However this voyeuristic approach is just the start.

    If a group of people share their lifelogs in real time you have a kind of “ambient presence” that borders on telepathy. Imagine having your close friends around you in a 3D audio space, and being able to call up their video feed at will. Give this to teenagers and they will use it instead of txt/im and form deep relationships that us old folks won’t understand. This takes the conference call concept and extends it to an always on videoconference in your pocket.

    The headset technologies exist, and a combined stereo audio with camera, microphone and Neurosky sensor doesn’t seem too far off.

    Its great to see these ideas emerging, along with the platforms needed to deliver them.

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