— aleatory

When to do Real Time

Image courtesy jayce 31

Google has done two ‘real-time’ things lately, one good one not so good: Real Time web indexing and real time web search.

With ‘er, hang-on a minute…‘ moments now surfacing in the public domain I find the contrast between the two to be especially important. Google in their traditional engineer style expound the benefits of both in shaving seconds of search: ’11 user hours saved globally each second'; ‘50% faster indexing rate of content'; figures that prove the mantra – machines search better than humans.

Machines definitely do the donkey work better than humans. Indexing is a dumb process easily solvable by machine and has been for decades. The migration from batch processing to incremental updating of the search index that Google Caffeine delivers is an essential improvement to real time search.

The Google Instant realtime GUI trick is not such a homerun. Instant brings up a full page of results updated character by character. In cases where the user searches over two or more words – in my experience the vast majority of search – context is vital. Rarely is that context clear until the entire phrase is typed in. This is why google instant, as fast as it undoubtedly is, rarely returns what you’re looking for until you complete your search term.

In any case, the Mind Machine Interface is a delicate thing and only as strong as the weakest link – the human. And it’s the human that has to comprehend this extra flow of data, most of it extraneous.

Google does not yet do the contextual understanding the user must accomplish to use Instant search successfully – and I wouldn’t like them to try, as that would likely involve personalisation based on past searches and as my browsing habits change over time I don’t want past results skewing things.

Incidently an ulterior motive for Google Instant can always be found on the web.

So in conclusion real time is only useful when the data can be transformed into a form easily processed as by the end user. If it cannot it instead serves to exacerbate the problem of information overload rather than lessening it.

The ideal real time UI has yet to be realised.

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