Is It Finally the End for Real-time Search Engines?

During the past four months we've seen not one but two well known real-time search engines disappear. First there was OneRiot, which in October 2010 decided to focus on advertising. More recently, Collecta closed it's real-time search engine and API to focus on alternative real-time products. Digging further into real-time search offerings you will also discover that crowdeye has also decided to pull its real-time search engine. This now appears to leave Topsy, and of course Google as the main players focusing on building a real-time search destination. Does this trend signal the end for all real-time search engines or just that their focus has been wrong?

There are a couple of quotes that seem to indicate what the problem has been for some of these real-time search engines. On the front page of crowdeye there is now the paragraph:

While we have been successful pushing the state of the art forward with features like location-based search, relevance sorting of results and sentiment, we have not yet built a profitable business around CrowdEye.

The OneRiot blog post that announced the move to focus on advertising states:

Now, of course, since OneRiot has been around we’ve been known as leaders in the realtime search space. In reality, we’ve been in the market with two products that leverage the same underlying technology Platform: consumer-facing realtime search and an innovative advertising product that monetizes both realtime search the wider realtime social web. Our advertising platform has taken off like a rocket – both in terms of network growth and the number of advertisers who are seeking to engage with the social influencers across that network.

The problem is monetization. Isn't it always!

As the real-time web exploded we saw a bunch of real-time search engines appear. That list has significantly decreased in size and of those that still exist at all quite a few have shifted focus.

So the question is what could they have done to monetize their real-time search engine product? The obvious solution is advertising and Google have already proven that this works and continues to do so. OneRiot have followed suit but have decided to drop the search destination offering and instead have chosen to partner with companies and offer value through the OneRiot API.

Using an API as a source of monetization isn't a new idea with both Google and Amazon proving that this can be a fantastic revenue generator. Google provide access to a host of functionality through their APIs with a reasonable proportion of them focused on advertising, monetization and revenue generation and Amazon offer the ability to generate revenue via their Product Advertising API (UK version). However, what is interesting is that there appears to be a movement away from the absolute requirement that in order to generate revenue your product or service must be a destination - a website. By providing access to quality data, generated through ground breaking technology and exposed via an accessible API a service can be very successful.

Are real-time search engines dead? No. However the trends discussed above do indicate that consumers don't seem to need, or want, as many real-time search destinations (websites). But that in no way means that we don't need real-time search engines - we do still need technology products and services that can consume the vast amounts of real-time data being generated, extract value and expose this value to others. Therefore the engines will continue to be developed it's just that the focus and the value exposed by these products may well shift away from being consumer focused and instead the target user will be the programmable web.

Photo via Blake Patterson

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