Microsoft and Facebook race to real time

The race among some of the biggest online companies to reveal more of the instant opinions and information flooding across the internet in real time has intensified, with Microsoft and Facebook each announcing important initiatives in recent days.

The initiatives reflect the broader impact on the internet that is starting to be felt by the soaring popularity of Twitter, the service that lets users broadcast short messages.

Twitter has quickly become the leading public repository of real-time opinions, gossip and information from millions of people, prompting search engines like Microsoft’s Bing to try to index it, and rivals like Facebook to try to copy its success.

Bing on Wednesday became the first search engine to show real-time Tweets, the short messages posted by Twitter users, in its search results, although technical constraints that restrict how many data requests Twitter can handle have forced it to limit the service.

Microsoft said the service, restricted to posts from several thousands of the most popular Twitterers in the US, would bring new Tweets onto the search engine in less than a minute.

The initiative, although limited, gave Microsoft a leg up over Google in its efforts to find ways to differentiate the new Bing search engine, said Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineLand.

Google was more likely to wait to show Twitter’s real-time content until it can index the entire service, he added.

Meanwhile, Facebook has taken steps in recent days to make its own collection of real-time views and information, posted by the service’s 225m active users, more publicly available, marking a direct attempt to counter Twitter’s rising popularity.

The social networking site has begun trials of a search service on its own site that would enable users to find “status updates” – Facebook’s equivalent of Tweets – from any other users of the service, provided the message had been made publicly available.

In a second step to counter Twitter, Facebook this week said it was testing new privacy settings, in the hope that its users would choose to make more of their personal information available to anyone.

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