Google has begun adding search results in real-time to its engine, allowing web users to immediately see relevant links that have just been added to its index.
The move is an acknowledgement by Google of the increasing importance of providing literally up-to-the-minute results in its engine, as end-users have found value in searching through messages and status updates posted to microblogging and social-networking sites like Twitter, MySpace and Facebook.
In fact, these three companies have struck deals with Google for this initiative, feeding the search engine posts, status updates and other content that people and organisations have labelled as public.
"Google's real-time search is Google's relevance technology meeting the real-time web," said Amit Singhal from Google said.
"Relevance is the foundation of this product. It's relevance, relevance, relevance. There's so much information being generated out there, that getting to you relevant information is the key to success of a product like this. That's where we as Google come in, because for 11 years that's what we have done," he added.
Bing, Microsoft's competing search engine, unveiled real-time search features in October, primarily focused on Twitter results, with plans to expand its scope. Yahoo is also making moves in this area.
Google's real-time results won't be limited to Twitter, MySpace and Facebook. They will include results from other social networks, blogs and news outlets as well.
Google had to develop more than 12 new technologies to power real-time search, which requires monitoring more than 1 billion fast-changing pages and documents.
Google will roll out this real-time search functionality gradually to users over the coming days. For now, it will be available only for English-language results.
When real-time becomes available to them, users will see a section in the results labelled 'latest results'. This will open up a section right on the search results page with relevant items scrolling in as they become available.
There will also be a specific menu option to filter results down only to real-time ones by clicking on 'latest'. An option called 'updates' will limit real-time results to those from microblogging services like Twitter.
Real-time search functionality will also be available to mobile users of iPhone and Android devices.
The real-time technology will also power a new option in the Google Trends service. Called 'Hot Topics', this new option will contain the most popular topics online at any given time.
Google also announced new mobile search services designed to let users find out what local businesses are in their current vicinity, as well as search for information on an item by snapping a photo of it with their phone's camera.
The local business search feature is called 'What's Nearby' and included in the latest version of Google Maps for Android devices, said Vic Gundotra, Google's vice president of engineering.
In a few weeks, the same functionality will be available from Google's mobile home page via a new option called 'Near me now'.
Google Goggles, the photo-based search, is available as an early prototype from the company's Labs team for now, because it works well only for specific items in specific categories, he said.
The service, which Gundotra called "a mouse pointer for the world", should eventually be able to identify virtually any item a user photographs.
Gundotra also demonstrated an early version of an upcoming feature that translates speech in real time, acting like a real-time interpreter for phone conversations.
He also announced that the mobile search engine's existing ability to field voice queries has been sharpened, as well as extended through the addition of Japanese. It already worked in English and Mandarin.
"This is just the beginning, but the possibilities ahead inspire us," he said about the new and improved mobile services.
Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products and user experience, said that the mobile search advances offer a peek into how the search engine interface will evolve and change from its current format of a search box into which text queries are typed.