Google announced today that it will begin testing an experimental feature will allow presidential candidates to respond to issues brought up during the Republican debate in real-time directly in Google’s search results. The search company says the feature is meant to “level the playing field” as it lets the candidates share their ideas or positions – even if they didn’t have a chance to on stage.
The feature is one of several Google is rolling out in partnership with Fox News Channel in advance of the final Republican presidential debate, airing Thursday on the Fox News television network.
According to Google, political search interest spikes 440 percent during live televised debates as voters look for more information on the candidates and their platforms. But the problem with live debates is that not everyone gets to present their full positions – or in some cases, even address the same question as another candidate.
With the new real-time search feature, that will change. When web searchers type in “Fox News debate” as soon as the debate begins at 7 PM on Thursday, they’ll be presented with all the candidates’ positions on the issue being discussed.
Explains Google, the campaigns will be able to publish long-form responses as text, and can choose to add photos and videos. This will give each candidate the ability to present their own ideas, as well as “give extended responses, answer questions they didn’t get a chance to on stage, and rebut their opponents.”
The features play into the growing trend of second-screen usage that takes place today while watching TV. That is, viewers often watch the show while also using the web or social media to look up more information, share opinions, or see what others are saying.
This is something Twitter has capitalized on in particular, through the use of hashtags which let users quickly find all the chatter about a given topic.
In Google’s case, however, it’s turning to keywords not hashtags to surface these real-time responses.
It’s also notable that Google is testing how its own platform can be better used to surface real-time information. The move follows on last year’s news of the company’s renewed search deal with Twitter to integrate tweets back into Google search results on both mobile and desktop.
Now it seems as if Google itself wants to supersede Twitter in some cases, by hosting the real-time responses itself, instead of just pointing to a third-party service.
In addition to the integrated candidates’ responses, Google also announced a couple of other tweaks it’s making to help web searchers find political information on the web.
During the debate, Google will spotlight key insights from Google Trends that offer insights about the candidates and their issues.
For example, Google may point to things like questions asked about key issues to trending terms and rankings. This will give web searchers immediate information on how others are reacting to the debate, for example. And Google says it will ask polling questions, too, directly in Google search which Fox News will then use on air.
That’s another thing that Twitter today offers – it even rolled out its own polling feature this past fall.
The overlap between the two companies’ products in this area makes is especially interesting, given Twitter’s recent turmoil and the ongoing discussions about whether it makes sense for Google to acquire the social media service as its entry way into social, after Google+ spectacularly failed.
Finally, Google notes that YouTube creators Nabela Noor, Mark Watson, and Dulce Candy will get the chance to ask the candidates questions of their own at the debate. This is something that’s been done since the 2008 election. While the idea is to open access to politicians to the wider community, sometimes these YouTube personalities waste their chance when chatting with politicians by asking them to weigh in on silly topics. (Like when YouTube star Adande Thorne, aka Swoozie, asked Obama how a dog would wear pants.)
All these features will go live at 7 p.m. ET on Thursday. The primetime debate begins at 9 PM ET on the Fox News Channel.