Real-Time Web!

Real-Time Web!

Real-Time Web!

Like me you may well be fed up of hearing and seeing this term. However, I’m guessing that you’ll be fed up for a different reason to me. I’m actually very excited about the real-time web (I’m sure you’ll have noticed) but I want to see it used as more than just a buzz term. I want to see real-time used in the true sense of the term – to mean that something has happened within the last few milliseconds. I want it to mean that the tweet you are reading, the picture you are viewing, the status update you are reading, the event you are being notified of is happening NOW.

Google no longer takes days to index a web site or find a new blog post. For things like blog posts, new web sites, certain types of news and future events it doesn’t really matter if we only find out about them within hours of their availability. But with other things such as live events, breaking news and opportunities, seconds, and sometimes milliseconds, really do matter.

When does instant real-time matter? When do you need to be informed that something is happening now? When do seconds, or even milliseconds, really matter?

Here are a few examples that I can think of:

  • Live events – notifications related to live events completely lose their context if they are delivered too late. With live events seconds matter. If there is a system using the live event notifications, such as a betting platform them milliseconds matter. As soon as a goal is scored in a football match betting needs to be temporarily stopped until the odds can be updated to take into account the new scoreline. A good example of this is PickLive Football (previously Football 3’s).
  • Alarm notifications – If you have a system hooked into your house alarm, or a power system alarm then delivery of the alarm notification needs to be instantaneous so that it can be quickly acted upon. So, a firm such as AlertMe would probably be very interested.
  • Opportunities – If you check in to a cafe using a platform such as Four Square or Gowalla then there is a finite amount of time during which that location update will be valid. During that time there is opportunity for people to meet up with you. Another example might be that an unscheduled event is all of a sudden is taking place. Without instant notification of that event you would miss it.
  • Collaboration and communication – Good examples of this are instant messaging and Google Wave. I’m sure there are loads of other platforms out there where instant updates are required to ensure that people aren’t left waiting for a reply and don’t spend time composing a replies that are irrelevant or out of date.

I’d love to get your feedback on this so please leave you comments and ideas below.

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  • Nick Smith

    Reading this made me remember a great BBC Horizon documentary called ‘Do you now what Time it is?’ – good clip from it here – .

    It’s pretty tricky to actually define what time itself is – and many smart people have said that time is relative for each person experiencing it. Maybe the ‘real-timeness’ of something (a notification, opportunity, tweet and so on) is less important than how that something exists relative to the person experiencing it… Maybe different people need different definitions of ‘real time’ applied to them individually – i.e my real time can be different to your real time, or my grandparent’s real time.
    Anyway, I agree, there are big opportunities for taking the concept of real time further, and interestingly Google seems to consider real-time a priority too regarding the indexing of content…

  • Marc Labuhn

    I would argue that real time is only ever required if there is an interactive element to the information, i.e. any time your reactions to an event may influence the outcome.

    Notifications about live events that you cannot influence need to arrive in sync with the primary information, but most of the time, a recording of both replayed in sync at a later time are indistinguishable from the live event from the viewer’s perspective.

    The other examples you list in your post are specific examples of this general idea; betting, trading, collaboration – in each case, real time matters because you play an active role in shaping the outcome of the event.

    I for one still prefer to see information like news or documentaries presented in a form that has been processed and refined, rather than a never-ending stream of raw, unprocessed (but real time) data.

  • Tim

    Great post Phil – our game revolves around every action in a football match, every pass, every tackle, every shot, every interception etc. There is an action about once every couple of seconds so for us NOW really matters!
    Keep fighting the good fight (the real-time one)!

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