The Right Place At The Right Time: How The Real-Time Web Influences The "local" World

09 Nov 2011

A couple of hours ago I was on a on the 'The Right Place At The Right Time: How The Real-Time Web Influences The "local" World' panel at the Local Social Summit. The panel was organised and chaired by Sebastien Provencher and also included RyanMacJones, Dave Ambrose and Stefano Diemmi.

Here's the information about the panel and my thoughts on the questions that were asked.


The rise of the real-time Web is well documented. Propelled by both the social networking revolution and mobile device ubiquitousness, we're seeing the birth of new user services and business opportunities. In this panel, we will explore the time element in the local/social Web and will try to discover what kind of content works well in real-time, what are the benefits for consumers and what kind of business models can be deployed to leverage the "time" dimension.


Introduce yourself, describe your business

Phil Leggetter
Developer Evangelist at Pusher
Pusher is a cloud hosted service and API that makes it really easy to add cool realtime user engaging functionality, like push notifications, activity streams and chat, to any Web, Mobile, Tablet or Desktop application.

How do you define the real-time Web? What is the importance of the time dimension on the Web today?

Firstly I think we need to define 'realtime'. Realtime means that when information is generated following an event of some kind, that information must be available and received in a timely manner so that the context of that information is not lost; so that the information is still relevant and usable.

The realtime web, made popular by Twitter and the instant availability of information, takes this concept of timely information to the web. To me 'the realtime web' means that instant availability of information but also the instant distribution of that information. It means that those that have registered an interest in a pieces of information will have it pushed to them. It also means we now have the technology available for realtime (timely) bi-directional communication making realtime chat and collaboration using the Internet as the network something that is truly achievable.

How does the time dimension expresses itself in your business? or in the local/social universe, social media, daily deals, etc. (feel free to comment/provide examples outside of your business as well)

At a fundamental level Pusher is an Internet realtime messaging service. We aim to keep latency, the time between a message being sent and it being received, as low as possible so it's a core part of our service. The value in realtime is the opportunity that receiving information as quickly as possible presents.

The technology behind this comes from a trading background where milliseconds can mean getting the best price and can make the difference between getting a great price for a commodity/stock/share or a bad one. This results in potentially millions of pounds.

Realtime in local and social also results in opportunity. The first to hear about and respond to a deal benefits. Those who are aware of the unexpected U2 concert on a near-by roof top have the opportunity to get there in time to see this one-off event. People aware of a terror threat or some other kind of emergency can act accordingly - either get the hell out of the area or head to it to cover the event or help out. It's all about the opportunity that getting timely data presents.

What kind of content works well in real-time Web? Are there business categories that work better?

Traditionally realtime web technologies have been used in finance because that's where the benefits have been greatest. This means that the content has been pricing information about stocks and shares along with news related to finance.

But with both realtime technology and realtime data much more accessible we are seeing other businesses using and benefiting from it. Sports and betting data is the most obvious second step for this technology. Auctions are a good use and again this is really money driven. Then there's business categories where people just want to get the information as soon as possible. News, sport scores, disaster warning systems, disaster relief and short lived deals are examples. Then there's information around systems that allow for realtime collaboration; where people are working together to discuss and solve problems. Chat is the first obvious example but synchronised document editing is another more complex, yet highly beneficial one.

Twitter demonstrates a form of chat but it's only really good for broadcasting information and for one-to-one chat. If you want a multi-user experience you need to take the conversation away from Twitter. Google hangouts or apps such as !blether and Nurph are great for that.

What is the role of “mobile” in this evolution?

We're seeing a lot of notification platforms for mobile, but that means the data is going just one way. In some cases this is all that's needed e.g. "Daily Deal X available at Y". But for collaborative applications you need more than just a notification infrastructure. For that we needs better mobile data infrastructure. In London it's fine but where I live in Scotland it's nearly non-existent. So, mobile and local is going to benefit a lot of people but not everybody. Also, mobile data plans need to be revamped to take into account we are becoming more data, and less voice focused.

What are the benefits for consumers? emergency/Short-term need vs. long term need. Real-time local news (Japan tsunami, London riots, hashtags, etc.)

I think we've already covered this. It's about the opportunity that getting realtime information brings. To know something is going on and get to or away from somewhere as quickly as possible.

What are the business models (new or not) that emerge when we add the time dimension? Yield management /last-minute: real or hype? Is this real? Groupon Now disappointing?

There's an excitement generated by having a time constraint. So I think in general we'll see some fun ideas come out of this. I'm particularly excited to see some 2nd Screen applications that synchronise with live events or scheduled TV programmes. There's an opportunity to add a lot more context and fun to TV beyond what we are watching and I've yet to see a really great example. I'm not a betting guy so I've not tried out PickLive but for this interested in Football and Fantasy Football I'm sure it's a great experience. I want to see more in this space.

What's the business model? Probably synchronised contextual advertising and also increased user engagement in a programme, and TV figures mean more advertising revenue.

Are there technologies/technology stacks that are core to real-time? How do we implement real-time technologies?

Adding realtime functionality to an application is now easier than it's ever been. In the past few years the technologies allowing realtime communication have improved and are much more accessible. Scaling and maintain such technology stacks can still be a problem which is one of the features that Pusher offers.

For a true realtime experience the best technology in my opinion is WebSockets. They allow for low latency true bi-directional communication over the Internet. There are other HTTP-based techniques but they suffer from the overhead inherent in HTTP such as the additional load of HTTP Headers sent with each HTTP request. Browser techniques which do work have to be implemented in different ways in different web browsers. The standardised approach being taken with WebSockets means that it will become the best way of implementing realtime server to client bi-directional communication.

Technologies worth a mention include:

  • Pusher: a hosted realtime service with APIs that make it really easy to add realtime user engaging functionality to a web, mobile, tablet or desktop app. Have I already said that? :)
  • PubSubHubbub: provides a way to subscribe to RSS feeds so that new content is instantly pushed to you as soon as it's available. It's a server to server technology and has been used more recently to let you subscribe to any arbitrary data, not just RSS. Node.js is big in the tech community because JavaScript is generally big on the Web and Node let's you code in JavaScript on the server and client.
  • is frequently used to add realtime functionality to Node apps.
  • SocketStream: WebSocket-powered web framework dedicated to creating single-page real time websites.

What are the benefits of the real-time Web to local shops/local commerce of real-time Web? location-based, customers on the go.

The ability to let people know of short term deals or the ability to sell perishable goods at the end of the day that would otherwise be wasted. I've heard of a product called Foodini that might be doing something in this space. FourSquare check-in can still provide more value to encourage meetups in areas where groups of friends hang out.

Typically real time does not allow for a lot of context beyond short bits of info. How does context play a deeper role as we move forward in a real time world?

As I mentioned earlier, context is absolutely key to getting real value from realtime information. Without context the data can be worthless. When something has a time constraint then context has to be present. Applications such as FourSquare add the context which gives it real value. Who has checked-in, where have they checked-in, what type of place have they checked-in to. All this key information let's anybody viewing the check-in decide what to do. Tweets normally rely on you knowing a user. If you've missed the start of a conversation thread between two users you follow then, depending on the time constraints, the opportunity could be lost.

Context is essential and as realtime web applications move forward this is most definitely the area where we need to, and will, see improvement.