Research in motion: from my “real-time” Web notebook

I confess to feeling a certain pressure, since beginning to make an argument about the illusory, ideology-driven character of the “real-time” Web, to write quickly, to skip over the tangle of challenges required and just put something out there.  But, I’m adhering instead to at least some of the intellectual imperatives that are, in part, a legacy of scholarly training, and trying to do some homework before presenting myself as any kind of authority.  Along the way I will be sharing some of my findings.

Last fall, Mashable’s founder and CEO Pete Cashmore began a stint as a weekly columnist for CNN.com.  In that capacity, he was one of several pundits who predicted that “real-time” would be “a top 10 Web trend for 2010.”  In December, he presented his case to CNN.com‘s readership under the admonitory headline “Brace yourself for the real-time Web.”  http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/12/10/cashmore.realtime.web/index.html

For Cashmore, a significant indicator of the ascendancy of  the “real-time” Web was Google’s December 2009 launch of “real-time” search, which brought “live” updates from Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites into its search results.  Taking this epochal event as his point of departure, Cashmore asked and answered a series of questions, which are worth reproducing at some length, in part because his language serves as a model for many others who write about these matters.

Why real-time?  What’s driving this real-time trend anyway?  In large part, lowered barriers to content creation:  Posting a 140-character update to Twitter is so effortless that Web users are becoming conditioned to create….

But the real answer may be in our heads.  These technologies are literally addictive, says psychologist Susan Weinschenk, fueling a “dopamine-induced loop” of seeking behavior and instantaneous reward.”  [Cashmore is quoting a post on Weinshenk’s blog, “What Makes Them Click.”]

Real-time search  If this new paradigm stimulates our seeking behavior, it follows that search is central to the real-time Web.  Before Google entered the fray, OneRiot and Collecta stood out among real-time search engines.

The reigning champion of real-time search, however, is Twitter Search, which provides instant updates whenever new tweets are posted.  “108 more results since you started searching.  Refresh to see them,” implores a message below the search box.  Enter the topic du jour here and you’ll no doubt find yourself in one of Weinschenk’s dopamine-induced loops.

This thirst for the new and novel is by no means limited to search, however:  It looks set to pervade the entire Web in 2010.  Let’s look at a few more examples.

1.  Real-time location   Foursquare…combines real-time updates with location-based features.  Every time a friend “checks in” nearby, you’ll experience the same buzz as when your BlackBerry chirps for a new email.  [Once again I give thanks for my vintage BB, which never, ever buzzes or chirps. – Ed.]

2.  Real-time news   News reading is going real-time, too.  An increasing number of early adopters use the Twitter apps TweetDeck and Seesmic to manage their consumption of updates from both friends and handpicked news sources, while newcomer Brizzly is becoming a hit with info-junkies thanks to its superior Web-based interface.

Even Google Reader, the de facto service for those following scores of blogs and news sites, now provides updates in real-time for those feeds that support it.

Will our news addiction ever be sated?  Oh, and don’t forget that news curation is going real-time, too.  See my real-time journalism article for a refresher.  [Isn’t real-time curation very plainly a contradiction in terms? – Ed.] 

3.  Real-time comments    If the stories are real-time, how about the comments, too?  Real-time services make blog comments work more like instant messaging….

4.  Real-time reviews   Why wait till you get home to review that cafe or restaurant when you’ve got Yelp and Urbanspoon on your iPhone?  Movie was awful, you say?  Try Flixster.

5.  Real-time auctions  ….

6.  Real-time collaboration   A trend within a trend:  We’ll be real-timing together in 2010.  Google Wave, the much-hyped collaborative tool, is wiki-meets-instant-messaging-meets-email and much more….

Real-time…everything!    The trend is too nebulous to capture its every facet.  Suffice to say, a vast array of Web sites and applications will try to capitalize on the real-time Web in 2010, serving our need to be engaged in the moment.  Serving, perhaps, but never quite satisfying. 

 [Yes, it’s the “never quite” that remains to be thought here, to say nothing of the “perhaps.” – Ed.]

Slow down, Pete (“easy,” as we say to horses who are moving too fast for their own good, and possibly ours).  You’ve signalled much that is of value, and perhaps more than you know.

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Filed under "Real-time" Web, Current events, History and historiography, Journalism, Media, News, Reading and writing, Tech, Weblogs

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