I Want it Now: The Real Time Web

The best things come to those who wait

We’ve all said it but when it comes to the Internet very few of us believe it to be true. We want it now, and often even earlier. AJAX has made our web pages instantly responsive to clicks and now the real-time Web will make our communications instant too.

What is it?

Real-time Web, or ‘now media’ as some people prefer to call it is the next big thing on the Internet. If you want an easy explanation of what it actually is then you’ll be disappointed. Even the Wikipedia entry isn’t up to much, defining it as “the concept of searching for and finding information online as it is produced“, and leaving it at that. It is like many other Internet phenomena in that the term means different things to different people.

The read write web have just published a series of primers covering the main aspects of real-time Web:

1. is a new form of communication,
2. creates a new body of content that is largely public.
3. is real time
4. is public and has an explicit social graph associated with it,
5. carries an implicit model of federation.

As they explain “quite a bit of effort is being made on storing, slicing, dicing, and disseminating information as quickly as possible“. It seems people really do (as those famous Queen lyrics say) want it all and want it now.


Twitter is currently the biggest application mentioned when it comes to the real-time web. It’s success has been huge (with over 44.5 million users in June 2009) and much of this is down to its real-time search. Friendfeed is another highly popular social Web site that also offers real-time content chasing.

In an O’Reilly broadcast from late 2008 on the real-time Web Brian Lesser commented that none of the tools currently available allowed users to solve the real-time collaboration problem of being able to simultaneously work on things.

To accomplish this I think we need to get away from the idea that we should share and synchronize files or application windows and look at real-time sharing of data models within the browser.

Maybe Google Wave holds the key.

Google Wave

Users create a ‘wave’, which is very much like a conversation on a particular topic (or an email or message board thread). To this wave they can add users, documents and ideas. The users can then collaboratively edit the resources and create spin off waves. All activity is ‘recorded’ and you can choose to playback a wave to see how it was created. The aim is a more free-flowing, informal and linked form of communication.

Now for the real real-time part: When you are typing each character actually appears on other user’s screens as you enter it. Very impressive.

Google Wave isn’t available for us all to use yet and in the meantime Google continue to slave away looking for the holy grail that is real-time search. They openly admit it isn’t an easy nut to crack. The new body of data that is now available for search engines to mine is very different from the more static information that previously made up the Web. However it is this new, immediate data that people want to search. Every time a news story breaks people want to be able to find the very latest information and only real-time will do.

Implications for us

So what does the real-time Web have to offer us remote workers? Well change in communication techniques effects us all, especially those of us who rely so heavily on digital forms of communication. Indexed and availability of content will ultimately make our lives a lot easier but perhaps expectations will also be raised as a result. As Veruca Salt (the nasty little girl from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) discovered, sometimes there is a price to pay for wanting it now!

If you want to see the real-time Web in action have a look at FriendFeed, Facebook’s Immediate Notifications or Five Sites that Let You Experience the Real-Time Web Today.