Real Time Red Herring

Over the past few years, I’ve worked on a number of projects exploring the the value of capturing & sharing a fleeting moment in ‘real time’.

These projects included;

  • Cullect; which proved to me how infrequently ‘real time’ ever passed into ‘relevant’.
  • RE07.US; which was a URL shortener that self-destructed after 5 minutes
  • iTunes-to-Twitter; where I continually sent my iTunes playlist into Twitter to no one’s enjoyment.

While these efforts hinted at the uselessness and annoyance in focusing on ‘real time’ for goofy side projects. I needed to find out if there was significant business value in focussing on ‘real time’.

So, I landed a project with a client in an industry I assumed would convincingly show me the need to focusing-heavily on ‘real time’ message delivery and communication.

In a round of customer interviews, I asked – “how frequently do you want to know the status of X?”

“90% of the time, within 4 hours.”

Turns out, more than 90% of the time – everything is work as expected. That remaining 10%, when additional coordination is needed – the parties involved pick up the phone and talk to one another in real time. And that was the constituents who looked at the data most frequently.

In my email today, I received a ‘Thank you, I needed that.’ for a message I sent 2 months ago. The message referenced a podcast I recorded 4 years ago. The podcast was a retelling of an experience I had 8 years ago. An experience about patiently waiting for the right moment.

All this makes me wonder when Google will stop indexing the ‘real time’ web [1] in the name of spam-prevention and focus their attention on the under-appreciated “I’m Feeling Lucky” button.

This pursuit of ‘real time’ is a distraction. A distraction from building and sharing relevance and timelessness. A distraction from being present.


“The breaking news mindset isn’t just annoying, it may be distracting you from what really matters.” – Seth Godin

1. I’m holding on my prediction that by March 2011, Twitter – the company – is no longer relevant.

11 thoughts on “Real Time Red Herring

  1. As an experiment in non-real-time publishing, how about delay the publishing of each post by a year? Or Twitter by a week? That may be a good way to raise the bar on what gets published at all. Of course, it would kill discussions of, well, truly real-time content such as breaking news.

  2. Ed great point. Arguably, that delay is what makes a good book, story, song, painting, building, or other creative act. I’m not convinced ‘breaking news’ deserves as wide a distribution as it frequently gets. The handful of significant incidents in frequent memory that could qualify as ‘breaking news’ weren’t helpful or relevant in how I responded to the incident.

  3. Working at I’ve spent a fair amount of time sorting out what is real time because it matters and what is real time because it is cool. Sometimes it is the same stuff to different people.

    For example, back when the Fed was moving rates around and that was a very meaningful signal to lots of active investors, getting that information out in a few seconds was meaningful. We saw amazing traffic and the market often times responded with a big surge or dip. In fact, when the market moves very quickly being up in real-time is one of MarketWatch’s key advantages.

    But if you look at real time stock quotes it turns out that most of the people who need real time get it from a high-end terminal. That is a small audience compared to individual investors who, despite what they may think, mostly don’t need to know the price of the stock RIGHT NOW.

    One of the things we learned when we switched to real time quotes was that even though many investors didn’t NEED it, they sure appreciated it. It was a silly artifact of data pricing that they had to be twenty minutes behind the actual trade.

    Which makes me wonder if you really care so much about Goog’s real time indexing as much as you wish they wouldn’t shove the unhelpful real time information in your face. The same is true for news–I would argue that just because you can’t recall what you wanted in real time doesn’t mean that you want everything delayed. More likely some unhelpful news organization is jamming really dumb information at you in real time. Is it the timeliness or the relevancy?

    I’m just asking…

  4. Garrick, is real-time spam that much of an issue? While there is plenty of spamming of things like trending topics on Twitter, I haven’t felt that it’s inhibited my ability to figure out what’s newsworthy, since truly newsworthy stuff still comes to me from trusted sources I follow rather than the fire hose.

  5. In a somewhat tangential point, the lack of real-time is what I like about Instapaper. I’ll see an article someone posted to twitter, click it, and then immediately save it for later. When it comes time for me to cull my list I find that most of the stuff I saved (and would have otherwise mindlessly read) isn’t all that important or interesting. The time delay becomes a filter that mitigates information overload.

  6. We haven’t even scratched the relevant surface of “real-time” data yet. It’s hard for me to judge on something that hasn’t been thought of, yet. My 2 cents.

  7. Paul, for me – part of this writing this post is to identify the scenarios where ‘real time’ data is of significant business value. Jim pointed in that direction for sure. Perhaps there are some scenarios you’ve been tossing around?

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