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The Real-time Web: Sifting Required

pushing rock up hillDespite all the hype and excitement around the real-time web, access to real-time information online is hardly a new phenomenon. That fact stuck with me after talking to Chris Cox, Facebook’s product director, last week at the social networking company’s headquarters. As he noted, “Real time has been around since [the launch of] Technorati,” referring to the blog search engine founded by Dave Sifry in 2002 that aggregates hot stories from across the web. Yet seven years later, we still haven’t figured out how to handle the inundation of real-time information.

With the constant stream of status updates flowing on the web, it can be easy to miss the stuff we care about. Facebook and Twitter have yet to figure out how to help users easily scan the glut of news streamed in real time without missing information from earlier that they need or want to see. As Om pointed out last week, this influx of status updates often results in a series of disjointed conversations that lack context, making it hard to piece together and decipher what it all means.

Cox, the man behind Facebook’s recent redesign and the creation of its News Feed feature, said the social network has been experimenting with ways to balance what’s going on right now with day-old (or older) information. Cox detailed this in a blog post about Facebook’s redesign this spring, which pushed the feed of friends’ older activity (e.g. photo albums they’ve posted or groups they’ve joined) to the right side of the home page and placed the stream of friends’ real-time status updates and activity in the middle. At some point, Twitter is going to have to deal with a similar dilemma, said Cox. Even more to the point, he added that, “It’s hard to get right.”

25 Responses to “The Real-time Web: Sifting Required”

  1. Jennifer your intriguing post got me to thinking of some ways for Charities to use real time web, specifically the latest idea, Real Time Google Search. Microsoft CRM and Sales Force to name just two companies are in the process of adding functionality to their software which monitors and collects relevant social media comments from donors and keeps it in their data record in the CRM system. If you are using fundraising software developed on these platforms or integrated with them, then this data is immediately available for campaign solicitations. Imagine your charity has an immediate need for funding driven by some event like a natural disaster. You could search your data base for those donors who are currently commenting in the various social media about this event and make a timely solicitation to tap into their interest. Then you could ask them if they would share this funding need with “friends” in their social network who might also be interested in this cause. This action has a compound effect. Not only are you soliciting funds from potential new donors but your solicitation is coming from a trusted friend of theirs, thus increasing your chances of success. At the same time you are building your network of potential donors for future solicitations. Even if they don’t donate this time they remain in your database as a prospect for future solicitation. These are just a few of the ideas that we on the fundraising software development side are integrating into our software to leverage the power of social media in order to improve the effectiveness of a charity’s fundraising efforts.

  2. context is more relevant to real time search then anything else
    if technorati does get twitters firehose feed and integrates it with their search they will still have the best open real time search out there
    what people do forget in real time fight between twitter and facebook is that both are very much closed platforms and both are creating a lot of uncertainties in the developer communities recently
    it will be interesting to see who will nail real time search ;)

  3. There is no doubt, we need access to information in near real-time. I am afraid, real-time web might get over hyped.

    I would like to open standards to built and deploy, so everyone can do things in consistent way – it would be more useful then.

    Facebook’s new design, where old activities are shown in sidebar is totally smart move. I seem to be looking at it first then main activity-stream, which is like changing every second, I find myself little slower or lazy to follow every update. I rather prefer to sit and read a lot of them together, which requires me hitting “more” or whatever, to read what happened some hours back.

    I feel, it’s really important to have old data along with real-time, individual preferences might be different. Just like, how we read emails, some read as they receive, while some allocate time to read and respond.

    Thanks for nice post and summing up various ideas and related posts together.