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.”