I could easily lose my geek cred and early adopter license for this post, but I think a lot of non-early adopters have been wondering, what is the real-time web for? Alexander Van Elsas has an excellent post “calling bs on the real time web.” Basically, he just does not know what use it has, but he sums up the problem nicely:

Real-time web is a publisher’s thing, not a consumer thing. There are few situations, usually disasters,  where I might be in need of a real-time web. The geek will tell you that it is great to be able track what people are saying when a plane crashes, Obama is inaugurated, or a famous pop star dies. The problem I have with those examples is that life isn’t like that every day.

So, outside of emergencies and major breaking news, do people know what to use the real time web for? The mass consumer likely does not. This can be seen in the comments that Facebook receives as they inch closer to becoming the main real-time platform. Why have “the masses” not been converted into real-time zealots? This is probably due to the lack of a defining problem.

Valeria Maltoni wrote a somewhat related post today regarding the “Social Media Program Lifecycle“. The basic idea is that a marketing campaign that uses social media goes through a lifecycle, and you can expect to see a certain level of “buzz” during each part of the lifecycle. In the post, she describes a graph that visualizes the “dynamics of attention”:

…distinguishes between the actions of the company and/or agency, which are designed to create higher, artificial buzz, and the reactions of the public involved. You can see in the graphic, how those generate lower buzz, yet genuine (here we say authentic) engagement.

I recommend you read the post to get the full idea, but also notice something very important. There are zero mentions of the real-time web or Twitter specifically. Facebook is mentioned, but only in the applications perspective. Blogs and reviews are mentioned, but more in the terms of engagement. Valeria is well respected in this arena, so why does she omit mentions of real-time?

As much as it pains me to say this, the “real time web” is currently in a hype cycle and is a solution in search of a problem. The breaking news usages will not make a revenue-generating industry around this. There has to be some problem, some pain that this solves. We have seen some possibilities with reputation and brand monitoring, but that is highly focused within the more marketing aspects of any business. Is there some larger problem this solves? We cannot really say that instant communication is the game-changing thing, because instant messaging broke that barrier years ago.

Twitter probably is not the real long-term winner for the real-time web. Twitter, and the concept of status updates, is really just an enabler. What problems can the real-time web solve? And what type of application will really solve that problem? Whoever figures that out will be worth a lot of money.

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