Calling BS on the Real-Time Web

The tech world is full of the real-time web. Google seems to have missed it, Twitter is on top of it but sucks at indexing it, Friendfeed is the aggregation king, and Facebook might get there by copying Twitter and Friendfeed all along.

Personally I think it is not worth the hassle. 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. Most of the times we get along quite well without the ability to track these rare situations, and when they do emerge we’ll find out about it quickly enough.

Another argument is real-time search. That’s a lot of BS too. there is so much twittering around that it is impossible to get valuable real-time results in search. Google Pagerank uses an algorithm to decide what could be relevant. You may not like the algorithm, but it does attempt to ensure that there is a reasonable objective approach in getting you valuable results. Chit chat isn’t the way to do that. There currently is no algorithm when real-time search is running. There is only people, and the things they publish right now. It leads to a lot of clutter and near-zero value in search.

The Friendfeed crowd will argue that it isn’t about real-time search, but about real-time conversations. I don’t buy that for a minute. Have you ever seen a discussion on Friendfeed? the service gets praised for their ability to let people interact over content. It’s the best service out there. Personally I find many of the “discussions” hardly interesting or useful. There is too much content, too many people, too many comments, no structure in discussions, too many geeks. But most important hardly anyone  is actually listening (the basis for ANY good conversation is the ability to listen). A Friendfeed discussion isn’t an interaction, it’s a mob screaming out loud. A voice lost in 2000 other voices. I get much more value out of the posts that are aggregated in Friendfeed than the discussions that take place below them.

The real-time web currently is a geek’s wet dream.  I’m sure it will eventually get to a point where people will find aspects of a real-time web useful enough to incorporate it in their lives. But for now I don’t think it is worth all the hassle. I don’t have a “need” for the real-time web. There are more important things in life then having access to a fire hose of unfiltered nonsense. How about getting me the right information at the exact right time!


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19 Responses to Calling BS on the Real-Time Web

  1. Pingback: Real-time web -> trusted web

  2. Pingback: Real-time web -> trusted web

  3. robdiana says:


    You should know that the real-time web is a solution looking for a problem. Twitter was an accidental success in that realm as it was really meant to be a simple content management system. The main issue right now is that “real-time” has a ton of hype, but is still very immature. We will see better tools and solutions in the next year or two that will better define the usefulness.

    • Rob, I understand this of course 😉 But rather than writing another me-too post, I figured I’d give a different opinion on it. There are too many people justifying the real-time web with bs arguments. I’m sure it will find a problem that it solves, and until that time we should just consider it play.
      I’d rather have the right info at the right time, something which isn’t solved either and is infinitely more valuable to me.

  4. Pingback: Is The Real Time Web A Solution In Search Of A Problem? | Regular Geek

  5. Pingback: Josh Chandler - What solutions should people be offering for the Real-Time Web in 2009?

  6. Matt Soreco says:

    Great post. Could not agree more. There is very little value to most of the “real time” info on Twitter. It seems there is built in urgency on a million non-essential topics. I love this line: “There are more important things in life then having access to a fire hose of unfiltered nonsense. “

  7. Sour Grapes says:

    Alexander, you’re a breath of fresh air. It’s great to have someone seeing through the hype. Keep it up.

  8. wbw_Jeff says:

    Hi Alex-
    Tough to disagree with you (as usual) but I think there is a general consensus that the real time search tools haven’t evolved yet. is worthless and is slightly better. But don’t you think that some search wizard will come up with an algorithm to make real time useful?

    Example: I arrive in Amsterdam for a weekend. I want to know what people are excited about doing this weekend. Right now if I do a real time search I might get a lot of stuff about the red light district. But if the search algorithm favored people who were frequently quoted and used as travel references I might get something useful. Long winded point — the real time data can be useful if you have good tools to sift through it. Right now we don’t so just hold on a sec.

    • @Jef, you don’t have to agree with me, in disagreeing we often learn new things.

      Your case may be valid, but as with most examples not a common or daily use case.

      Don’t get me wrong. Its clear that the real-time web will provide interesting new capabilities. That isn’t really what this post was about. It’s more about the importance we geeks tend to assign to it.

      We have a long way to go before the mass will be using a real-time web. The web is Google for most people. See this incredibly funny video to understand why I wrote this post in the first place. Meet average joe:

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  10. I totally agree with you. Real-time web does not have a real use. You can’t even twitter a normal conversation (at least if you don’t want to look stupid). Some people try to do it, thinking that it would look interesting on their twitter page, but it’s actually unreadable.

  11. I totally agree. The real-time web is something all my ‘normal’ web-using friends don’t understand, and don’t use. For me, it’s just casual conversation, and even I wonder why I spend my time on it half the time.

    In fact, what we call the real-time web is just real-time sharing of information: sharing thoughts on Twitter, sharing GPS location on Google Latitude. It would become interesting if we could provide context. Imagine you’re walking around in a city looking for a place to grab a bite, and your mobile phone can tell you a friend was in the exact same area some weeks ago (Latitude, Fireeagle)), had a BLT sandwich in a coffee place just around the corner, and thought (Twitter? Facebook status?) it was the best BLT he ever had.

    Or you’re visiting New York, and can follow the (digital) foot steps of other tourists with the aid of Amazon like recommendations: “People visiting this sight, also visited the nearby museum on …., and enjoyed it!”. With tools like Narb, this is already somewhat possible.

    Just give me real-time context, that would make (mobile/web) life more interesting! 🙂

  12. AC says:

    The real-time web is RSS for non geeks.

    Too much info on the web thus we need aggregation but normal people don’t get how to use rss/feedreaders.

    They do understand following people/sites/blogs on twitter. Thus twitter becomes the backbone of the internet for the masses.

    Thus real-time is not BS for most people.

  13. Alex Fortney says:

    Great post, it’s an interesting POV and I tend to agree that it’s difficult to to find value in getting everything all the time! All though clients/prospects tell us that’s what they want, what they really need is something to make sense of all that raw data. I do think there are some cool applications for real time data but as a basis for building knowledge it’s like trying to sip water from a firehose. We’ve been thinking about this and you might like to check out our blog post related to the sheer volume of data people have to deal with:

  14. Pingback: “Real Time”: Overhyped or Problem Solver? « IronGiving

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