The Real-Time Web Is So 5 Minutes Ago

by Holland-Mark | May 25, 2010

Twitter’s mind-bending growth pretty much made 2009 the year of the “real-time web.” ReadWriteWeb seems to have launched the meme in May. BusinessWeek was on board by August, and by December Pete Cashmore was calling it a trend to watch on CNN.

So what is it? According to Wikipedia:

The real-time web is a set of technologies and practices which enable users to receive information as soon as it is published by its authors, rather than requiring that they or their software check a source periodically for updates.

It’s pretty much the stuff on the web that reflects what’s happening right now. Think conversation vs. voicemail. IM vs. e-mail. SNL vs. 30Rock.

The fascination with all things now is a renaissance more than a discovery. It used to be that all we had was “real-time” (or, as it was known back then, “time”). The invention of media gave us the ability to time-shift certain experiences: to capture moments in words, then pictures, then audio, on film, and now in wholly immersive 3-D experiences.

When the Web was born we thought about it as a means to access the world’s knowledge – like a great oaken library packed with information and dusty owls. Today it often feels more like a bustling student union: a cacophony of content, conversation, and commerce where each participant clamors for more attention than they’re willing to provide themselves.

While I’m glad to have the real-time web today, I’m equally glad the frenzy to celebrate it appears to have reached its apex. In most cases there’s just more value in reflection than there is in instantaneous response. While it’s sometimes interesting to know where your friend from high school had lunch, it’s often more useful to stumble across a really thoughtful restaurant review, or even a great recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble.

In a way the real-time web marks the integration point of the Internet with our real lives. Now that we’re there, I hope we can all just get on with the business of trying to contribute something of value to one another.

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