Real-Time Internet: what is it and does it matter?
There is more and more buzz these days about real time Internet, but what is it? How is it used and mostly importantly does it actually matter? Joe Hughes of Yomego explains the latest trend.
Definitions of exactly what real time is vary in the detail but a good starting point would be Danny Sullivan’s description for search engine land:
“Real time is material that literally is published in real time. In other words, material where there’s practically no delay between composition and publishing. You take a picture and seconds later, it’s posted to the world to see. You think of something, immediately tap it out on Twitter, and your tweet is shared almost as soon as you thought of it.”
This is very different from normal internet publishing for a number of reasons. Firstly most major websites articles will often need to be vetted or edited by someone other than the writer before it is published. Even once it is published, it can take time for the search engines to find and index the content.
The searching for content takes us onto the second key element of real time: the ability to find the content in real time.
Above: Joe Hughes
If we look at traditional search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing they all operate in a relatively similar way. They scan all of the content of a website/webpage and add it to their index. When I enter a word or phrase the search engine checks this index and brings back listings. Even with the best technology, the best software engineers and almost unlimited money there is no way to make this system real time.
Even Larry Page, one of the founders of Google, has admitted Google don’t do real time very well.
So if the big players can’t do real time then who can?
Well the platform named in Danny’s definition is the current front runner. Twitter has been built from the ground up to be real time. Twitter is also widely used on mobile phones, so you don’t even need a computer or standard internet connection - you can publish instantly from almost anywhere.
The other area where Twitter has got it right is with searching the content. A multitude of third party add-ons have appeared such as twitscoop and tweetcloud which provide updates of the most popular content on Twitter in real time. With twitscoop, you can actually watch a cloud of words appear and disappear in real time as they become more or less popular. This word cloud also provides direct links to the Tweets that contain that word.
Twitter is not the only game in town however, a whole plethora of other platforms have entered the arena in the last year or so and many existing platforms have added some form of real time functionality. Some of the other major platforms include Facebook, Friendfeed, Yauba and jabber.
They all offer slightly different functionality and features but all confirm to the basic premise of a user adding content instantaneously and it being available for others to search and view as soon as it is published.
It is estimated that between the major platforms somewhere between three and four hundred million people currently use some aspect of the real time Internet.
So we know what it is, how big it is and who the major platforms are, but none of this answers the most important question - does it matter or is it just another technology fad?
The simple answer is yes it does matter. Some companies are already starting to make real financial gain from real time.
A perfect example is the US computer maker Dell. Dell has been active with a large range of online marketing initiatives over the last few years and has become very adept at the online.
In 2007 Dell set up @DellOutlet on Twitter. This Twitter account offers followers a mixture of exclusive news and money off promotions. The money off promotions are always time specific. From the point Dell Tweet an offer the followers will usually at most have a few hours to make a purchase.
Between October 2008 and June 2009, Dell has generated in excess of $3 million dollars in revenue
Of course that doesn’t mean that every company should just set up a Twitter feed in order to spam people with sales. Dell carefully balance what they send and when and get regular feedback form their audience on what they want.
As well as a direct sales communication channel real time is also being used widely as a means of democratising information. In the wake of the recent Iranian elections it was the real time nature of various platforms that allowed the demonstrators to communicate. Unlike traditional media, which the Iranian authorities have a tight control over, platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube allowed the instantaneous upload and transmission of information.
Despite a massive effort by the Iranian authorities, the protestors where still able to arrange meetings, share information and get the word out to the outside world, proving that real time can do serious damage to regimes who want to control their populations.
It’s not just governments who can be affected by this new method of communication and sharing however.
Aziz Ansari is a US based comedian. In May he went into a cinema to watch the new Star Trek movie, thinking he was going to watch the film on an IMAX screen rather than a standard cinema screen.
When he got to the cinema and took his seat, he realised it was actually not an IMAX screen at all. At the end of movie he went to see the manager to ask for part of his money back and was told no,
Aziz happens to be quite a prolific blogger and has fairly recently starting using Twitter. Immediately after his conversation with the cinema manager Aziz sent out a Tweet to his 25,000 Twitter followers. This was on a Saturday night. By the Tuesday, there were over 700,000 pages on the Internet and Twitterverse concerning this.
The company behind IMAX had gone into full crisis management mode.
One analyst estimated that IMAX had lost up to 5% of the revenue they would otherwise have received over this period. That is the equivalent of them running 9 cinemas for free.
Whilst it has certainly been possible before for people to write on a personal blog or comment box, with this type of experience the ability to publish instantly and then for others to republish the story in real time is what did the damage. If it had have gone up on a normal website how long would it have taken the story to spread?
If it had been a week or two after the event it wouldn’t have mattered as the opening weekend would have passed and IMAX would have taken something like 90% of the revenue it was going to get already.
If you want to read Aziz’s full story, here is a link to his blog entry (warning: contains profanity).
With something like cinema releases, where opening weekends can make or break a film, real time Internet really matters. Another great example of this is Sasha Baron Cohen’s latest film Bruno.
The movie did very well on the opening day, (the film grossed $14.4 million), it did so well in fact that Universal pictures came out and said that the film should reach $50 million in sales over the first weekend. It didn’t, in fact the following day sales had dropped by nearly 40%.
What caused this decline? In a word - Twitter.
The nature of some of the content of the film set the Twitterverse alight on the Friday evening, large groups of people including gay and lesbian groups being less than positive about it. This kind of mass review persuaded a huge number of people not to go and see the film.
This was the first tangible case of what has now been termed the “Twitter effect”.
For companies and organisations the real time Internet has massive ramifications, in terms of revenue, public relations and brand reputation.
If organisations don’t already have people or agencies looking at how they should be engaging with the real time internet then as we have seen, it could cost them money, credibility or even their brand.
Yomego is a social media agency with the strategic insight and design capability to bring together user generated content, virtual worlds, digital personalisation and instant messaging to create truly interactive web communities. Working with broadcasters, brand and media owners and their agencies Yomego’s client list includes MTV, Viacom, eircom, Five, GMTV, CSC Media, Dennis Publishing, Ladbrokes and ITV.