Internet, Web/Tech

Real-Time Web: It’s about the publishing, not the consumption

So much of our attention on the real-time web focuses on consumption — the notion that we want more information, faster. This was indeed the focus of our discussions at GigaOm’s “What Comes Next” session earlier this week (see my notes).

But then we all complain about information overload and continuous partial attention. At the very same Bunker session, alpha geeks complained of the Facebook and Twitter overload problem.

I’ve become convinced the real reason people love the real-time web isn’t for the glut of information it produces, but instead because it makes publishing more fun and enjoyable.

It’s all about the near-instant gratification from an “@” reply, or retweet, or a “like” on Facebook. Publishers (and by publishers I mean people who blog, Tweet, foursquare, etc) love this.

Blogging provided some of this in much earlier days, when it was a means of expression for a much smaller, insular, alpha-geek community  — but with a much higher degree of latency. You might write a blog post and  get a comment, or trackback, several hours (or days) later. But this kind of gratification fades over time — in part because so much of what we publish is so perishable — so services like Facebook and Twitter which provide more immediate feedback loops have come to dominate.

The response rate doesn’t have to be high, or targeted, with real-time. It has to be timely. Three or four immediate replies or retweets are ample reward — one can feel heard, listened to, a part of something bigger.

The fact that it’s all about the publishing, and not the consumption, is readily apparent to anyone who digs deeper into Twitter stats. Look at the average click-through rate of a link passed through Twitter by an A-list Twitterer, and you’ll be shocked how low it is. Folks with a million followers are lucky to get a couple of hundred, maybe a couple thousand, people clicking on a link.

All of which is to say: if I were an investor, I’d stay away from companies focused on creating the best possible way to consume “real-time” information. The truth is, other than stockbrokers and traders and people in the news business, most of us don’t really have a need for that. But, there is probably lots of money to be made still from services that use real-time feedback loops to get people to participate, publish, and contribute to a service or platform.

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