The real time web

In 2009, as Twitter started to take off, the Internet was abuzz with 'the real time web'. Google launched Google Wave, for real-time group collaboration, while The New York Time started experimenting with the idea of a real-time "river of news". While these efforts largely failed, the emergence of the real-time web remains one of the most important big opportunities in the Internet space.

Despite all the fan-fare in 2009, 'the real time web' was soon forgotten about. I suspect it was largely because of two problems:
  • Real time applications only work if there is a sufficient critical mass of people available in 'real time'
  • Does real time interaction makes sense for the application?
For example, do 20 people really want to edit a document together, in real-time, as a group? The answer to this question probably explains the Google Wave disaster.

In contrast, Twitter's initial sweet spot was in helping people at conferences and events - a critical mass of people - interact and co-ordinate easily between each other. The use case has since broadened to include events beyond conference - such as uprisings in middle-eastern countries.

Yet, the increasing popularity of smart-phones and Internet-enabled devices mean that people are increasingly becoming plugged in to the Internet constantly, rather then just when they sit by their desktop and open a web-browser. The first of the two problems for the failures in real time applications in 2009 - the availability of people to interact with - will soon disappear.

This leaves just the second problem - that of finding suitable applications. This, I believe, is the challenge and opportunity for the next generation of startups.

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