Dennis D. McDonald (ddmcd@outlook.com) is an independent consultant located in Alexandria Virginia. His services and capabilities are described here. Application areas include project, program, and data management; market assessment, digital strategy, and program planning; change and content management; social media; and, technology adoption. Follow him on Google+. He also publishes on CTOvision.com and aNewDomain.

How We Use Media Will Drive Development of a Real Time Web

By Dennis D. McDonald

Why do we use media?

What got me thinking about this was a recent post by Robert Scoble about  the “real-time web.” Scoble focused on evolving technical standards and processes (e.g., RSS, SUP, XMPP) that may eventually support use of the web for delay-free one way and two way communication.

The tools developed so far for web based communication have been inching toward real-time communication. We aren’t there yet. Also, Scoble points out that tools such as RSS aren’t actually “real-time,” for a variety of technical reasons.

What I found most interesting about the post was that several people in the Comments section seriously questioned whether we really need a real-time web, given the ephemeral and inconsequential nature of so much that is communicated in near-real-time via systems such as Twitter.

I agree. We don’t need a real-time web for every type of communication. But I also think it’s inevitable that we have to move in that direction, given how people use media.

People use media for three reasons:

  1. To carry on conversations with other individuals and groups.
  2. To send information to one or more people.
  3. To find information in order to satisfy some sort of a need.

In each of these three cases, we can think of examples of situations where both real-time and delayed communication can occur, sometimes with the same information.

For example, one person may need immediate access to commodity pricing information, while another wants the same information in a historical time series where immediacy is less important. The first values the real-time web. The latter has less value for the real-time web. Yet there will arise situations where these roles are reversed in different circumstances and with different types of information.

This is fundamentally why, I think, we will be moving towards a web and a supporting infrastructure that supports both real-time and delayed communications. Some people will be willing to pay for seeing American Idol as it happens; others will be satisfied with snippets available via YouTube, Hulu, or some other source.

From the perspective of the social web, divisions and gradations of demand will also arise. Some will want to keep up with what some individuals are saying in real time. Others will be satisfied with information from and about the same people in order to allow for effective aggregation and filtering to operate.

The extent to which aggregation and filtering can be economically automated in real time — one focus of the “semantic web” movement — will help determine how much convergence there will be in web based communication. Restrictions on technology-enabled improvements from legacy communication vendors (e.g., some phone companies) may also work their way through political channels, just as some content owners have employed legislative and political tools to attempt restrictions on unregulated use of intellectual property. Inevitably, though, a real-time web will emerge.

Another challenge will be whether such services will be universally available or only available for the financially well off.

Copyright (c) 2008 by Dennis D. McDonald, an Alexandria Virginia based consultant who can be emailed at ddmcd@yahoo.com. Have a comment? Please use the form below!

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