How to Deal with the Real Time Web: Navigating the River

The social web is moving beyond just asynchonus relationships to real time information passing.

Take last week, while I was on the phone with my dentist in San Jose and I was in the Peninsula and an earthquake occurred. It originated in San Jose, and the excited office manager told me she’d just experienced an earthquake. 5 seconds later, I felt the aftershock in my own house, and then tweeted out “just felt an earthquake”. Seconds later, I opened the Twitter search tool and tracked all the earthquake mentions, and there were hundreds within 30 seconds. As Steve Gillmor suggests, we could eventually track the origination and speed of an event, from the epicenter to the resulting waves for earthquakes and other events. Oh, and Twitter was faster in tracking than the government’s Geological Survey Earthquake site.

When you think about it, information travels faster on Twitter around the globe faster than the speed of sound. This is also very scary.

Today, Friendfeed launched it’s much anticipated redesign, and it resembles a real time flow of information. It resembles twitter like input screens, then social objects flow down the stream, with commenters chiming in around each object. It’s very hard to keep track.

Challenges to Navigating the “River of News”
As the web continues to move faster and faster towards real-time (we see this in Twitter and elements of Facebook), it creates several challenges:

  • If you’re not watching all the time, you’ll miss something
  • An incredible amount of hay is created with very few needles
  • Managing these feeds take effort, you have to setup filters, lists, groups, and manage it.
  • You’re going to get less work done if you watch, and participate in the real-time web.
  • New Social Tools and Processes to Emerge
    If the social web is a ‘river of news’ then we’re going to need new sea-faring technologies to manage it:

  • Anchors We need more anchors to slow it down and make sense of it, Friendfeed offers a ‘pause’ button that actually freezes the stream, allowing users to navigate the content.
  • Dams and Distibutaries Dams will stop the flow of content (users will unsubscrbe) and distributary are rivers that split off from the main river, as a result you’ll see a need to use filters and lists to group people in smaller categories.
  • Maps and Compasses are needed to help guide us to what’s important. Expect digests, analysis, and those who boil down what matters to matter more than ever. Traditional reporters will help make sense of thousands of opinions.
  • The big challenge: with many of us creating our own rivers of news, who has time to drink it all in?