Hype cycles, like all cycles, are getting shorter. People want to be the first to say, "You heard it here first, folks: this or that hot thing you hear about all the time is a bunch of hot air."
We love to debunk myths and prick bubbles as much as the next set of pundits, but we think the real-time Web is for real. Financial traders have lived in a real-time world for a while, but only within the confines of the trading floor. When they left work, they entered a batch world. Most other people work in a batch world. That is changing. We are all entering the real-time world of the trader. Some of us are getting there faster, but we are all heading there. And relax, there is an "Off" button!
Twitter and the Mass-Market Real-Time News Business
One reason you see so much news about Twitter is that it is a news business, and journalists love to write about their own business!
Calling Twitter a news business may be a bit limiting. It is more than that. But it certainly is affecting the news business dramatically:
- As a source of stories. One of the millions of just-in-time stringers twittering away may witness a revolution at any second;
- As a backchannel for other media, replacing the dial-in line used for TV and radio;
- As a traffic source;
- As a source to check stories. Traditional journalists can tap into their Twitter network faster than using their Rolodex or speed dial.
Twitter makes it much easier for journalists to tap into real-time news sources. Mastering Twitter is part of new journalism school.
Traders have always worked in a real-time news business. Information services such as Bloomberg and Reuters compete to deliver news a few seconds faster, and that time difference is important to traders.
Okay, so traders and journalists live in a real-time world. What about the rest of us?
A friend who runs a financial trading systems business told me that Google was constantly trying to poach his best engineers. Why? Because those employees were very good at real-time engineering, and advertising is also a real-time market.
Advertising markets are just like financial markets: available space is matched by available demand. Today, we have two totally different worlds:
- Very personal: the "Let's do lunch" style of selling, with long-term commitment. This is a batch world.
- Totally automated: no messy humans. Machines negotiate with machines in real time. This is the world of automated ad networks and exchanges, typically for sales of either remnant or long-tail inventory.
These worlds get more interesting as they move closer together and we see the gray areas in between where humans make quick judgment calls, inserting themselves into the real-time flow to, for example, approve creative or simply optimize (choosing one advertiser or publisher over another).
Buying and Selling Digital Goods
Anything that can be sold in digital form is becoming part of this trend towards real time. We are simply matching supply and demand. Information (or code or images or songs) that was not worth very much yesterday is suddenly very valuable. Or the opposite: its value suddenly drops. No matter what the digital artifact -- writing, spreadsheet numbers, code, design, images, music -- matching supply and demand is critical to realizing value.
You may be selling a digital artifact that costs money to create, but the marginal cost is zero, so you are quite happy to optimize supply and demand in real time and take whatever price the market offers at the time.
Or you may want real-time markets to help manage your spare work capacity. This is what ventures such as Turn Here focus on.
Real-Time Supply Networks for Physical Products
Dell revolutionized the PC industry by using a real-time supply chain to eliminate costs. Inventory risk is the biggest pain point for most businesses that trade physical goods. The real-time Web can have a similarly revolutionary impact on Main Street for businesses that no longer need multi-million dollar supply-chain systems. We are already seeing straws in the wind of this massive change with very simple uses of Titter, such as:
- The bakery that tells its patrons/followers that "The bread is hot and fresh."
- The Korean BBQ truck in LA that has 39,000 followers who want to know when it is going to roll into their neighborhood.
One can imagine this for anything that is either fresh or scarce: when your local farmer has freshly laid eggs, for example. These tools can be used to sell inventory, matching actual customer demand with bargain offers in real time.
Human beings naturally operate in real time. Anyone who has children knows about the "real-time interruption machine."
We also need our batch time, our quiet time for reflection and creation. We need to know when to switch off... literally switch off the devices that constantly ping us. Filtering tools and techniques have become critical. As Clay Shirky famously remarked: "It's not information overload. It's filter failure." But we also need to master the ability to deal with a lot of real-time information in a mode of relaxed concentration. In other words, we need to study how great traders work.
Photo credit: artemuestra.