This week ReadWriteWeb is running a series of posts analyzing the 5 biggest, most cutting edge Web trends to come out of 2009. We're posting one trend analysis per day. Then at the end of the week we'll publish a major update to our standard presentation about web technology trends.

Our opening post was about Structured Data. In this article we look at probably the most hyped trend of 2009: the Real-Time Web. It has become a core part of many Internet products this year: Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, Google, Delicious, Wordpress, and many others.

What is the Real-Time Web?

Ken Fromm wrote an insightful primer to the Real-Time Web for ReadWriteWeb. In it he explained that the Real-Time Web is a new form of communication, it creates a new body of content, it's immediate, it's public and has an explicit social graph associated with it, and it carries an implicit model of federation.

One of the early leaders in the Real-Time Web was FriendFeed, a lifestreaming service that became popular with early adopters. Co-founder Paul Buchheit (who also built the first version of Gmail, during his time at Google) told ReadWriteWeb in May that "the open, real-time discussions that occur on FriendFeed are going to become a major new communication medium on the same level as email, IM and blogging."

Everything is Real-Time Now

We must of course begin our product overview with Twitter. In March this year the super-trendy microblogging service marked its 3rd birthday. As Marshall Kirkpatrick explained at the time, it's really the story of Twitter as a platform that is most exciting.

However the Real-Time Web is much more than Twitter. It has changed the products and strategies of almost every major Internet company in 2009.

Google may have missed the early action, but by May 2009 co-founder Larry Page was proclaiming that Google had to do a better job of being real-time. It's started that process. For example Google is behind a project called PubSubHubbub, which delivers RSS feeds much faster (near real-time). PubSubHubbub is already making Google Reader faster.

But while you're waiting for Google search to become truly real-time, you can at least add Twitter results to it with this plug-in.

In March, Facebook launched a site redesign emphasizing a real-time stream of updates on users' homepages. Although this was unpopular with users, Facebook continued to dabble in Real-Time. In June, Facebook announced a new search interface allowing users to search for content from people, organizations, and other public figures as soon as they share it on Facebook. This was described as "up-to-the-minute" search results - in other words a real-time search engine.

Meanwhile in April, FriendFeed introduced a revamped user interface that focused much more on real-time updates than previously. The most impressive change was the new advanced filters, which made it a lot easier for users to create streams based on keywords, groups, sets of friends and more. FriendFeed's filters added something powerful to the Real-Time Web.

In August, Facebook further strengthened its Real-Time chops by acquiring FriendFeed. This immediately brought more real-time sophistication into the Facebook family - we're yet to see how Facebook will use it though.

In August Yahoo's influential social bookmarking service Delicious was re-born as a real-time news tracker. It launched a new home page, combining recent tagging activity and cross-referenced links on Twitter.

The real-time updates continue... earlier today, all blogs on the WordPress.com platform and any WordPress.org blogs that opt-in will now make instant updates available to any RSS readers subscribed to a new feature called RSSCloud.

Conclusion

In May, Marshall Kirkpatrick identified three forms of value from the Real-Time Web: ambiance, automation and emergence. In August, Bernard Lunn compared it to the real-time world of the trader.

The Real-Time Web is all of those things and more. 2009 has in many ways been the Year of the Real-Time Web. But it's early days yet, because we - collectively - are still looking for ways to use all of that extra real-time data. We've made a lot of data real-time and surfaced it in search and our filters. But what new applications and intelligence can we build off this data? That question will be answered over the coming few years.

ReadWriteWeb's Top 5 Web Trends of 2009:

  1. Structured Data
  2. The Real-Time Web
  3. Personalization
  4. Mobile Web & Augmented Reality
  5. Internet of Things