Last year, when we looked at the top real-time Web products of 2009, we predicted that in 2010 the real-time Web was "likely to become a standard expectation on sites all around the world". Indeed, as we look back on the last year we find that many of the big innovations in terms of the real-time Web come in the form of implementations by companies like Google and Facebook. At the same time, there are still smaller players in the realm that have changed how (and how fast) we expect information on the Web to move and people interact.
Just a year after companies like Facebook started offering a constantly updated stream of real-time content, we expect no less from nearly any site we visit and soon enough, calling something "real-time" will be like identifying something as "social". With that in mind, let's take a look at the top 10 products, innovations and developments in the world of the real-time Web in 2010.
Google Instant: Search Goes Real-Time
Google is one of the most trafficked sites on the Internet and its most popular product - Google Search - just got faster than ever this year with the introduction of Google Instant. Throughout 2010, Google worked to increase the speed of its search results, both in how quickly results are served and how close they are to real-time. Google incorporated real-time Twitter results, Google Instant. Already, Google would predict your search terms as you typed, but now, each keystroke gives a different set of results. In reality, however, Google Instant is just a surfacing of all the strides Google has made in the world of real-time information.
Looking through the ReadWriteWeb archives for 2010, you can find a litany of articles about Google and its continual addition of real-time information. From sports scores to Myspace updates to weather conditions in Google Earth, Google has worked to add real-time information to products across the board. The company brought real-time discussion to YouTube with Google Moderator, instant notifications to Google Voice, real-time inventory to Google Product Search and real-time news to Google Reader. Heck, Google even turned on automatic captioning for all videos on YouTube and admitted that it was working on completing a real-time translation tool for use in smartphones "in a few years time."
It's because of companies like Google that "real-time" is quickly becoming a term that describes our standard expectations, not the mind-expanding future of the Web that it once was.
Twitter's Streaming API...
Twitter has been a real-time product from its early stages, when it was primarily a tool for updating a website via SMS. What was lacking, however, were the tools for developers to really make use of Twitter's real-time nature. Third-party Twitter applications could only make so many requests during a time period. If an app made too many requests, it would have to wait until that period was up before asking again. To avoid this, apps would poll Twitter periodically, which meant that there was inherently a lag between someone tweeting and it appearing on your screen.
This year, however, Twitter unleased its Streaming API (application programming interface), which gave developers the tools to bring tweets directly to users in real-time. While Twitter.com went through a complete redesign in September, it isn't a fully real-time experience. As new Tweets come in, they queue up for the user to refresh the page. Worry not, because that brings us to our next item.
...Which Gave Birth to Streaming TweetDeck
TweetDeck was already a favorite of many a Twitter power user, including much (if not all) of the ReadWriteWeb staff. Its support of lists with multiple columns and its pop-up notifications make it the perfect tool for consistently monitoring Twitter. Then, this summer, TweetDeck took it one step further by implementing Twitter's Streaming API, bringing its users the tweets as fast as they came in.
Suddenly, there is no lag time. You can tweet something and almost instantaneously get replies from other users. It becomes a real-time communication tool instead of simply a near-time communications tool. For some of us, hitting "refresh" and waiting for Twitter to update every so many seconds just isn't acceptable, and TweetDeck makes sure we don't have to.
Facebook Places: LBS Goes Mainstream
For many of the techie elites and early adopters, 2010 started off with all sorts of talk about the "Location-Based Service Wars". Things seemed to be heating up with location-based check-in apps like Gowalla, Foursquare, MyTown and brightkite. LBS apps are inherently real-time by nature, connecting users with each other by showing who is checked in where, identifying trending locations, and allowing users to communicate with each other - all in real time.
Facebook introduced its "Places" product this summer, bringing all the real-time, location-based fun to the general public. Suddenly, the idea that where you were could be broadcast out to your friends became an idea that was accessible to the smartphone-owning yet not-so-early adopter.
PubSubHubbub (PuSH)showed up in no fewer than three of our top 10 lists for 2009 and it's showing up again this year because of its continued role in growing the real-time Web. When Marshall Kirkpatrick listed it as a top 10 real-time technology last year, he noted that the technology, which delivers updated content in real-time from a central hub to all subscribers, was being used by a number of sites such as FeedBurner, Blogger, LiveJournal and Google Alerts. This year, that trend has continued, as PuSH has spread futher around the Web. In March, Wordpress' 10.5 million blogs became PuSH-enabled, meaning that one of the most popular self-publishing platforms out there suddenly became real-time enabled. A month before that, we had broken the news that Google Reader began consuming PuSH feeds in real time. We expect to see this trend continue and watch as PuSH brings real-time updating to even more of the Web.
Chatroulette: Random, Real-Time Interaction
In many ways, 2010 was the year of Chatroulette. This is one of those things where, if you haven't heard of it, people ask which rock you've been under. That said, (the big piece of granite on the corner, yes?) Chatroulette is that site that brings live video streams of complete strangers to your monitor in all their (often naked) glory. The site was created by a 17-year-old kid from Russia and was not only the talk of the town, but spurred a rash of other randomized, real-time websites in its flavor.
In some ways, it's the site's teenaged creator that helps put it on this list. Surely, Chatroulette was much-discussed in the past year for many of its members' transgressions, but the simple fact that a quick bit of coding can bring real-time audio and visual interaction to people across the planet means something when it comes to the real-time Web.
SuperFeedr has become of favorite of ReadWriteWeb's own RSS wizard, Marshall Kirkpatrick, who recently wrote that "if the Web of the future is based on real-time data delivery, San Francisco startup Superfeedr hopes to be a big part of the technology that helps it get there. The company takes content feeds in a wide variety of traditional formats and transforms them into real-time feeds pushed to parties interested in consuming data in real-time." According to Kirkpatrick, SuperFeedr has assembled a "dream team" of engineers that makes it "all the more important to keep an eye on."
Boxcar made its biggest waves back when the iPhone still didn't offer push notifications and before the Twitter app got notifications of its own. Since then, however, Boxcar has come out with a series of updates that make it our go-to notification app for the iPhone. It's latest updatebrought support for Foursquare, Gowalla, Google Buzz, Google Voice, GitHub, Twitter, Reddit and more. Sure, you can still use the individual notifications from each app, but Boxcar shows how we'd really like our real-time notifications to be handled - all in one location with customizable settings.
Over the past year, I've used Boxcar to get notifications about important emails, turned Twitter into an alternative for SMS and kept up with moderator message from Reddit. Beyond that, you can be alerted to all sorts of things while you're out and about and that's how we like our real-time Web - both fast and mobile.
In discussing what would make our top 10 list, we knew that real-time commenting had to be on there and it was between Disqus, echo and Livefyre. All are great, full-featured commenting systems, but we had to go with the one we just implemented on ReadWriteWeb this past week. Real-time commenting systems like Disqus add an entire other layer on top of the Web, allowing users once identified simply as "readers" to become involved and interact with each other and with the authors. The entire idea of Web 2.0 (and ReadWriteWeb) is the dissolution of this boundary and systems like Disqus go a long way in that effort.
Is It Really, Really Real Time?
As 2011 goes on, we're sure to see even more sites "go real-time" until it gets to the point that it has with social. The press release will hit the wire, we'll all look up and mumble "Oh, I see so-and-so has decided to joint the party." Pages without real-time elements feel inanimate and dead and that's just not what the Web is about anymore. The Web is in constant motion as are all of its parts.
With so much of the Web moving in this direction, we're sure we've missed something here, so we'd love it if you would jump in on our real-time commenting system below and let us know - what would you have put on your top 10 list of real-time products for 2010?