Tom Webster, writing and speaking

Articulating the Value of the Real-Time Web

Added on by Tom Webster.

I spent the morning at the 92nd street Y in NYC listening to various presenters at Jeff Pulver’s 140 Conference. One of the things that struck me about Jeff’s opening statement was his admission that he had once worried about the fate of Twitter (will they get sold/broken up/etc) while he was ostensibly putting together a “Twitter conference.” However, he realized that what he was really driving at was the future of the real-time web, not the future of Twitter. After listening to a couple of amazing, transformative talks by educator Chris Lehmann and founder of TheKotel Alon Nir, I saw where Jeff was going with this.

Twitter is not the end game—never was. It’s merely the first iteration. In fact, Twitter may or may not be a part of what the real-time web is driving at, mainly because I don’t think the creators of Twitter have done a very good job clearly articulating the value of participating in Twitter. To be fair, there are signs that the company is moving in that direction, as some of the comments from company executives at their recent Chirp conference imply. Still—Twitter remains clearly the province of the early adopter. The real-time web will truly become transformative when it is created by citizens, and not just social media enthusiasts.

One way to articulate that value is to stop talking about technology, and start talking about real world use cases for real time status updating. At Chirp (which was mainly geared towards developers), the company talked about giving developers more ways to interact with the data stream. What most of us need, however, are better ways to interact with each other.

I’m reminded of a marketing campaign, years ago, from Sabena (the Belgian airline). Faced with competition from both other large carriers within Europe and an emerging breed of low cost carriers, Sabena differentiated itself not by selling on price, or on service, or even on funky purple lighting. Instead, Sabena sold Belgium. With its memorable series of “five cities” campaigns, Sabena positioned Belgium as an ideal place for business or pleasure all while noting its proximity to other European cities—in short, Sabena didn’t sell the flight, it sold the destination.

This, I believe, is what the 140 Conference in its best moments is trying to do. Twitter is the flight; encouraging citizens to share and co-create meaning to help cure cancer, fight election fraud or improve schools—that’s the destination. The more people on that flight, the better.