The real-time Web isn't only about new content that's published quickly, in response to real-world developments. Instead, the real-time Web is about Web-accessible material that people are interested in. Right now.
In this sense, the real-time Web is more about the "attention frontier" of people on the Web, rather than a technical timing property of the underlying material itself.
Of course, when significant events unfold in the real world, new material is created on the Web that describes what's happening, and people are interested in that new material.
Take, for example, Michael Jackson's unfortunate demise. At the time of his death, and for a significant amount of time thereafter, people were interested in updates on what might have killed him, but they were also interested in his songs and videos -- classics such as "Thriller" were watched in significant volume on YouTube. Those videos, while not in any sense "new," were still part of the real-time Web at that moment in time.
So the real-time Web is really about the information that people are looking for, right now, on the Web.
What About Twitter?
Does Twitter define the real-time Web, because tweets are being issued in real-time? No.
Twitter is a fantastically valuable planet-wide alert system. It's great for signing up for alerts from people and organizations that you care about. However, it isn't same thing as the real-time Web.
So much more content needs to be accounted for (e.g., blogs, news, corporate pages, etc.). Any public Web site that creates new content is potentially part of the real-time Web.
Twitter is a (large, disconnected) conversation. Some of Twitter's subject matter is Twitter itself. It can be rather inward looking, and hash tags such as #FollowFriday and #MusicMonday are a syntactic manifestation of that.
But some part of Twitter is a conversation about the Web. Approximately 20 percent of tweets contain URLs. Such tweets are comments about the Web itself. After an appropriate filtering mechanism (based on re-tweet and follower counts) these URL-bearing tweets can be "de-referenced" and used to form part of a picture about what people are interested in at any given point.
But we only obtain a partial picture from Twitter. Other sources of data are needed to form a complete picture of the real-time Web.
Get Relevant, Timely Messages in Front of Users
The real-time Web is a valuable indicator of what your potential customers (and detractors!) are interested in, right now. If you can reach these people with an appropriate message about your product or service at the moment of their greatest interest, that's clearly of significant value -- to you and to them.
An emerging crop of real-time information services are trying to deliver a picture of the real-time Web. Some are based on:
- Discovery: Showing people new material that's extracted from the overall attention frontier at the moment.
- Search: Helping people find fresh, quality information resources on a topic in which they already have some interest.
- Recommendation: Making specific recommendations for information to consider, based on real-time correlations between one person's interests and the interests of other people who are similar to them in some way.
These services all provide different opportunities to get a relevant, timely message in front of a user.
Your goal is to deliver a timely message in a way that topically connects to the user's task in a way that doesn't interrupt what the user is doing.
Those twin principles of topical connection and non-interruption are the legs upon which search advertising walks. Finding the best way to instantiate these same principles in non-search-based user-engagement mechanisms (discovery and recommendation) is an ongoing exercise for those of us deeply involved in the real-time Web.