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Brace yourself for the real-time Web

By Pete Cashmore, Special to CNN
Mashable's Pete Cashmore says real-time communications will be a big Web trend next year.
Mashable's Pete Cashmore says real-time communications will be a big Web trend next year.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mashable's Pete Cashmore says real-time communications will be a big Web trend next year
  • Responding to the success of Twitter, Google just unveiled a real-time search feature
  • Psychologist: Real-time updates are addictive, fuel need for instant gratification
  • New services make blog comments feel more like instant messaging

Editor's note: Pete Cashmore is founder and CEO of Mashable, a popular blog about social media. He is writing a weekly column about social networking and tech for CNN.com.

London, England (CNN) -- Real-time is a top 10 Web trend for 2010, I proposed in this column last week. Now the stage is set: Google this week launched real-time search, bringing live updates from Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and more into a scrolling pane in your Google search results.

How will the real-time trend evolve in 2010? Rapidly, no doubt. Why will it sweep the Web? Because it fuels our insatiable info-addiction.

Why real-time?

What's driving this real-time trend anyway? In large part, lowered barriers to content creation: Posting a 140-character update to Twitter is so effortless that Web users are becoming conditioned to create.

They've learned to expect a response, too: The immediate feedback provided by Facebook comments and Twitter replies is an incentive to make continued contributions.

But the real answer may be in our heads. These technologies are literally addictive, says psychologist Susan Weinschenk, fueling a "dopamine-induced loop" of seeking behavior and instantaneous reward.

New email! Unread Tweets! New comment on your blog post! Each new alert is like Pavlov ringing a bell.

Real-time search

If this new paradigm stimulates our seeking behavior, it follows that search is central to the real-time Web. Before Google entered the fray, OneRiot and Collecta stood out among real-time search engines.

The reigning champion of real-time search, however, is Twitter Search, which provides instant updates whenever new Tweets are posted. "108 more results since you started searching. Refresh to see them," implores a message below the search box. Enter the topic du jour here and you'll no doubt find yourself in one of Weinschenk's dopamine-induced loops.

This thirst for the new and novel is by no means limited to search, however: It looks set to pervade the entire Web in 2010. Let's look at a few more examples.

1. Real-time location

Foursquare, the topic of a recent column, combines real-time updates with location-based features. Every time a friend "checks in" nearby, you'll experience the same buzz as when your BlackBerry chirps for a new email.

2. Real-time news

News reading is going real-time, too. An increasing number of early adopters use the Twitter apps TweetDeck and Seesmic to manage their consumption of updates from both friends and handpicked news sources, while newcomer Brizzly is becoming a hit with info-junkies thanks to its superior Web-based interface.

Even Google Reader, the de facto service for those following scores of blogs and news sites, now provides updates in real-time for those feeds that support it.

Will our news addiction ever be sated? Oh, and don't forget that news curation is going real-time, too. See my real-time journalism article for a refresher.

3. Real-time comments

If the stories are real-time, how about the comments, too? Real-time services make blog comments work more like instant messaging: Disqus and JS-Kit provide systems to publishers that display new comments without refreshing the page. (Disclosure: Mashable uses Disqus to power its blog comments.)

4. Real-time reviews

Why wait till you get home to review that cafe or restaurant when you've got Yelp and Urbanspoon on your iPhone? Movie was awful, you say? Try Flixster.

5. Real-time auctions

Even auctions are getting the real-time treatment. While unique visitors to eBay.com are falling, newcomer StuffBuff is making auctions addictive again by turning the bidding process into a real-time chat room; the addition of a countdown timer keeps bidders on their toes.

6. Real-time collaboration

A trend within a trend: We'll be real-timing together in 2010. Google Wave, the much-hyped collaborative tool, is wiki-meets-instant-messaging-meets-email and much more. This week it opened up its limited preview to 1 million users.

Meanwhile, Present.ly and Yammer are both business collaboration platforms using the Twitter model, a stream of status updates from team members about what each is working on.

Real-time...everything!

This trend is too nebulous to capture its every facet. Suffice to say, a vast array of Web sites and applications will try to capitalize on the real-time Web in 2010, serving our need to be engaged in the moment. Serving, perhaps, but never quite satisfying.

"Do you ever feel like you are addicted to email or Twitter or texting," Weinschenk asks.

Of course you are. We all are ... and soon we'll be addicted to a whole lot more.