It seems like forever ago that Pointcast introduced us to the first incarnation of so-called “push” technology. But aside from stock prices through online brokerages, the real-time streaming of content didn’t really take off until very recently. Even today, many people still refresh their browser to see if they’ve been outbid on eBay and reload the sports scores on their smartphone to see if their team held on for the win.
There are three key factors driving recent, rapid increases in the production and consumption of real-time data:
- Changes in technology – For years, developers have worked around the limitations of browsers and HTML by building thick clients or using COMET to clumsily force data changes into browser applications. The emerging HTML5 standard (with the backing of Google, Apple and Microsoft) will make real-time data a first class citizen over the internet. At the same time, turnkey infrastructure that integrates back end systems all the way through to browsers and mobile devices is simplifying development and deployment of these applications.
- Changes in user behavior – At work, at home and on the go, people crave real time information about everything they care about – news, stocks, sports teams, social networking feeds, etc. Many of today’s market leaders got there by being the first to recognize this appeal in their niche and continue to invest in providing the most engaging real time experience.
- Evolution of mobile devices and networks – Mobile devices are the ultimate delivery vehicles for real time content because they are always with us, and already perceived as alert-driven devices. Early on, users were happy just to be able to access what they could via their computers, but the rapid adoption and evolution of smart phones, coupled with faster mobile networks, has service providers rushing to build mobile applications that deliver a real-time experience. .
These developments are driving the proliferation of real-time content in a variety of consumer and enterprise applications. Here are six examples:
- Online and mobile gaming – Far and away, online multiplayer games is the largest established market for real-time data. The meteoric rise of Zynga, games playable via Yahoo! and MSN, MMORPG’s like World of Warcraft, online poker sites, and of course X-Box Live and the Playstation Network contribute to year over year growth of about 20%.
- Trading dashboards – Nothing changed the stock trading game like streaming stock quotes from the major retail brokerages. Today those retail dashboards are full fledged trading consoles, and single dealer platforms give institutional investors a more contextual and timely understanding of the market.
- Sports scores – Sports junkies have learned to put that second monitor at work to good use when their favorite team is playing on a workday. Services like MLB Gameday and ESPN Gamecast simulate sports play by play to keep eyes glued on the game when all you have is an internet connection.
- Auctions – How many times have you pounded the refresh button to make sure you didn’t get outbid in the final seconds on eBay? Services like eBay Countdown and a plethora of pay-for-bid auction sites are using real time to draw more buyers into tracking and participating in auctions.
- Geographical displays – Perhaps no category of applications have changed more dramatically in the past five years than real time mapping, or what I have heard called “putting crap on a map”. You can find real time traffic, planes in flight, global disasters or the location of every train in Switzerland. The rise in real time mapping is the direct result of the deployment of millions of automated sensors (often the phone in your pocket) and advances in mapping services like Google Maps.
- Online gambling – Betting odds on a sporting event work just like bids and asks in the stock markets, so it is not surprising that many online sites now offer real time ticking odds, enticing you to bet.
The folks at Pointcast didn’t anticipate that it would take 15 years for push to catch on, but it appears our “always on” culture is (finally!) ripe for real-time data. People are engaging with information and each other over the internet like never before, technological barriers are crumbling, and businesses have realized that customer experience is key to success in today’s market. The same way we have already forgotten life before cell phones and ATMs, engaging with ever more real time traffic will lead us to forget the early days of the internet when those same applications required constant searching and refreshing.