The Real-Time Internet, circa 2007 – It's about the information, not the interaction

World-Wide Web technology is primarily static. The technology is designed around slow repeated cycles of request-a-page/get-a-page. Technologies like Flash, Curl, and Laszlo are aimed at improving this interaction while staying within the WWW framework. But the Web isn’t about interaction, it’s about information and, to a certain extent, transactions. While these drivers remain unchanged, two stories in my local paper this week have shown me that the expectations of pace have changed.

While technologists like me have concentrated on improving the machinery for faster interactions, the Internet market has been slowly changing to expect real-time information and transactions – even if it is built within the old non-real-time interaction paradigm.

On Saturday, a potentially dangerous man was loose on the UW Campus. Fearing a tragedy like that at Virginia Tech, Madison university officials wanted to get the word out right away. They sent mass emails and they paged beepers. They put a notice on the campus Internet portal. But the most effective thing they did was to put an add in Facebook, linked to the portal notice. It turns out they’ve been using Facebook for notices for some time, but this was “live” news.

Then today it was announced that my neighbor had sold his company to Microsoft. is a shopping site – or maybe I should say shopping channel. It features this cool thing called a “smack,” in which products are shown one at a time without saying how many are available. The price keeps falling but shoppers who wait for the best bargain may lose out if the products are sold out by then. Shoppers can text chat with each other as they wait. “Are you going to buy yet?” “What price are you waiting for?”

Un-bumbed commodity Web machinery can’t deliver this. From my perspective, this is not really new technology. It’s primarily the old non-real-time Internet, but applied – and applied well – to real-time information and transactions. But Microsoft sees it differently. Speaking about the acquisition, Microsoft’s Vice President for Search and Advertising said, “We think the technology has some really interesting potential applications as we continue to invest heavily in shopping/commerce as a key vertical for Live Search.” (My emphasis added.)

To Microsoft, “technology” is anything that can deliver real-time information – even if it is not real-time interaction. Real-time information and transactions are now the norm. And this isn’t Palo Alto or Tokyo. It’s on the ground today in my neighborhood outside Madison, WI.

What does this mean for Croquet? For a long time, I’ve been seeing a recognized need for collaboration, and companies trying to deliver it. Most of these are based on either very slow, asynchronous collaboration, although some are based on highly specialized real-time communications. I think the on-the-ground demand for at least soft real-time collaboration is here, and this creates a tremendous opportunity for Croquet to deliver. If other technologies can successfully deploy first, then Croquet will have to look for other drivers for adoption.

About Stearns

Howard Stearns works at High Fidelity, Inc., creating the metaverse. Mr. Stearns has a quarter century experience in systems engineering, applications consulting, and management of advanced software technologies. He was the technical lead of University of Wisconsin's Croquet project, an ambitious project convened by computing pioneer Alan Kay to transform collaboration through 3D graphics and real-time, persistent shared spaces. The CAD integration products Mr. Stearns created for expert system pioneer ICAD set the market standard through IPO and acquisition by Oracle. The embedded systems he wrote helped transform the industrial diamond market. In the early 2000s, Mr. Stearns was named Technology Strategist for Curl, the only startup founded by WWW pioneer Tim Berners-Lee. An expert on programming languages and operating systems, Mr. Stearns created the Eclipse commercial Common Lisp programming implementation. Mr. Stearns has two degrees from M.I.T., and has directed family businesses in early childhood education and publishing.

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