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The Realtime Genie
by Steve Gillmor on April 14, 2009
The realtime lashback has been surprisingly tame given the emotional challenges it presents. FriendFeed’s decision to double down on realtime streaming of text has had several primary effects: increased usage, swarming behavior around live events, and pushback from some who fled Twitter to FriendFeed in search of more contemplative dialogue.
What happens when a realtime conversation is possible? We already know the answer: IM. We are gently queried for permission to engage, and with social contract in hand we answer questions, catch up from where we last left off, and negotiate the outline of our next meeting. Attempts at hanging around on either end are met with increased irritation masked by politeness, until finally a rapid-fire l8r kthxbye cya dance wears out any remaining welcome.
But realtime swarms have new dynamics, not readily understood or guided by agreed-upon ground rules. Where IRCs and attached video chats hew to explicit or implicit boundaries, realtime threads need their own rationale for existence to get much beyond the IM formula. For some, a debate is hung off of a blog post or podcast, with representatives of the pro and con perspectives managing the conversation flow. For others, the “post” is a statement of thesis, a challenge to engage. When oldtimers criticize these threads as nothing new, they’re usually right.
Why, then, are so many of us so energized by this frontier? First, we are tired of RSS, tired of the mediocrity of the good-enough flow of half-facts and pseudo insight. Yes, I’m tired of my own bullshit, but only of my inability to adequately describe what’s in front of us. Normally I expect the pragmatic enterprise……..