Real-Time Web Likely To Shift User Expectations

There are some interesting new real-time web developments, and I can see how the way in which information is being delivered in real time could very well shift user expectations for obtaining content from academic libraries. While we have some traditional types of electronic databases, such as Lexis/Nexis, that provide searchable news that is updated every 24 hours, even that may be an unacceptable time lag in a real-time web world. Consider that most of our user community members frequent Google and Bing, and that both of these search engines have added real-time news content from blogs, tweets, Facebook updates and more. Compared to what the search engines intend to offer, news updated every 24 hours seems slow. What else is happening in the world of real-time web news that could change user expectations?

While it’s only in the prototype stage I think there is some merit to Google’s “Living Stories” approach to real-time information. For now there are just a few stories that give you a feel for the design and intent of the service. In a collaboration with the New York Times and Washington Post (content providers), Living Stories provides a constantly updated news feed for a single topic. Each topic features what I’d best describe as a faceted search so that it is fairly easy to focus in on one aspect of the topic or a type of content, such as video. I don’t know where Google is headed with Live Stories, but I would certainly hope that in the future they add a category for higher education. I can visualize it as a powerful way to stay frequently updated on a particular higher education issue.

Another area in which the real-time web is creating some waves is in social networking. Mashable reported on the top five real-time web trends in 2009. Both Facebook and Twitter will be stepping up efforts to improve the delivery of real-time web content. Though folks are still trying to figure out how to use it, Google Wave brought real-time technology to our conversations. Could these various technologies will converge and bring about improvements for each service provider? Another trend that is shifting user expectations is the customizable homepage. If you use Netvibes, iGoogle or Pageflakes you know it’s easy to install any number of widgets for receiving real-time web reporting. Netvibes is taking this a step further with Wasabi, a version that delivers real-time content from any number of sources with no need to refresh. Savvy web developers are already adapting to the real-time web by creating sites that can be rapidly updated or changed to reflect current news and trends as they happen.

It’s not yet clear what advances in the real-time web are in store for 2010, but academic librarians may want to follow the developments closely for signs of how user expectations may shift in response to a growing world of real-time news and information. For more of an introduction to the real-time web concept and what it could mean for academic librarians see this ACRLog post.

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