There Are Practical Limitations on Real-Time

No one is a bigger fan of real-time than I am. I’ve been working on real-time communications for 10 years, and I intend to continue to work in that space for the foreseeable future. That being said, let me be clear about one thing: There are practical limitations on real-time.

FriendFeed launched their new UI today in beta (check it out here). I am a huge fan of FriendFeed – and have been for a while now. They are doing more to advance the real-time web and social aggregation than any other service. But…

The new user interface (UI) leaves me with a single takeaway. This beta clearly demonstrates the practical limitations of real-time. If we begin with the end in mind, and clearly say that real-time exists as an enabler of:

  1. Communication
  2. Information Discovery

we quickly see that at some point real-time becomes a barrier to both.

New FriendFeed User Interface
New FriendFeed User Interface

I follow roughly 400 people on FriendFeed – which isn’t a particularly big number – and with the new full real-time user interface both communication and information discovery become all but impossible.

People are going to tell you “you’ll get used to it” – I actually saw one user compare it to flying a plane – information overload at first, but once you do it a while it starts to become less overwhelming. That may be true, but communication and information discovery shouldn’t be like flying a plane; which is a decidedly life or death experience. It should be streamlined and optimized to take advantage of the limited attention of the user. As importantly it should allow the user to take control of the experience and allocate their attention as they see fit – dynamically – as their attention allows.

And this is exactly where the new FriendFeed user interface breaks down. It requires 100% of you attention, 100% of your mental cycles – and it is still almost impossible to actually accomplish your goal; communication or information discovery.

FriendFeed has the building blocks in place to better manage your limited attention, but they are tangential to the central user experience and lack critical features. Filters and lists can solve the problem of limited attention, but they must be at least as functional as the current user interface – including the ability to post and follow the information in real time.

This puts the user in control of how they allocate their scarce attention – too much to pay attention to, tighten up the filter – not enough action, broaden the filter and get more.

At justSignal we are solving these problems as a platform for other companies, brands, or organizations to leverage in their content. FriendFeed needs to keep their eye on the ball, because they are solving it (IMHO) for the individual consumer.

The “ball” is enabling communcation and information discovery… that should be getting 100% of our attention.

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