Real time isn’t what it used to be: It’s really real time, now

In the early days of the web, one of my first areas of concentration was the rise of instant messaging tools like AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), ICQ, and Jabber. In fact my primary blog in the mid zeros was called Get Real, and my writing at the time was oriented toward the rise of real time and social technologies.

At a certain point, around 2006 or 2007, the rise of more social tools like Facebook and especially Twitter pulled attention and users from instant messaging, but the rise of more capable companion devices (tablets and smartphones) and a new sensibility about social connection in the workforce is leading to a return to real-time as a primary communication mode in business.

Some have started to talk about mobile 3.0 as a way of indicating this new level of connection and the capabilities of todays always-on, always connected companion devices, which are taking us above the mobile 2.0 era ushered in by 4G LTE generation of cell networks.

Today’s social web communication tools share some DNA with the prototype instant messaging buddylist: the list of connections you have created a shared relationship with. And in the business context, we seem to be doubling down on that model of real-time communication with a closed group of known colleagues. There are much nicer interfaces today, and devices that implement real-time background processing — like Apple’s iOS 7 on iPhone and iPad — mean that we can get really real-time messages, perhaps only milliseconds old, on our smartphone or tablet.

In just the past week, I have seen three new products for business real time communication that share a great deal of commonality: Slack, from Tiny Speck; Glip; and Talk.co. I will use a screenshot from Talk.co, which is in some way the minimum viable product of the three, and also because I plan to review the other two at length in future posts.

Screenshot 2013-10-12 15.26.40

Talk.co supports group chat between people in a given company, and limits membership to those with company email address, or Google apps accounts. Chat posts have images as attachments, but no other sort of files. Groups can be set up and people invited, so that topical chats can take place. Likewise a sidechat can be created on a specific topic with the members of an existing group. On the fly chats can be created with other users, either groups of one-to-one. There are no tasks, polls, or other niceties, although URLs in posts are clickable.

That’s it.

As I said, Slack and Glip have other capabilities, extending the core ideas of Talk.co.

My sense is that there is a growing disenchantment with the perceived heaviness and social overhead in collaborative enterprise social networks, or what I have traditionally called work media tools, such as IBM Connections, Yammer, Podio, and so on. These are tools that were developed around the desktop/browser/cloud stack of web 2.0, and which are not based on the premises of true real time communication. For example, in a build-all-the-functionality in approach, these tools might implement a sophisticated polling tool to get feedback from a group on some question, such as the best date and time for a video call. But in these real time chat context, your team mates are all online so they simply answer your question in near real time, so the necessity for the complex poll functionality is eliminated. As mentioned, this is because they are always on, or will be in a few moments.

One data point to add to this argument: companion devices are the only hardware with any growth, as shown in this chart from Ralph Finos Third-quarter IT spending report:

Screenshot 2013-10-12 15.44.12

And a final observation and conjecture. The inch-by-inch slide into a real time mindset — encouraged by technologies like those discussed above, and abetted by the prosumer mindset of always-connected communications — threatens another revolution in business. Business leaders are growing dissatisfied with business intelligence solutions based on slow time premises: monthly or weekly reporting cycles are simply too slow to make the sorts of informed decisions necessary in a real time world.

In the last week, I came across this piece by Ari Hesseldahl at AllThingsD about Josh James’ new company, a real time business intelligence firm call Domo. James was the founder of Omniture, which he sold to Adobe for $1.8 billion in 2009. And Domo is apparently growing scarily fast, like 25% to 50% per quarter.

Domo’s proposition is that information is stuck inside of a million dumb containers — documents, applications, spreadsheets — and a lot of what might be enormously helpful can’t be found, but what can be is stuck in slow time models which are unsuitable for businesses to discuss productively.

I found this enigmatic snippet — the Collaboration Gap — in a Domo white paper:

Data from a Forbes Insight study suggests that employees that use collaboration tools are up to 62% more productive and accomplish work 57% faster. Yet, that same study claims 59% of executives believe cloud-based collaboration stimulates innovation, our findings show only 8% of CEOs feel their reports facilitate collaboration — and that number drops to 6% when you include all business leaders.

My hunch is that Domo is breaking the data out of its silos, making it available in real time, and placing it in a context in which it can be shared, curated, discussed, and annotated, allowing greater degrees of informed communication, cooperation, and coordination of work. Perhaps Domo will be the first example of the intersection of big data and social work management.

Really real time business is coming, and — no surprise — it’s coming fast.

Relevant Analyst
Stowe Boyd

Stowe Boyd

Lead analyst, future of work Gigaom Research and stoweboyd.com

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