The Real-Time Web Is A Big Problem For The Web

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As we move closer and closer to the real-time Web, we are already encountering instances where the Web – as we know it – seems old and antiquated.

Here’s the scenario: this past week, I received a breaking news tweet that a  plane had crashed near the airport in Phoenix. Immediately, I hopped over to CNN to get more details, but nothing. Nada. Zilch. We tend to forget that it takes a while for the producers of the website to gather the content (text, audio, images, video), get the piece produced and published online (it only takes a second to shoot a tweet out). It’s not the first time either. When something wonky happens with one of my online web services, I’m quick to hop over and do a search to see if anyone else is having a similar issue, but nothing. Nada. Zilch. However, a quick scan of the people I am following on Twitter or by shooting out a quick tweet, and voila! Answers… galore.

This is a big challenge for people publishing content to the Web.

Our expectations are changing. Quickly. How can Google, Bing and Yahoo! not know when something is down? Don’t the more specialized searches you’re doing online return results that feel either gamed (like someone manipulated their SEO just to get the result to the top) or somewhat old (like the answer to your question was posted in 1998)? Google has been tinkering with real-time search results (and so have the other search engines) in it’s core search product (and in some instances, they even place the news feed at the top of the organic search results).

Still, the world changes. Our needs change. Our expectations become (somewhat) unrealistic.

Did you see the news about the 10-year-old boy who had his custom wheelchair damaged by an airline? Regardless of how the airline responded via the Social Media (or any media channels), the real lesson here is that people who have access to everyone in real-time have no definition for the word "patience."  This has nothing to do with who is in the right or how they handled the Social Media hailstorm, what’s important to recognize here is that if a tweet is not responded to (and favorably) instantly, it spreads (through retweets and beyond) and even though this issue was resolved in less than 24 hours, many people thought that it took way too long and that the resolution may not have come had it not been for the real-time Web.

We tell brands to listen, but do we tell people to be realistic with their expectations?

There is no doubt that brands must listen and respond appropriately to what is being said about them (and yes, this includes moments of crisis along with moments that could turn into a crisis if they are not listening), but clicking on that link about the plane crash and seeing nothing caused me to think to myself, "how could there be nothing about this on the Website?" before realizing that it’s not the news outlet that sucked… it’s my expectations. They have become unrealistic. Amazing how quickly the world changes. It wasn’t too long ago that we debated how the Internet would kill newspapers because by the time the paper hit your porch in the morning, the content was already almost a day old. Now, the content that isn’t updated in real-time – as everything happens – is also starting to feel a little old.

What now?


  1. I couldn’t agree with this post more and I’m glad someone said it. In the instance of boy’s wheelchair and the airline I imagine over 1,000 tweets went out about it within an hours time. Patience was nowhere to be found.
    Sadly, when I brand steps up and meets the concerns or needs of those who are upset, it’s rarely mentioned on twitter or elsewhere.
    Expectations are unrealistic and until people realize this, they are going to be disappointed.
    Excellent post my friend!

  2. “News” (defined as a report on a recent event) via Facebook, Twitter, etc. has become not only instantaneous but personal, and that’s why I don’t need traditional media. I have joked that Facebook tells me everything I need to know but it really isn’t a joke. If something happens in the world, I hear about it there and if it personally impacts me, I will find out the details in a way that I never would have via traditional media.
    Example, last year there was severe weather and a death at Big Valley Jamboree (Camrose, AB). Many of my friends go and others are involved in performing, stage management, etc. I heard about the bad weather very quickly on Facebook and very quickly after, news of my friends began to filter in. A couple of my friends took over reporting what they knew and acted as a the clearinghouse. They posted what they knew and what they saw via Twitter and Facebook, and quite naturally others started posting what they knew to those people’s walls. Very quickly I knew everyone was safe.
    In the past I would have heard about the weather and damage via the 10 o’clock news (if I happened to watch). And it would have taken hours if not days to find out if everyone was safe.
    Fascinating partly because of my age. I am not in my 20’s or 30’s (although many of the friends I speak of are). I am in my late 40’s. If the boomers don’t need traditional media … who does?

  3. So do you think that we’ll come to this realization as a group and finally cut brands some slack? What will it take to get there? The biggest brands not able to respond quick enough? It does appear that there is a direct relationship between the size of your brand (real or perceived) and the time allotted to respond to a “situation”.
    As a small business I noticed that I’m regularly given more time to respond, but instead, I panic and jump to respond as quickly as I can because I believe that’s what expected. It’s tiring and worrisome at the same time because I can feel myself backing into a corner. The irony is that the faster that I respond, the more those in the public domain appreciate it at this point, uggh.
    I do wonder what it will take to break this system down and return to some sort of reasonability.
    Thanks for the point Mitch.

  4. I had similar experience a few weeksago when an earthquake hit, my first reaction was to check a few seconds to see if it was the road crew repairing the intersection closest to my house or an actual seismic episode. My second thought was onto twitter and folks were posting their location with an #earthquake hashtag. I was stunned at the breadth of quake, but also the way that information distribution has changed. Twitter gave me information, but the news that came out minutes later told the story the way only journalists can.

  5. This is fantastic post Joel.
    It’s so true!
    I had the exact same thought recently about how people freak out if they tweet a brand and they don’t get an instant response.
    This post has actually got my mind rolling here on the subject. I’m now inspired to write my own post about it instead of take up all the room in your comments section.
    Thank you for the inspiration.
    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

  6. I don’t know the intricate details of this instance, but your point is spot on. We hold up situations like this as a warning to brands, when – in reality – brands are making huge strides to listening, reacting and doing better. Beyond this one instance, it’s our ability to be intrinsically connected in real-time that shortens the acceptable time span to respond. Think about it this way: how do you feel when someone takes more than one day to respond to an email you sent?

  7. I think we need to clarify “news” against “reporting” and “journalism”. Anyone can report the news, but few have the ability (and skills) to add the components that really give it depth (things like perpective, fact-checking, balance, etc…). In terms of your friends and the weather: these were very amateur reports. Odds are they don’t have a background in weather reporting, etc… they’re just telling you – first hand – what they saw. And, if we’ve learned anything from history, sometimes those reports aren’t very accurate or reflective of the situation at all.

  8. Those are great questions. Change the situation around: someone calls you from another country because you damaged something of theirs. The product is completely customized. How long would it take you to figure the situation? My guess is that if I was alone, that would take me – at the least – several hours. Now add in the layers this would have to go through if you were a lower-level employee (someone answering the phones) and figuring out the chain of command/approval process?
    Again, I’m not justifying the response (because I don’t have all of the facts in this instance), but in a real-time world – whether you’re publishing content or dealing with customer service – we now have consumers who think one tweet will get resolved instantly, and maybe we all need to lay off the gas pedal (just a little bit)?

  9. …and where do you think the traditional news media outlets were getting their initial news from? Exactly. The same place you were. Before these channels, when an earthquake hit, the people would call the police, fire department, the media, etc… and then the story would trickle down. Now, they tweet. If the journalists aren’t listening… we are. But journalists can’t beat anyone to a story when that story is distributed instantly around the world to everyone at the same time. Maybe the police and fire departments shouldn’t wait for 911, but follow those emergency keywords on Twitter Search?

  10. Feel free to add your link here when you post it, so we can all comment. Being that you are the Community Manager for Sysomos (a Social Media monitoring solution), you’re probably seeing these sorts of trends in real-time vs. traditional Internet publishing. In your estimation, did the airline respond in good timing or was it the Social Media pitchforks that got the resolution here?

  11. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. By by the way I also enjoyed your book (SPOS). While I was reading this I kept thinking about the multiplying tweeds proclaiming the death of Bill Cosby and how untruths told on the Web seem to dull or awareness to a point of acceptance. This also happens within other media outlets, but because of the relative slower pace and because professional are usually driving, mishaps are resolved and we move on. Web fables live on and can be rekindled to trend over and over again. People seem to accept this while print and other outlets fade.

  12. Mitch I understand your point but I disagree. In that case, what I needed to know was what happened and was everyone safe. And I found that out very accurately. I did not need to know the facts about that weather system. That doesn’t impact me.
    I agree that there is a need for in depth journalism but I don’t need much of that in my day to day life. I would also say that there are as many inaccuracies in the ‘real sources of news’ such as major newspapers as there are online. I have had first hand experience with that in a very serious corporate situation in the 1990’s. What was reported was so full of factual inaccuracies that is was almost laughable, except it was a very serious situation. Less than 10% of what was reported was accurate. What has changed now is that brands do have an ability to get other information out there and of course, there is a whole new source of ‘news’ to be responded to such as the wheelchair incident.
    Back to my original point. I gave up traditional media three years ago with the exception of radio news weekday mornings for an hour. I do not read any newspapers online. I do scan the headlines on my chosen homepage and I read blogs. I scan those headlines in my Google reader – mostly marketing, self improvement, business success, etc. and spend about half an hour a day or less reading blog entries. The result – I have found that I know more about what I need to know for my life (sold my condo in advance of the upcoming devaluation of real estate for example) than many people who read several major newspapers a day. Those people now know that real estate in Canada may be facing a crisis – I figured that out a while ago and in time to act.
    I do agree that there is a place for in depth journalism but who I trust (Trust Agents!) is chosen carefully.

  13. I agree with your general point regarding patience. Remember who is involved here. A very experienced blogger, a social media journalist, a very experienced marketer or unmarketer depending on how you look at the scene faced with what they saw at the time as a lack of consideration for the kid involved. .Like a parent in a similar situation they did what anyone faced with the issue would do.Made a fuss. Not every situation has players with the training and awareness of social media that was present here.
    They were on a fundraising mission, satisfying a child wishes, outside of their home zone at the time.
    Air Canada to their credit made the situation right,with an overnight repair, without any help from social media and to show a better face realizing the child’s plight and wishes to send him and his cousins to DisneyWorld.
    The issue would not have got the exposure it did without the players and web involved. Good for the fundraising for the boy, good for the airline showing a real human face.
    It does show the need for patience and listening, but the social web is a maturing beast which may need a little taming.

  14. I definitely will leave you the link when I get my thoughts down Mitch.
    As for the Air Canada story it’s a very debatable subject, especially depending on what side of the story you really know. I know @unmarketing and was very familiar with the fund raising he was doing for Tanner via social media, so when the story of the broken wheel chair started, I got my first info via social media. On the other hand, Amber MacArthur pointed out in her story that Air Canada doesn’t seem to have an official Twitter account. This would make it hard for the airline to respond via social media. She also mentioned that people from the airline were in contact with Tanner’s family, which means that they were dealing with the situation, just maybe not in public.
    The story became a big deal because of the #TutusForTanner “tweet-a-thon” that happened the day before. A lot of people became aware of Tanner because Unmarketing was broadcasting, a lot, about it, and he has a pretty big following. But, one has to think, if it wasn’t for that, would anyone really have known about the whole ordeal? How many bags and such do you think Air Canada loses or damages in any given week? I would guess a lot (that’s not a shot at Air Canada in specific, it’s just a part of the airline industry). Not every instance of a lost bag gets tweeted, and I’m sure that in most cases none of it ever becomes a big public affair for the airline.
    Yes Air Canada made an error, but it’s not as if they ignored it. We just think they may have been ignoring it because they didn’t respond via Twitter. We also don’t know what the airline and Tanner’s family talked about when they spoke. I’m sure that the airline was trying to remedy the problem as soon as they knew about it. The rest of the world just got the side of the story from the angry aunt. She could have just been mad about the whole incident in general despite Air Canada making every effort to remedy the situation.
    In my opinion Air Canada handled the situation fairly and timely (perhaps a little slow do to the nature of the problem, but fairly). They even tried to make amends by sending Tanner and his family to Disney World.
    Do I think that maybe a big company that is bound to be talked about a lot everywhere should be watching social media for people talking about them? Yes. But, considering that they don’t seem to tweet at the moment, I think they handled the problem just like they would every other problem. The only difference in this case was the rest of the world got the one sided view from the people who felt they were being wronged, and this happens a lot these days. Everyday occurrences can now be blown out of proportion by the fast spread via the web, and depending who spreads their side of the story online first, the public gets a biased view of what’s going on.
    And this is what I was talking about when I said I may take up all the room in your comments.

  15. Agree on all points. I was thinking more of the whole “Bill Cosby is dead” false news that was flowing through Twitter. There were people who tweeted it out who are “Trust Agents” to me, but still, before I retweet or spread the news further I tend to do my own investigation, etc… Sadly, many people don’t and thats where the real-time Web makes things complicated.

  16. To add some additional perspective: I know many companies who don’t have a Twitter account and are not active on Twitter, but are monitoring, responding and paying close attention to the channel. So, while the airline may not have their own, dedicated, Twitter feed, let’s not assume that they (and their employees) are not monitoring it.

  17. And if the Social Media beast rages (as it often does), the question becomes: do brands have to step it up (and how much more can they?) or do we have to manage everyone’s expectations better (which, seems to be a more likely reality)? It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out.

  18. We need to all take time to get away from the three screens that can consume us, get outside, take a walk and breathe. The world continues to swirl around us, and always will. If we take the time to connect with our own core and be silent and listen to our voice inside us it matters more than all the immediate communications constantly bombarding our senses. I love the magic and power of social media; but contribute in more ways when I make the time to slow down and listen to my own true self.

  19. Very interesting comments Mitch and I agree that some aspects of Real TIme are an issue, your examples are pertinent.
    Interestingly I read this week about using real time in the Kenyan Elections which seems (if the report can be trusted, which I think it can) (Article here : As with all things there are benefits and risks and the challenge for us is to get it right. We won’t at least until we’ve made mistakes and learned where the technology is flawed.
    No doubt it will adapt too.

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