The real-time web – the web is now more scary than ever if you’re average

December 11, 2009

Imagine that you’re running a reasonably successful business, (it doesn’t matter what it is), but you’re pretty happy with things and you think your customers are too. At least you don’t get that many complaints and usually giving a refund or discount voucher for next time round seems to buy them off the whiners. You probably weren’t even engaging in the web and now this new high-speed real-time web has appeared. Oh dear. What are you going to do now? Spend more on traditional interruption advertising, cut your costs – stay lean, focus on delivering the cheapest price?

You could bury your head in the sand too while you’re at it. If you’re happy with your business now and happy to see it erode slowly over time that is certainly one approach you could take. Or you could embrace the massive change that is taking place, one which is letting people connect with each other, globally and enabling new businesses who are truly passionate about what they do come in and revolutionise an industry.

Here’s the thing… it’s actually the small and medium sized businesses who have the most to gain and the most to lose from this. The large corporations are seen as being distant and aloof anyway, but smaller companies can and ought to be closer to and more responsive to their customer. You can either embrace the new tools available and grow significantly, or sit back and let a new competitor do so and see your position eroded. Would you like to be a winner or loser in the new world?

One winner is Gary Vaynerchuk, a wise-cracking upstart, who could have been an extra in The Sopranos, except for the fact he was born in the USSR just 31 years ago. He turned his Dad’s neighbourhood liquor store in New Jersey into a $70M online wine retail business. Gary V is one of those people who is passionate about whatever he gets involved in and in his book “Crush It” he explains how anyone with a passion can use that to create a successful business. And if you truly care, that comes across to the people you’re engaging with. But how different it could have been for Gary. That local shop could have closed years ago as the hypermarket opened a mile down the road and quickly you begin to resent their low prices, and the fact that people never really cared for you much anyway. (Might have been something to do with you not caring about them either).

Gary was speaking at “Le Web” conference in Paris, the central theme of which was “the real-time web”, that stream of consciousness such as status updates on sites like Facebook, twitter, MySpace and Facebook. Up until now the status updates and content of these sites has generally been walled off from search engines, but that’s now changing, with both Google and Bing displaying just such content within their regular search results.

The importance of this should not be underestimated, the web is now much less static, and now much more alive than ever before.

Web searching can be divided into three types of search:

  • searching for a site, e.g. going to google and typing in “” (Apparently a lot of people do this!)
  • searching for data, e.g. factual information
  • searching for news/updates on current events

The first two are handled very well by search engines, the data is easy to index, rank and display. The last category has never been handled well by traditional search engines, breaking news events may or may not appear and there is a reliance on traditional media sources, who are often the last to report such events. The types of happenings we are talking about… Tiger Woods infamous golf club/wife/fire hydrant/vehicle incident, or the plane crashing into the Hudson or the death of Michael Jackson. Getting real-time updates from those close to such events is something that’s very valuable. There’s a myriad of companies, including Google who are trying to satisfy the currently unmet desire which people have for the latest, accurate information, in real-time. Much of the real-time information may well be nonsense, but it’s going to amplify and expand exponentially for years to come and we need a way to deal with it. (And if you’re running a company you need to find ways to listen to it at the very least, even if you don’t feel comfortable taking an active role yet).

Chris Brogan believes the web today has moved from being like theatre played out on a stage in front of the audience, to theatre in the round where everyone can take part. Sure you can choose not to take part, but you cannot stop people talking about you. Wouldn’t you rather listen, respond and be part of the conversation? (Or you could shout louder and spend more on old forms of advertising). The scary part is, you can’t opt out of the collaborative web; even if you choose not to have engagement tools on your site other people can add them in by themselves and talk to other users of your site without you even knowing about it. (Thanks to another new Google product called Sidewiki).

So, back to the imaginary company I asked you to think about, you’re probably feeling pretty scared right now. These pesky people are going to voice their opinions loudly, and their friends will listen, after all we trust people much more than companies. Negative comments and complaints voiced will now very publicly highlight all your product or services shortcomings, and the speed of this is now faster than ever before.

On the other hand you could be the type of business who has a great culture, a great product and a great attitude to your customers and you’re probably now really excited about now having the tools and platforms to enhance the connection with your customer base, nurture your hard-core of fans, discuss and exchange ideas with them and develop a bigger and better relationship. The real-time web was made for you…. go and embrace it!

Inspiration for this piece came from the following speakers, click the links to watch their videos.

(If you watch just one make it Gary’s)

More blogs from me on Le Web: