All posts tagged ‘real-time’

File Under: Browsers, Web Standards

Web Notifications API Hints at a Brave New Real-Time Web

Google recently added a desktop notification option to Gmail — whenever a new message arrives you’ll see a pop-up window letting you know. Gmail’s new feature works a bit like the popular OS X app Growl. it’s handy, but there’s a big catch — it only works in Google’s Chrome browser.

A truly cross-browser, cross-platform real-time alert system for the web is still a little ways off, but there is already a standard in the works and the W3C recently announced the first Public Working Draft of the Web Notifications API.

The Web Notifications API attempts to bring the world of desktop notifications to the web, with the browser serving as an intermediary. The web solved the real-time updates problem some time ago. Take Twitter, for instance, the website offers a continuously updated feed of your friends’ tweets in real-time. But, all the updates in world are meaningless if you don’t know they’ve arrived.

The next step forward in the real-time web is to move from real-time updates to real-time notifications. Right now one of the biggest advantages of using — to stick with the Twitter example — a desktop Twitter client, is that it can run in the background, popping up alerts whenever you receive new messages. Twitter.com running in your browser can’t pull that off right now.

But that’s precisely what the Web Notifications API will allow websites to do. The API provides a mechanism for web apps to talk to your desktop, passing along notifications from sites you’ve authorized to send updates. The spec does not specify exactly how to display the notifications, that’s left up to the user agent since what works best on your desktop might not work so well on your Android phone.

The possible applications go well beyond Twitter and e-mail. Attempts to build distributed social networks could benefit from real-time notifications, as would chat apps, news alert apps, banking apps and countless others. Combining the advantages of the web — accessible nearly anywhere with no app store restrictions — with a cross-platform notification standard just might open up a new realm of web apps.

While the Web Notifications API is still a draft, Google’s Chrome browser has already embraced it and the spec has managed to progress from editor’s draft to public draft in just eight months, which is near lightning speed for the W3C. Now it’s time for other browsers to start adding support for the Web Notifications API so developers can begin to experiment.

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File Under: Web Apps

Google Bails on Wave

Google is halting development on Wave, its web app for real-time communication.

“We don’t plan to continue developing Wave as a standalone product,” Google Senior Vice President of Operations Urs Hölzle said on the official Google Blog Wednesday.

The company cites slow user adoption as the reason for its decision. Google will continue to support Wave through the end of the year, at which point the product will be phased out.

Wave debuted in May, 2009 at Google I/O, the company’s yearly developer conference. Developers were excited about Wave — it incorporated several new technologies that simultaneously pushed the boundaries of what was possible in browser-based apps, and tapped into the craze of real-time communication fueled by Twitter and Facebook. You typed something into a Wave, and your collaborators at the other end of the line saw what you were typing almost immediately. Everything was built in JavaScript and HTML5. We were intrigued by its possibilities, and we even proclaimed that Wave could one day replace the e-mail inbox as our primary form of communication.

In the weeks after Wave’s debut, invitations to the beta test were scarce, and the unlucky souls stuck on the outside were clamoring to get in.

But once they started using Wave, most people were confused about how it fit into their lives. Sure, Wave let you collaborate with several people at once on documents, share photos with multiple recipients, and it created a searchable, editable stream of pure information. But there are already a raft of tools to do these things — it’s easy enough to use Google Docs to collaborate on documents, there are plenty of photo sharing services users are already invested in, and the search and chat tools inside Gmail are well above par. Wave just seemed a bit too crowded with information — it was e-mail, chat, media sharing and document editing all rolled into one (admittedly busy) interface — and the fucntionality too redundant.

Hölzle admits Googlers were scratching their heads, too:

We were equally jazzed about Google Wave internally, even though we weren’t quite sure how users would respond to this radically different kind of communication. The use cases we’ve seen show the power of this technology: sharing images and other media in real time; improving spell-checking by understanding not just an individual word, but also the context of each word; and enabling third-party developers to build new tools like consumer gadgets for travel, or robots to check code.

But despite these wins, and numerous loyal fans, Wave has not seen the user adoption we would have liked. We don’t plan to continue developing Wave as a standalone product, but we will maintain the site at least through the end of the year and extend the technology for use in other Google projects. The central parts of the code, as well as the protocols that have driven many of Wave’s innovations, like drag-and-drop and character-by-character live typing, are already available as open source, so customers and partners can continue the innovation we began. In addition, we will work on tools so that users can easily “liberate” their content from Wave.

It’s likely that Google will continue to use the technology born in Wave to enhance the products it was intended to replace, like Gmail and Google Docs. Docs already has an excellent real-time backend sharing system that lets you see others’ edits with very low latency, and Gmail continues to show itself as not only a robust web app but a mini app platform, with things like video chat, document editing, Twitter-like status updates and cloud-based storage built in.

Buzz, another product launched at an I/O event, is also a likely home for some of Wave’s technology. The service is in a tight race with Twitter and Facebook to deliver real-time status updates to the masses. Last month, the company opened up its firehose, allowing developers to access shared updates and media as quickly as possible.

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File Under: Social, Web Apps

NYT Shows Off Real-Time Tweet Tracker During Stevenote

We were half-expecting Twitter to break entirely when Steve Jobs took the stage Wednesday morning to announce the new Apple iPad. It was a little slow, but it didn’t break.

The New York Times’ Labs website was tracking all Apple-related Tweets in real time during the event. A screenshot is shown above — a simple page that updates around once every two seconds. The data is pulled in via JSON requests, and the super-clean refreshes are handled with jQuery.

Twitter sets limits on API calls. Currently it’s set at 150 calls per hour, which, for apps that send regular requests, is 2.5 calls a minute. This app appears to be updating far more quickly than that, so unless we have our numbers wrong, we’d guess the NYT has a backstage pass here.

View the deceptively simple source and .js files on the NYT Labs site. Also look for the special warning about sharks.

File Under: APIs, Multimedia, Social

Could MySpace’s New Real Time Stream Lead to Better Music Sharing?

MySpace has thrown open its doors to app developers, giving them real time access to all MySpace users’ activities via a new suite of APIs.

Now, every time Jenny friends somebody, posts a photo or writes a blog post, you’ll be able to make that notification show up in your app mere seconds after it happens.

The company announced the new Real Time Stream API, along with two other social APIs, Wednesday morning at the Le Web conference in Paris, France. It posted all the details on its developer website and kicked off a contest to see who can create the best apps. The new APIs offer access to every MySpace user’s stream in real time. MySpace publishes its user activities using the ActivityStrea.ms format, and it’s using PubSubHubbub to push the streams out in real time.

Wednesday’s announcement comes during a big week for MySpace. Only a day before, the company completed its acquisition of iMeem, the music sharing service, which also published ActivityStrea.ms data about its users’ actions. It also comes the same day that Facebook announced it was making status updates from its users publicly available to the web at large — previously, the default setting was to only publish status updates to Facebook’s own platform or approved Facebook apps. The new APIs at MySpace will allow its developers to post users’ updates with the same frequency as Facebook and other services.

So, what’s going to happen next?

MySpace has long been eclipsed by Facebook as the hottest social network for individuals, but bands and musicians of all levels remain incredibly active on MySpace. Lots of musicians don’t even have a website anymore, they just have a MySpace page, and maybe a Twitter account. A handful of major clubs in every city book all of their shows using MySpace. If you’re in a band, you pretty much have to be on MySpace — like it or not. It’s one of the key web tools driving the music industry right now.

However, one big thing missing from MySpace’s music experience (well, one of the big things) is the ability for people to easily share a song they like. When an artist uploads a song, their status update provides a link to that song. But for fans, all music sharing happens through playlists, which are clunky.

If you are listening to a song and you want to tell all your friends about it, you add it to your profile playlist. That action shows up in your stream, and the song shows up in the player widget on your MySpace profile, (Here’s what it looks like). It’s only there as long as you decide to keep it there, and since MySpace only get 10 songs at a time, if you’re an avid music lover, chances are it won’t be there for longer than a day or a few hours.

Compare this to other popular music sharing services, like LaLa, Mog, Last.fm and iMeem, or even smaller ones like TheSixtyOne, and you’ll notice that it’s much easier for users to send a Facebook update or a Tweet about a particular song they like (and as many songs as they like) complete with a short link leading back to the page where their friends can listen to the song right away. They don’t have to deal with playlists or anything similar, they just share a link to that song.

It’s an elegant and direct way to spread music, which is why it’s become the standard for song sharing on every social network except for MySpace.

This open sharing, along with direct short URL links, is one of the most powerful forces for artist exposure, and for fans to express enthusiasm, driving the music business. For evidence of this, see Ted Greenwald’s post on our Epicenter blog, “Geeks to Music Industry: APIs Can Set You Free

,” about how open song sharing is changing the way people engage with and encounter new music.

MySpace’s music sharing system works, but it feels backwards and weird when compared to the rest of these tools. But with the purchase of iMeem and with the launch of these new APIs, we’ll probably see some positive changes quickly.

For MySpace’s sake, we hope so. The only reason for most of us to visit MySpace these days is to interact with bands. So, anything at all that makes it easier for users to like, link to and comment on songs, and to publish those activities out onto the web in real time would be a boon for the old beast of a social network.

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File Under: Social

New Facebook Features Show It’s Still Finding Its Real-Time Legs

Facebook has made two major changes to the way it displays real-time data about user activity on its platform — one for publishers to help track the spread viral content, and one change that affects how people see updates from their friends.

The site has enhanced its Share feature — the tiny “Share this on Facebook” widgets seen at the bottom of blog posts, videos and photos — to include live stats tracking. Starting Monday, publishers can see a live count of how many times a particular post or piece of media has been shared on Facebook.

The new live stats counter for Facebook Share closely mimics Tweetmeme‘s popular “Retweet” badges, or the live widgets that show the number of Diggs or up-votes on Reddit a piece of content has accumulated.

Facebook Share is getting some analytics tools, too. In addition to learning how many times Facebook users have shared a post, publishers can also see whenever somebody “likes” the shared post, leaves a comment, or clicks back to the original site from within Facebook.

It’s not the only tweak to Facebook’s real-time data flow the company has made to its site within the last few days.

On Friday, the Facebook home page for logged-in users was redesigned to show a filtered stream of updates. Rather than just showing a stream of every status update, every post and every “like” from within their network, Facebook users can now choose between a streamlined, filtered view and a raw, unfiltered view.

This change basically incorporates the old “Highlights” feed — the most important posts from your friends — into the main News Feed. The result is a stream of the most interesting or important stuff that’s been posted within the past couple of days.

click for largerThe new filtered News Feed is now the default. The more times a post is commented on or liked, the more “popular” it becomes. An algorithm determines what goes into the feed and what stays hidden. The old “Highlights” box is being removed, as it’s now redundant.

The Live Feed, which can be accessed by clicking on the new “Live Feed” tab at the top of the home page, gives a more immediate, Twitter-like stream. It displays all of the recent activity, posts and updates from you and your friends, regardless of popularity.

The odd thing here is that one of these changes brings Facebook up to speed with its competitors in the real-time content sharing game, while the other change sets it back.

Publishers want to know how their content is doing out in the wild, so the new Share tools make sense.

But in altering the News Feed in the way it has, Facebook actually becomes less of a real-time news source for its users. By adding popularity filters, important stuff might not bubble up into your News Feed for hours or days. I just looked at my News Feed, and the newest item is four hours old. If I really want to know what my friends are doing, reading, liking and talking about right now, I have to switch over to the Live Feed. Luckily, this is as easy as one mouse click.

But what does this say about the proliferation of real-time data streams on the web? Publishers always want better real-time data, but do users? Are regular people by and large tired of the massive firehose of updates their favorite sites now all offer? Is it all becoming just too much?

If so, Facebook made the right move with the News Feed changes. If not, hey, there’s always the Live Feed option one click away. Or there’s Twitter. And if you want a real-time stream you can filter even more minutely, you can turn to FriendFeed or Cliqset or Plaxo Pulse.

If the changes to Facebook’s stream bothers you — and judging from the comments of my own Facebook friends, the changes aren’t being seen as that friendly — they are easy to alter. Facebook Insider has an excellent post showing how to change your feed settings. Additional tips are in the comments.

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