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As an enthusiast and student of social media and in particular apps that I can use straightforwardly on my smartphone, I have recently woken up to a swing in app development which is motivating a modification in behaviour of users.

Historically, all the apps that I used such as: Facebook for friends and family, LinkedIn for business and professional use, and to a far lesser extent, Twitter for news and event notification, were all non-real-time apps.  You posted something and others read it at their leisure, perhaps shortly after it was posted measured within minutes, or much later measured in hours, days, or weeks.  Sometimes, even much longer after it first hit the air as once content is posted on the web, it never really dies off.  The time domain for the information was never real-time for my apps, so often it just expired, or became stale news or information, as the march of time progressed.

Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away. Marcus Aurelius

However, now, I see a significant paradigm shift towards apps that are real-time.  All the users connect and interact in real-time.  They connect and exchange ideas and information during the exact same moment in time.  It is all about the “Now”.  Users can connect in real-time using text, voice, or streaming video, but if you are not connected at the very moment of the event, then you are not engaged.  You are out of the loop.

This change from non-real-time to real-time apps is noteworthy.  It impacts so many aspects, both technical and social.

From a technical perspective, the real-time apps use far more network resources in an extreme manner compared to traditional non-real-time apps.  Therefore, connectivity is critical and access to sufficient network bandwidth and sub 100ms latency plays an import role in the success of these next generation apps for your smartphone.  If you lack the bandwidth and latency parameters, then intense contiguous media, like voice and video, break-up or do not work at all.  Is network connectivity a barrier to entry for these new-fangled real-time apps?

From the social aspect, according to Cornell University’s Steven Strogatz, social media sites can make it more difficult for us to distinguish between the meaningful relationships we foster in the real world, and the numerous casual relationships formed through social media. By focusing so much of our time and psychic energy on these less meaningful relationships, our most important connections, he fears, will weaken.  So, if this is true, do these real-time sites actually amplify the issue and further weaken meaningful relationships, or do they help to build relationships and strengthen these connections?

I am seeing next generation apps like Periscope, Meerkat, Chalk, and Roger all gaining traction.

Periscope is a live video streaming app.  Periscope is now owned by Twitter so users can tweet their upcoming live video streams in advance to their followers to build viewership when they begin streaming.  Periscope users then stream events live, such as experience events, business meetings, public speaking engagements, musical and entertainment sessions, celebrates walking past, or just boring nonsense content that no one is actually viewing.  But, there is a place for this app if it is applied properly.

Meerkat is another live streaming media app that permits the users to share live video broadcasts originating from their mobile device.  Meerkat connected users via Facebook and Twitter, but once Twitter acquired Periscope, the relationship with Meerkat was turned down a few notches (needless to say).  The app was released in February 2015 then quickly found popularity after its debut on the website Product Hunt, as well as widespread use during the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, both in March 2015 (Wikipedia, 2016).

Chalk is described as a text-based spontaneous group chat app that permits groups to join into a discussion in chat rooms and hang out with friends.  It is like the proverbial water cooler analogy of a small group gathering during a break to casually talk, but in text, not voice.

Roger turns your smartphone into a walkie-talkie device so you can use it to connect to others for quick bursts of discussion.  Roger is a low bandwidth voice application that allows users to connect instantly with others: perhaps parents to children, or spouses who just need to ask a quick question, or friends who are trying to meet up and cannot find each other.  It can store communications for 48 hours if you need to replay conversations.  This would be helpful for directions and finding friends.  I need this one for sure.  Roger Wilco!

There are many more new real-time apps, some are noteworthy too.  But, I think that you get the idea with these four examples.

The real-time phenomenon is interesting to observe.  I am not yet convinced that it is actually a meaningful trend or just another fad.  We clearly need to hit a tipping point whereby someone streams some major event via one of these tools and it goes ultra viral.  Then, the world will catch this ride by jumping on the bandwagon.  But, is the “world” really ready for these new real-time tools?  The level of connectivity is superb in North America, but based upon my global travels, the level of connectivity is far from uniform everywhere else; so many countries will struggle to provide affordable and functional connectivity that allows these apps to run.  Time will tell.  It is always about time…

I must govern the clock, not be governed by it. Golda Meir


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About the Author:

Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless and digital communications technologies. He is a Senior Executive Consultant with IBM Canada’s GTS Network Services Group. Over the past 11 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He was previously a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN:TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO:TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX:TSX.V).  He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and on the Board of Advisers of four different Colleges in Ontario as well as for 16 years on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.  He holds three Masters level degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has diplomas and certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology.