The Birth of the Scheduled Web

May 6th, 2010

If 2010 was the year of the Real-Time Web, then 2011 is going to be the year that it evolves into the Scheduled Web.

The Real-Time Web happens in the now: it is spontaneous, overwhelming, and disorganized. Things just happen unpredictably and nobody really knows what to expect or what will happen when.

The Real-Time Web is something of a misnomer, however, because usually it’s not real-time at all –  it’s after-the-fact. Most people find out about things that happened on the Real-Time Web after they happen, or, if they are lucky, when they happen. There is no way to know what is going to happen before it happens; there is no way to prepare or ensure that you will be online when something happens on the Real-Time Web. It’s entirely hit-or-miss.

If we are going to truly realize the Real-Time Web vision, then “time” needs to be the primary focus. So far, the Real-Time Web has mainly just been about simultaneity and speed – for example how quickly people on Twitter can respond to an event in the real world such as the Haiti Earthquake or the Oscars.

This obsession with the present is a sign of the times, but it is also a form of collective myopia — the Real-Time Web really doesn’t include the past or the future – it exists in a kind of perpetual now. To put the “time” into Real-Time, we need to  provide a way to see the past, present and the future Real-Time Web at once.  For example, we need a way to search and browse the past, present, and the future of a stream – what happened, what is happening, and what is scheduled to happen in the future. And this is where what I am calling The Scheduled Web comes in. It’s the next step for the Real-Time Web.

Defining the Scheduled Web

With the Scheduled Web things will start to make sense again. There will be a return of some semblance of order thanks to schedule metadata that enables people (and software) to find out about upcoming things on the Web that matter to them, before they happen, and to find out about past things that matter, after they happen.

The Scheduled Web is a Web that has a schedule, or many schedules, which exist in some commonly accessible, open format. These schedules should be searchable, linkable, shareable, interactive, collaborative, and discoverable. And they should be able to apply to anything — not just video, but any kind of content or activity online.

Why is this needed? Well consider this example. Imagine if there was no TV Guide on digital television. How would you navigate the constantly changing programming of more than 1000 digital TV channels without an interactive program guide (IPG)? It would be extremely difficult to find shows in a timely manner. According to clickstream data from television set-top boxes, about 10% of all time spent watching TV is spent in the IPG environment. And that is not even counting additional time-spent in on-demand guidance interfaces on DVRs. The point here is that guidance is key when you have lots of streams of content happening over time.

Now extend this same problem to the Web where there are literally millions of things happening every minute. These streams of content are not just limited to video. There are myriad types of real-time streams, everything from sales, auctions, and chats, to product launches, games, and audio, to streams of RSS feeds, Web pages appearing on Web sites, photos appearing on photo sites, software releases, announcements, etc.

Without some kind of guidance it is simply impossible to navigate the firehose of live online content streams on the Web efficiently. This firehose is too much to cope with in the present moment, let alone the past, or the future. This is what the Scheduled Web will solve.

By giving people a way to see into the past, present and future of the Real-Time Web, the Scheduled Web will enable the REAL Real-Time Web to be truly actualized. People will be able to know and plan in advance to actually be online when live events they care about take place.

Instead of missing that cool live Web concert or that auction for your favorite brand of shoes, simply because you didn’t know about it beforehand, you will be able to discover it in advance, RSVP, and get reminded before it starts — so you can be there and participate in the experience, right as it happens.

We are just beginning to see the emergence of the Scheduled Web. Two new examples of startups that are at work in the space are Clicker and Live Matrix.

  • Clicker, a site that mainly provides on-demand video clips of past TV episodes, this week launched a schedule for live video streams on the Web.
  • Live Matrix (my new startup), is soon to launch a schedule for all types of online events, not just video streams.

Some people have compared Live Matrix to Clicker, however this is not a wholly accurate comparison. We have very different, although  intersecting, goals.

While Clicker is an interesting play to compete with TV Guide and companies like Hulu, Live Matrix is creating a broader index of all the events taking place across the Scheduled Web, not just video/TV content events.

The insight behind Live Matrix is that there is much more to the Scheduled Web than video and TV content. The Web is not just about TV or video – it is about many different kinds of content.

Applying a TV metaphor to the Web is like trying to apply a print metaphor to tablet computing. While print has many positive qualities, tablet devices should not be limited just to text should they? Likewise, while the TV metaphor has advantages, it doesn’t make sense to limit the experience of time or scheduled content on the Web just to video.

With this in mind, while Live Matrix includes scheduled live video streams, we view video and TV type content as just one of many different types of scheduled Web content that matter.

For example, Live Matrix also includes online shopping events like sales and auctions, which comprise an enormous segment of the Scheduled Web. As an illustration eBay alone lists around 10 million scheduled auctions and sales each day! Live Matrix also includes scheduling metadata for many other kinds of content — online games, online chats, online audio, and more.

Live Matrix is building something quite a bit broader than current narrow conceptions of the Real-Time Web, or the narrow metaphor of TV on the Web. We are creating a way to navigate and search the full time dimension of the Web, we are building the schedule of the Web.

This will become a valuable, even essential, layer of metadata that just about every application, service and Internet surfer will make use of every day. Because after all, life happens in time and so does the Web. By adding metadata about time to the Web, Live Matrix will help make the Web – and particularly the Real-Time Web – easier to navigate.

Online vs. Offline Events

One of the key rules of Live Matrix is that, to be included in our schedule, an event must be consumable on-line. This means that it must be possible to access and participate in an event on an Internet-connected device.

Live Matrix is not a schedule of offline events or events that cannot be consumed or participated in using Internet-connected devices.

We made this rule because we believe that in the near-future almost everything interesting will, in fact, be consumable online, even if it has an offline component to it. We want to focus attention on those events which can be consumed on Internet-connected devices, so that if you have a connected device you can know that everything in Live Matrix can be accessed directly on your device. You don’t have to get in your car and drive to some physical venue, you don’t have to leave the Internet and go to some other device and network (like a TV and cable network).

Note the shift in emphasis here: We believe that the center of an increasing number of events is going to be online, and the offline world is going to increasingly become more peripheral.

For example, if a retail sale generates more revenues from online purchases than physical in-store purchases, the center of the sale is really on-line and the physical store becomes peripheral. Similarly, if a live concert has 30,000 audience members in a physical stadium but 10,000,000 people attending it online, the bulk of the concert is in fact online. This is already starting to happen.

For example, the recent Youtube concert featuring U2 had 10 million live streams – that’s up to 10 million live people in the audience at one time, making it possibly the largest online concert in history; it’s certainly a lot more people than any physical stadium could accommodate. Similarly, online venues like Second Life and World of Warcraft can accommodate thousands of players interacting in the same virtual spaces – not only do these spaces not even have a physical analogue (they exist only in virtual space), but there are no physical spaces that could accommodate such large games. These are examples of how online events may start to eclipse offline events.

I’m not saying this trend is good or bad; I’m simply stating a fact of our changing participatory culture. The world is going increasingly online and with this shift the center of our lives is going increasingly online, as well. It is this insight that gave my co-founder, Sanjay Reddy, and I, the inspiration to start Live Matrix, and to begin building what we hope will be the backbone of the Scheduled Web.