Observations from the Real Time Stream CrunchUp

12Jul09

If you’re as new to this space as I am, a definition is probably in order. According to Sarah Perez in ReadWriteWeb, “‘Real-time’ – as in the ‘real-time web’ – has certainly become the buzzword du jour. It’s even possible that the move of web services to support a real-time, immediate flow of information is what will ultimately define the next version of the web.”

As my rookie ears absorbed the CrunchUp discussion, “real time stream” refers to receiving updates, e.g., Facebook status, Twitter feeds, and other types of data, as they occur, rather than your having to go to those sources and request them in virtual batches. Veteran angel investor Ron Conway who, having invested in over 500 tech startups (many of which are now household words) now focuses on this space, described it as the next multi-billion dollar market opportunity, and offered his Ten Ways to Monetize Real-Time Data.

My “guide,” Trevor Goss, West Coast Biz Dev guy for startup DubMeNow, helped me understand the gist of what this was all about.   The whole thing was interesting in a Next Big Thing way, although mentally fatiguing given the firehose pace at which information was blasted at us all day.

My total lack of previous orientation to this world caused me to feel a bit like an anthropologist inserted onto an island populated by a totally different culture. They have a noticeable language, salted with buzzwords like “monetize” and “curated” referring to content. One particular oddity was the frequent usage of “corpus,” e.g., “a corpus of work” which, while technically within the definition (“a large collection of writings of a specific kind or on a specific subject”) seems oddly and inaptly formal to this ear.

This culture is not diverse. I would guess the 300-person audience to be 90% male, overwhelmingly white or, to a far lesser extent, Asian. The after-event party at August Capital had a similar demographic profile.

The most consistent thing I saw, though, was the inordinate degree of product orientation. Everything is about the product. Not much conversation about marketing, selling, distribution, people or other critical success factors. I can’t say that it’s not happening, just that it was absent at this particular event.

My perception is that all these B2C applications are the bright, shiny objects that capture everyone’s attention with their cool factor, but that the real money will be made in B2B, i.e., the enterprise versions of these tools, sold to corporations.

I had an opportunity at the August Capital party to speak briefly with Ron Conway. After explaining that I was a complete neophyte in this space and was trying to learn about it, I asked him if my initial conclusion was on target or completely off the wall. Ron graciously allowed that I had the basic idea right. Now, from that a reasonable person would properly conclude that I now am in the dangerous position of someone with two weeks of karate lessons: just enough knowledge to think I know what I’m doing, and hurt myself.

As alien as all this was, however, one thing was easily recognizable: the entrepreneurs’ need for coaching, e.g., how to set a specific goal and get a measurable return on the time invested in conference attendance or networking events; how to approach and gain access to luminaries; how to escape from conversations that run too long, etc. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Who knows, maybe this old dog can turn his old tricks into new ones in this new game.  We’ll see.

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