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Google’s real-time challenge

In its latest venture round last week, Twitter was valued at $1 billion. The Wall Street Journal calculated that $2.7 billion would be a fair value. Robert Scoble, an influential tech blogger — and habitual enthusiast – reckoned somewhere between $5 billion and $10 billion was justified. That’s for a company with no revenues and no known business model.

Has the world gone crazy again? Is Twitter just the latest manifestation of a new bubble of froth and hype?  Perhaps. But the excitement does point to an arena where investors’ exuberance is justified: the growth of the real-time web.

The real-time web has the potential to build significant businesses in a few areas. Take search.

Google is wondrous, and most of us are understandably reliant on the search results we get from it. But Google lets its users down badly when they try to find out what’s happening now. The epiphany for many came last January when US Air pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger successfully landed his plane in the Hudson River, with no serious injuries. News of the event flowed rapidly through tweets from eyewitnesses. Cable news quickly caught up, but if you wanted to be a web voyeur, Twitter was the place to look. It happened again with the protests following the Iranian election. Twitter became the primary outlet for (unverified) news from the streets.

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