The New Now: How Real Time Redefines the Now

This past week, Nova Spivack, founder of Twine, a web service that dealt with information overload, stopped by in our offices to discuss the future of the web. I first met Nova when he started Earthweb (now called, and over the years, I’ve kept in touch with him. I followed the birth and fall of Radar Networks, the company behind Twine. He is now the co-founder of LiveMatrix, a directory of live events on the web.

Lately, I’ve been exploring the idea of where the web will go next, and as a result, have been talking to many folks. Spivack has been in the web’s trenches for a very long time, and has always had a fairly unique view of the Internet. He and I started talking about the future of the Internet and how it relates to society in general. The conversation that followed centered on Spivack’s core argument that 21st century will be about the Now.

Spivack argued that prior to the 20th century, society was generally preoccupied with the past, studying history and reflecting on the past. In the 20th century, we became obsessed with the future, reflected in the furious pace of inventions and social obsession with science fiction through the decades. However, the 21st century so far is about the present.

The emergence of the real-time web is about the present, and the present impacts how we invent, Spivack argued. Over the next 10 years, we’re going to be looking for ways to deal with the near ubiquitous Internet connectivity  and data around us, almost in real-time.

“With the real-time web, the amount of information we have to handle is changing the Now,” he said. “Now is becoming a lot denser. There’s a lot more information in per unit of Now. The Now is getting shorter. The horizon is getting narrower. Now has gone from days to hours to seconds.”

In this new Now, the big challenge, especially for startups is attention. “Every new service competes for fraction of a fraction of our free time. Or displaces something else which has that time,” he said. But this challenge is also an opportunity. “It (attention) is the word that defines this phase of the web,” Spivack quipped. He had argued about the need for focusing attention in a guest post, Trailmeme and the Web of Intent. Somewhere, Steve Gillmor, the early proponent of attention economy, is smiling.