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The Speed of Social

This weekend Mitch Joel posted a fantastic article entitled "The Real Time Web is a Big Problem for the Web". In it he talked about how when things spread in real-time, like say over Twitter, it's not always the easiest to keep up. He used the story of how a plane had crashed and someone in the vicinity tweeted about it right away. Mitch saw the tweet and immediately checked CNN's website, but there was nothing about it there.

In today's society where we're exposed to information at a constant and quick pace through things like social media, instant messaging and cell phones that we expect everything else to be keeping up with us. Is that really possible?

In Mitch's case, a big news outlet like CNN has to hear about a story, do some research on the topic (even if that's just checking if said story is even really happening), write something up, edit it, get approval, send it to their guy that puts stories up on the site and then publish it before any of us common folk get to see it.

Mitch isn't alone with this problem. Tons of people, myself included, think of something and then expect instant gratification. Unfortunately the world doesn't always work like that.

I remember when I was young and I had a question, I had to wait to got home and then hope I still remembered the question. Then I could try and look it up in an encyclopedia and even then it wouldn't always hold my answer. A few years later the internet came around and if I could remember a question by the time I got home I could then google it. Now, I carry around an iPhone and when I have a question I can pull my phone out of my pocket and look up an answer instantly. Everything should be like that, right?

I work and talk a lot about brands monitoring social media for people talking about them. I wholeheartedly believe that they should be doing this and respond to a comment or join a conversation when they can. The problem is when we're the one waiting and expecting for that company to answer, we expect it to come almost instantly.

If I'm having a problem with a piece of software and I tweet at their twitter account, I would want them to answer me right away. But what if I was having my problem at 3am in the morning? Would I still expect them to respond right away? Probably, but that isn't a very realistic expectation.

You have to remember that whoever is on the other end is just a person (sometimes more than one, but still people). We say that we want brands to show us the real people working for them, but then we sometimes expect those people to be super people.

At work I handle our companies Twitter account from Toronto, but we deal with people all around the world. If someone in Australia tweets at me at my 4am, I'm not going to be able to answer them until I'm awake and moving in the morning. I'm a person too and I need my time to sleep, eat and do other things that take me away from the computer for more than five minutes at a time. I will answer them, but it probably won't be at 4:05am.

The problem with coming to this realization is that it's not going to really change anything. You're still going to expect people and brands to answer you instantly when you have a problem, or else you're going to say that they're not doing a good job with social media. Even worse is that writing this isn't going to change my perception on how the world should work either. Despite me being on the side that is supposed to be "watching all the time" and knowing the limitations to that statement, I'm still probably going to want another brand to be on the ready at my beck and call.

I suppose that's just the way our society has evolved... for now.

I figure as long as we can try to remember some of this every now and again, it's better than nothing.

What do you think?

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