Real Time: Maybe, Maybe Not

March 1, 2016

Years ago an outfit in Europe wanted me to look at claims made by search and content processing vendors about real time functions.

The goslings and I rounded up the systems, pumped our test corpus through, and tried to figure out what was real time.

The general buzzy Teddy Bear notion of real time is that when new data are available to the system, the system processes the data and makes them available to other software processes and users.

The Teddy Bear view is:

  1. Zero latency
  2. Works reliably
  3. No big deal for modern infrastructure
  4. No engineering required
  5. Any user connected to the system has immediate access to reports including the new or changed data.

Well, guess what, Pilgrim?

We learned quickly that real time, like love and truth, is a darned slippery concept. Here’s one view of what we learned:


Types of Real Time Operations. © Stephen E Arnold, 2009

The main point of the chart is that there are six types of real time search and content processing. When someone says, “Real time,” there are a number of questions to ask. The major finding of the study was that for near real time processing for a financial trading outfit, the cost soars into seven figures and may keep on rising as the volume of data to be processed goes up. The other big finding was that every real time system introduces latency. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, and weeks may pass before the update actually becomes available to other subsystems or to users. If you think you are looking at real time info, you may want to shoot us an email. We can help you figure out which type of “real time” your real time system is delivering. Write benkent2020 @ yahoo dot com and put Real Time in the subject line, gentle reader.

I thought about this research project when I read “Why the Search Console Reporting Is not real time: Explains Google!” As you work through the write up, you will see that the latency in the system is essentially part of the woodwork. The data one accesses is stale. Figuring out how stale is a fairly big job. The Alphabet Google thing is dealing with budgets, infrastructure costs, and a new chief financial officer.

Real time. Not now and not unless something magic happens to eliminate latencies, marketing baloney, and user misunderstanding of real time.

Excitement in non real time.

Stephen E Arnold, March 1, 2016


2 Responses to “Real Time: Maybe, Maybe Not”

  1. iswanto on March 1st, 2016 10:40 pm

    google will impose instant information in the search box, yes this is the future of google.

  2. How Many Types of Big Data Exist? : Stephen E. Arnold @ Beyond Search on March 18th, 2016 5:13 am

    […] An example is my analysis of the concept “real time” information. You can find that write up at this link. Big requires me to understand the concept of relative to what. I find this type of thinking […]

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