When Real-time is Too Much – Can You Handle the Firehose?

This morning I’ve been testing TweetDeck’s new super-fast version, based on the new Twitter User Streams API. TweetDeck provides fair warning:

This is a VERY experimental version of TweetDeck

I saw a few small glitches, but nothing major.  Yet I am in trouble, and it’s not because of the product.  It’s me.  My brain…

The new TweetDeck (and I suspect soon all clients adapting the User Streams API) is fast. Bloody fast. As close to real-time as it gets. Here’s a quick comparison of Seesmic Desktop 2 and the new TweetDeck:

Seesmic in the left, white column, TweetDeck in the right, black one.   Tweetdeck wins the race hands-down (note: this is not a comparison of the applications, but the API-s they use).  It gets everything first.  And therein lies the rub. I’m not sure real-time is always what we need.   This is like drinking from a huge firehose, without taking a break. It can be suffocating – unless monitoring Twitter is what you do full time.  Here’s my computer screen, while I am typing this very post:

I have a single column for Twitter on the right edge, but my eyes are not glued to it. I can focus on work, but notice the periodic screen updates in my peripheral vision, can quickly glance over to see if there’s anything noteworthy, and continue working.  That’s how far my continuously divided attention can spread.  The new TweetDeck does not give me that 30-second to a minute break to focus on work.  It’s in constant motion, updates come in tweet by tweet, not in batches, and I find my eyes glued to it.  It’s a productivity killer.

If I am live-tweeting during a conference, the firehose is what I want: set up TweetDeck with multiple columns, allow it to occupy the entire screen – in that environment I want absolute real-time.  But for most of my productive life, I need those split minutes undisturbed.  I turned off the firehose.

Update: The video does not fully support my point. As luck would have it I recorded a slower minute or so.  But it can become dizzying under heavy Twitter traffic:-)

(Cross-posted @ CloudAve)