Realtime Web Apps

With HTML5 WebSockets, PHP, and jQuery

5 Reasons to Learn Realtime Today

June 10, 2013 by Jason Lengstorf in realtime, general

At the corners of the Internet recently, the word “realtime” has been showing up more and more frequently. It’s appearing on topic lists for conferences and in articles on the most popular web design magazines.

But is “realtime” just another industry buzzword that will disappear from the developer lexicon in a few months? Absolutely not.

Realtime represents a victory over a long-standing Internet hurdle—bidirectional communication between the client and server—and the next huge leap forward in what we can do with the web.

Not convinced? Here are 5 reasons why you should learn realtime today.

1. Your users won’t wait around for information.

Like it or not, we live in a culture that demands instant gratification. We’ve become accustomed to getting exactly what we want, whenever we want it.

As a result, developers who want to keep users engaged need to be mindful our users’ impatience and employ every available tool to make our sites faster.

Realtime allows us to deliver information instantly, as soon as it’s created.

No waiting. No tested patience. Just happy people getting exactly what they want from our websites.

There hasn’t been much fanfare, but realtime has been quietly implemented into many of the biggest sites on the web.

Twitter shows how many new messages have been posted since the page was last loaded. It also lets users know of new mentions and messages instantly.

Google Analytics shows metrics as they’re happening. This is huge for performance measurement because it allows for adjustments to be made during a promotion instead of a day later.

Basecamp shows new messages, comments, and todos to all users as soon as they’re created, which avoids duplicate messages, better collaboration, and more of a team feel for remote workers.

3. Soon it won’t be optional.

When CSS was first introduced, a good number of developers wrote it off as a fad that would blow over soon enough. They figured things would go back to being table-based and it would be business as usual.

In the early 2000s, text messaging seemed like a silly thing that wouldn’t last long. After all, why would anyone take the time to type out a message to their friends when they could just call, right?

Realtime is the next big advancement in web technology. It might not seem like a big deal now, but in the not-too-distant future we’re going to look back at the Internet before realtime and wonder how we ever survived without it.

4. Realtime increases user engagement.

When you’re no longer relying on a user action to show new content, a new door opens to prompt users for action.

Olark, a customer support tool, uses realtime to allow the sales team to see users that are on key pages, giving them the opportunity to reach out via chat to complete the sale. This can squash user concerns and prompt them to action by showing them it’s real people (and not just some faceless website) they’re dealing with.

Facebook shows when new stories are posted with a jump link back to the top. This has a huge impact on the amount of time people spend on the site by teasing them with new posts.*

* This claim is based on the author’s usage patterns on Facebook and a non-scientific poll of friends and colleagues.

5. You don’t have to learn anything to use it.

One of the most significant reasons to learn realtime is that it’s extremely easy to learn.

This wasn’t always the case, as anyone who previously tried to set up and fine tune a Node.js + app can tell you. Fortunately, there are now incredibly simple SaaS (software as a service) options, as well as improvements in Node.js/ that make the barrier to entry virtually nonexistent.

Using a SaaS option, such as Pusher or PubNub, only requires about eight lines of code to set up realtime events on your site, and it uses the programming languages you already know: a JavaScript wrapper on the front end paired with PHP, Ruby, Python, or one of several other back-end wrapper classes on the server side.


Realtime is here, and it’s not going away. For developers who want to stay current and improve their websites, there’s no reason not to learn realtime, and at least 5 reasons you should start using realtime in your web applications.

How are you using realtime? Send me links or ideas to @jlengstorf.