I have been seeing the buzz around Google's new instant search service called Google Realtime. I hadn't tried it so I wandered over there this morning to see for myself. The search box looks much the same as the standard Google search window but the results come from blogs, tweets, and other social networking sites and are displayed in near-realtime.
I typed in "innovation" and sat back to watch the action. I wasn't disappointed. A new posting containing the word "innovation" would pop up on average every three seconds.
It was mesmerizing to see this flow of consciousness being spewed forth - all in the name of innovation. Most of the torrent of returns were tweets - some from companies but many from bloggers who seem to be pushing innovation as a way to get consulting gigs.
The Google site itself is somewhat innovative but you get the same effect of watching the stream if you monitor Twitter or Facebook for a time. But the effects of aggregation take Google Realtime to another level.
The question that I am struggling with is whether all of this gushing of web consciousness on innovation helps anyone become more innovative? A debate team taking the Pro position might argue that this shows how much innovation is a part of our collective consciousness, how easily we can cross-pollinate ideas, or how much more easily we can find other people who can help us achieve some specific goal. The team for the Cons would say this isn't dialogue, it is a monologue with people spewing forth tweets simply in an attempt to be visible, that the people who are really innovating aren't spending their time tweeting, they're actually innovating, or that the chatter actually contributes to less innovation because it is so distracting.
Having read quite a bit about this history of technology and innovation, I come away more on the side of the Cons than on the side of the Pros. It seems to me that most innovators have a single-mindedness that shuts out all extraneous voices. I think about John Fitch and the first steamboat, or Oliver Evans automating the first flour mill, or Henry Ford and his plan to put America on wheels with the Model-T, of even more recently, Steve Jobs bringing us a succession of "gotta-have" Apple products. True innovators are tuning the noise out while they doggedly press forward against all the naysayers.
I remain convinced the we have many innovators today, just as we have had them throughout our history. They just aren't getting carpal tunnel syndrome from overuse of their thumbs on their Blackberries, tweeting away constantly. There is a place for all the latest tweets. I write them myself on my companion Facebook and Twitter pages. But this is more akin to journalism than it is to innovation.
Now, if you will excuse me, I have some tweets I have to get out.