January 07, 2009

I'm Getting So Tired Of The Non-Instant Web

Tap... Tap... Is this thing on? (Reloads)

At the end of 2008, my #1 prediction for 2009 in the world of tech was that the real-time Web was going to grow in awareness and importance - and that a growing number of early adopters and fast followers were going to turn to sites that delivered instant updates, without waiting for filtered analysis. But there are other aspects of the Web that seemingly should be instant, and are nothing but. Brick and mortar institutions that have moved to the Web still have the delays common with their offline institutions. Pure online plays can't manage to update their data as months and years change. And the result is frustrating. As I find some services doing a fantastic job of updating instantly, it's those that lag that drive me absolutely nuts.

Back in 2006, when this blog had maybe three total readers, myself being counted twice, I encountered an issue where eTrade took seemingly ages to send from my account to a third party bank. As the two posts on the matter, from August 20, 2006 and August 24, 2006, show, a simple process of selling stock, converting it to cash and shipping it to Bank of America, that should have happened practically immediately, took about a week. While at the time I was mostly just annoyed, near the end of the year, in what looked like an instant replay, I actually bounced checks for this very reason.

As I've written about a few times on the blog, I opened up a checking account with eTrade near the end of 2007. Given the crisis at many financial institutions in 2008, it seemed a good move to have some of my cash at Wells Fargo and some at eTrade, in case one had issues. But at the end of 2007, I had to write a check that exceeded the amount of my holdings at either bank, but was less than the total amount between the two. So, planning ahead, or so I thought, I transfered money from Wells Fargo to eTrade. Days later, I wrote the check, knowing I had enough cash to cover it. But days later, I got notification my check had bounced, and eTrade did me the favor of charging me a $25 overdraft fee.

Meanwhile, I substituted the old check with a new one for the same amount, and resubmitted, as the deposit made its way through. But instead of the second one going through, and the first begin canceled, eTrade billed me a second overdraft charge, saying now that the first check had passed through, and the second had bounced. Freakin' brilliant.

So... we're dealing with that. Meanwhile, with my eTrade bank account in a thinned-state, the mortgage came due, automatically debiting from my wife's B of A account (we're working on closing that out). I wrote her a check to cover the amount, while at the same time, selling stock on eTrade's brokerage side to transfer to the checking side to give the appropriate cushion. That was done at the end of last week, but only just tonight did I get the chance to transfer the funds to the right place. Annoying. The last thing I wanted to do was bounce, yes, a third check, and then have my wife bounce her own account and have us in trouble with the mortgage company, when in fact, we did have the money, but just didn't have access to it.

I know financial institutions have these old-fashioned rules that allow a certain number of business days to make funds available, and that things aren't as easy as simply dragging and dropping money from one account to another, but given the seeming simplicity of the Web, I've got to believe there is a better way. Why should I have had to check in with eTrade first thing every morning, multiple times during the day and again at night to see if their system would let me have access to my own money? The Web should remove the restrictions not just of physical limitations, but of time as well. Just get it done.

Which gets me to my next item...

It's January 7th, right? So why, oh why, is there any reason that Compete.com's data still stops at November of 2008? Are they still waiting for those year-end reports to trickle in from December? It makes absolutely no sense. At 12:01 a.m. on January 1st, I could have given you the exact statistics for this site. Sitemeter just checks in with real-time data, and it keeps going. But Compete.com, the Web's easy way out when it comes to getting comparative traffic stats, is asleep. Call Alexa all the names you want, but at least they show December and the first part of January. Ridiculous.

But those services aren't alone...

Web digerati from Steve Gillmor to Gabe Rivera have been slamming FeedBurner's slow pickup of news and translation to RSS. RSS is practically the lifebood of today's connected, always updated, mobile content world, and the Google-owned property has put innovation on hold by hitting the snooze button.

I've seen this many times myself, as I go through Google Reader, seeing posts that took place hours and hours ago. I used to blame Google Reader for the issue... (See: Warning: Google Reader Congestion of Up to Five Hours) but now it's clear the offender is FeedBurner. If FeedBurner is destroying the capability of the real-time Web, there needs to be an alternative. There's really no good reason with so much technology at Google, and on the Web in general, that we can't find a real real-time solution.

I could keep going... but I am going to reward those services and companies that get the real-time instant Web right. There's no reason I should have to wait for my money, my data, my feeds, or any of that. I'm done with waiting.