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February 18, 2010

Real-time tech set for 2010 awakening

Today's announcement that Twitter has seen a 9% boost in traffic since its updates were included in Google's search results has reaffirmed the importance of real-time technology.The search giant has also announced that MySpace updates will also be

By Cbr Rolling Blog

Today’s announcement that Twitter has seen a 9% boost in traffic since its updates were included in Google’s search results has reaffirmed the importance of real-time technology.

The search giant has also announced that MySpace updates will also be included in its results to add more real-time capabilities. The enterprise is also getting in on the act, with salesforce.com unveiling Chatter, a real-time collaboration platform.

InvisibleHand, brainchild of Robin Landy, who works for UK-based Forward, is one platform that is embracing real-time technology to benefit users and businesses. It’s a real-time price comparison application that works by crawling a list of the top online retailers, such as Amazon, Currys, Dixons, HMV and Game, for up-to-date price information.

The app works in the background while the user browses the site and informs them if they can get the item cheaper at another site. A direct link to the cheaper item is offered via a drop-down menu bar that appears at the top of the browser window.

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Landy says that this is much more efficient than traditional price comparison sites such as kelkoo.co.uk and pricerunner.co.uk as they rely on feeds that retailers themselves update. This means that prices can often be out of date when they are published. Because InvisibleHand is real-time it can also notify users of one-day sales and other promotions, which many other price comparison sites cannot.

InvisibleHand is currently available as an add-on for Firefox and Google Chrome and has been downloaded nearly 150,000 times since its release towards the end of 2009. It can also integrate with Google searches, so searching for an item you’re thinking of buying will automatically bring up a real-time price guide.

InvisibleHand’s website says that it has so far saved consumers £6.7m, with an average saving of £14.85. The company makes money by taking a slice of each successful transaction.

After UK and US launches, InvisibleHand recently launched in Germany and plans more world wide releases this year. An add-on for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is also in the works but Landy says the more difficult development process has delayed that.

“Microsoft wants add-ons to be written in .NET, but that’s not bundled with XP and there are different versions in Vista and Windows 7,” he said. “Developers don’t want to develop if it’s hard and there isn’t a huge market of tech savvy people using IE.” Landy added that the IE add-on should be available during February.

The inspiration for InvisibleHand came from Landy’s own frustrations at online shopping. “I conducted a study into it,” he tells CBR. “I used PriceGrabber to compare some prices with what they actually were and found that 16% had the wrong price. Why should I have to search for a product twice to find the best price?”

There are limits to InvisibleHand’s reach – it can’t yet crawl flight information to find the best deal for holidaymakers, for example. “The tech uses set parameters such as product name, makes and so on. Items that don’t are called ‘fuzzy’ items – so the information is not identical, making it more difficult to compare,” Landy said. 

Developments such as InvisibleHand should give the real-time tech sector a lift, Landy believes. “It could be an awakening for it. 24-hour news channels changed perceptions about real-time technology and how we consume it but they are no longer the first stop – people go to sites like Twitter or blogs instead,” he said. “We’ve had retailers using InvisibleHand to check their prices against rival retailers. I don’t think retail has had the attention it deserves for the way it has embraced real-time.”

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