I'm a bit late to this, but it wasn't until last night, when I received an email from Kendall Whitehouse of The Wharton School that I stopped to take a long look at the new services on Digg Labs. In the email, Kendall described them as offering "a glimpse at the possibilities of RIAs to deliver a real-time experience to the web." As I look at both stack and swarm I think he's right.
How useful are these two services? Not very, but they do showcase the kinds of things we can do with the vast amount of data that exists, and how that data can be used to create a unique experience. I think digg is a phenomenal social experiment, and I echo the sentiments of Michael Arrington that it has the potential to really disrupt old media like the New York Times. What makes digg so great is the critical mass of the user base. Stack and Swarm give us a real-time view of what that user base is doing, what they're thinking, and what they are interested in. That's an incredibly powerful thing, although one that most people won't get right away.
The world works in real time. Stock quotes, conversations, events, all of it is in real time, and the web shouldn't be any different. Being able to experience that event in real time is something that could be a huge draw for users. Why do people pay so much money to go to a sporting event or to a concert? Because of the experience. They're surrounded by fans, they're seeing everything with their own eyes and therefore creating their own perceptions. That kind of experience, in real-time, collaborating with peers, is immensely valuable, and digg labs gives us a small window into the kinds of things that are possible. I'm looking at what my peers are doing in real-time, with data visualizations from digg. It's a very thought-provoking example and it could be a very big first step in the evolution of how we interact on the web.