Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a bookworm with my nose always stuck in some reading material. These days, I’m still a constant reader, though almost everything I read now is on-line on one device or another.
I’ve written before about the importance of performance for content dependent businesses. Based on some recent announcements it seems that many tech giants and large content providers are finally getting wise to the fact that content performance is crucial to their ability to generate revenue from their content.
Take, for example, the case of Facebook. According to data from this article in Business Insider, people spend on average 20+ minutes per day on the social networking website, and it accounts for nearly 20% of all time users spent online. One of the many activities that people spend time on via Facebook is reading third party content from sites or authors that people either follow directly on Facebook or as a result of one of their connections having posted the content to their timeline. In an article in the New York Times, analytics company SimpleReach reported that up to 20 percent of traffic to news sites came from Facebook. That percentage is even higher for mobile devices where users spend more than 42 minutes a day, as reported by CEO Mark Zuckerberg in an earnings call, which is the fastest-growing source of readers and continuing to increase.
The problem, however, is when a user clicks on a third content party link in the Facebook mobile app. The app opens what is called a UIWebView, which is essentially a chromeless browser window (it doesn’t have any of the traditional UI elements of a browser window like the address box, back buttons, bookmarks, etc.) and then opens the link inside of that window. They do that so that once you are done reading the article and close the window, you are immediately returned into the Facebook mobile app so you can continue reading your update stream. Of course, they could have opened the link directly in the browser, but then you’d be in the browser app experience and much less likely to return to Facebook.
The issue, though, is that opening that UIWebView and loading the content in it takes a lot of time, frequently 5-10 seconds or more on an LTE network connection, let alone 4G or 3G. In my case, I’m a bit of a science geek, and one of the sites I follow via Facebook is IFLScience.com. I just did a couple of simple stop watch tests, and each one took anywhere from 11-18 seconds to completely load the content from when I clicked on it from my Facebook feed.
All of that load time, unfortunately, means less time spent browsing Facebook or third party content, which means less revenue for Facebook and the content publishers, because revenue is a direct function of the number of ads displayed or clicked on, whether in Facebook itself or the third party content. Time is literally money.
Recognizing the profound consequences of performance for their respective business models, tech giants Facebook and Google have recently announced initiatives to try to address this problem to speed up content delivery for readers.
Facebook’s proposed innovation is called Instant Articles. They plan to host directly the content for selected publishers on their servers so they can dish it up directly from their data centers rather than having to re-direct the link in a separate web view. They can display it directly within the native app itself, which should considerably speed up the display.
This approach represents a bit of a conundrum for the publishers since the motivating force of the content industry has been to drive traffic to their sites to monetize each impression. According to an article in qz.com, however, this move just represents publishers capitulating to the reality that organic traffic to their sites’ homepages has been declining for over two years according to data leaked from a New York Times internal review of its digital strategy. Overall traffic levels are consistent, but “it’s just coming in through the ‘side door’ [of social media] more often.”
But if the content is being directly hosted and displayed by Facebook, then how will the content publishers benefit from the monetization of their content? According to the New York Time’s article on the initiative, it came about only after “concluding months of delicate negotiations” between Facebook and the nine media companies involved in the initial rollout and that the NYT agreed to the deal “despite concerns that their participation could eventually undermine their own businesses.”
Of course, this type of deal could also begin to represent an existential crisis for the other internet giant, Google, whose entire business model is essentially predicated on the open internet. Content being hosted on Facebook where Google’s search engine can’t crawl it represents a return to the “bad old days” of the walled garden concept.
Consequently, Google has just recently announced its own initiative, Accelerated Mobile Pages Product (AMP) to speed up content delivery so that it loads as quickly on the web as in a native mobile application and looks as good. “This is about the World Wide Web,” said Google’s head of news Richard Gingras. “This is about making sure the World Wide Web is not the World Wide Wait.” Unlike the Facebook approach, Google claims that AMP is “deal-less” and open to all publishers and that they will be open sourcing the code on GitHub for anyone to use though they are still working with a specific set of publishers to test out and prove the system.
Regardless of what you think of the Facebook or Google approach, the fundamental issue, as all of these businesses are beginning to somewhat painfully understand, is that PERFORMANCE is absolutely critical to your business’s success, if not its very survival.
Today, all businesses are increasingly becoming software-defined businesses. Therefore, it is fundamentally essential that you ensure that your apps, content, and every system that ultimately contributes to the end user experience, has to perform exceptionally. Additionally, the standard that your business is being judged against is delivered by giants like Google and Facebook, who have practically unlimited resources, which set your customer’s expectations.
The advantage and necessity is clear; you need both Application Performance Monitoring (APM) and both Mobile Application and Browser Real-User Monitoring (RUM) to make sure that your apps and sites are delivering a delightful user experience.