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Dynamic User Experiences vs. Good Hospitality

Dynamic content is a vexing issue for many marketing, IT, and eCommerce departments. On one hand they see competitors, whether it’s in retail or media, using personalization and other dynamically updated information to engage users — and they want to keep up. On the other, most are using legacy technologies to deliver content that are not equipped to handle the demands imposed by dynamism.

To draw an analogy, imagine a new watering hole opened in your neighborhood.  It’s packed. You elbow your way toward the bar, motion to the bartender and start to order: “Hi! Can I get a..”

She’d love to help you, but she’s busy mixing drinks and is surrounded by other patrons competing for her attention to put in an order. She brushes you off without so much as a moment of eye contact. You’re left feeling rejected, and you’re suddenly more likely to turn on a heel and find a lower-key place to imbibe.

A similar feeling applies for users who arrive at a web app that’s loaded down with dynamic elements. Dynamic content requires fetching data from various databases, servers, and third-party locations. It can’t be cached like normal (static) content can by a CDN. So the user undergoes what we call an “experience gap” – where the user expects an immediate response from the web, but is forced to wait.

Average expectations for web pages to load have been pegged around 2 seconds, and Google goes as far as to say that anything slower than 1 second is a detriment to the user experience. Meanwhile many sites, especially those on mobile, don’t even begin to render content until after 2 seconds. In our recent study of the top 64 web retailers, the average time to start render on desktop was just over 2 seconds and time to fully display the figure was closer to 6. On 3G connections it was nearly 10 seconds. And those are sites at the top of their game — the rest of the web is no better off.

The Customer Experience Done Right – in any industry

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. To continue the analogy, imagine again that you walk into the bar, and again, it’s busy. But this time you are greeted by a smiling host, helped to find an open seat, given a glass of water, and assured that the waitress would be right with you. All of a sudden, the experience has improved immensely. Even if the actual time until your cocktail arrives is the same, you’ll surely perceive the experience as superior to the last. There’s a reason why restaurant managers focus so heavily on “front of the house”.

In this way, the success or failure of user experience (UX) is much more than a metric like “page load time”. If a user can start having a good experience earlier, the overall experience will be smoother and more pleasurable, regardless of how long it takes for the page to eventually finish loading. The “experience gap” is effectively closed.

How to Extend “Hospitality” Online

Unfortunately, few companies have caught onto this key aspect of user experience. How did we get here?

One is over-reliance on traditional caching. Many of the gains in improving performance online, from the dotcom era until recently, was through caching static content at edge nodes using a content delivery network (CDN). But dynamic content, which has exploded in popularity in recent years, all but negates the effects of caching since the natural rendering path of a web page involves waiting for that content to be generated before any progress can be made.

Even in cases where the CDN is serving dynamic content to the user from a close facility, perhaps right at the “edge” of the internet, as is the case with some high end “ESI” (edge side includes) services, there are natural limits. Databases cannot be replicated at the edge, nor can certain taxing server logic. Plus, the growing array of dynamic content generated by third parties (such as social media, chat, and ratings) cannot be helped by edge caching.

2015-04-16_1305Thankfully, there are now solutions to remedy this situation. This involves breaking the rendering path by sending certain elements to the browser earlier or later, out of line with the natural procedure of web app downloading and rendering.

You can see this in action on some of the web’s best applications. For instance on Facebook’s heavily dynamic web application, the structure of the page and static elements now pop in instantly, along with blank “frames” that mimic the appearance of the newsfeed content. The user can confirm that he or she is logged in, see the number of notifications they have, and otherwise occupy their attention for the few moments until dynamic content is generated and fills in the blank frames. Facebook knows that users are less likely to bounce and more likely to come back when the experience feels gapless.

Enter the Adaptive Optimization Platform

New approaches to content delivery, like Yottaa’s, bring this kind of insight to the world of content delivery. Yottaa uses contextual information about each individual user to drive custom optimizations on the fly, to bring “good hospitality” to any web app.

To learn more about what’s behind the adaptive CDN approach, read our new whitepaper: Delivering Transformative User Experiences, One Screen at a Time.

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