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Articles

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    Hakim el Fartasi explains how Philips tackled the mobile challenge.

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    Retailers should keep their eyes on pioneering developers and vendors that are evolving responsive design to reduce page load times while offering feature-rich mobile shopping.

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    The need for effective apps and mobile websites is clearly recognized. In a recent Accenture survey of senior executives, more than three-quarters placed mobility in their top five priorities for 2014. Four in ten companies report that they have aggressively pursued and invested in mobile technologies. At the same time, however, overall most say they have not made substantial progress; less than half say their mobile efforts have been effective.

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    Virtually anything you do online all day long — and virtually everything that makes the Internet in 2013 so convenient, helpful, portable, and smart — is made possible through the magic of APIs. Application Programming Interfaces enable all the devices on the Internet to access data and resources without the user having to actually visit the source.

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    Like the quest for the Holy Grail, Web developers have been searching for a magical solution that will make every website shine on any and every device. It appears that, if not the actual Grail itself, they have come upon something that takes them leagues closer to that elusive goal. It’s Responsive Web Design, or RWD, and in the past year it has been picking up tremendous momentum as the go-to solution for getting content onto an ever-growing and ever-more-disparate pool of Web devices.

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    In what seems like the blink of an eye, the smartphone has become the most ubiquitous, most used, and at least some of the time, most frustrating technology in the developed world. The majority of consumers now carries smartphones and depends on them in almost every aspect of their lives. Businesses are finding more and more of their revenues are mobile-dependent in one way or another. And yet a stunning 84 percent of consumers — that’s virtually everybody — have experienced problems conducting a mobile transaction.

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    Mobile is demanding changes to the way enterprises conceive, build, test, deploy, and maintain their applications and websites. It’s a disruption that has been brewing for years, and yet many enterprises still have not fully sorted out how mobile fits — or doesn’t — into their existing application lifecycle management (ALM) process.

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    Imagine that you were a first-time developer of mobile apps and wanted to know how to test your app to ensure the highest levels of quality and reliability before putting it on the market. Would you know who to turn to? Considering the relative youth of the mobile app industry, is there a widely accepted set of criteria upon which to base your tests, or a trusted third-party to turn to for guidance?

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    Any enterprise that depends on the Web typically has a working application lifecycle management (ALM) program in place. But when the enterprise turns its attention toward mobile development — as more and more are doing — not all of the Web best practices apply, and new mobile-specific ALM practices are required. Few people are so in the thick of mobile ALM as IBM’s Leigh Williamson, an IBM Distinguished Engineer whose primary focus today is mobile app development. Benchmark tracked Williamson down in China and talked with him by phone about the development challenges of mobile, how they’re being met, and what’s on the horizon.

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    This past summer, Keynote released its Customer Experience Rankings for the online cruise industry. In this intensely competitive segment of the online travel industry, Travelocity was a top performer in a number of key experience metrics. Benchmark recently caught up with Joanne Kok, Travelocity’s principal for customer research, usability and insight, to learn some of the ways Travelocity creates a ship-shape customer experience.

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    Responsive Web design is a lot more than the latest development technique for websites. It’s a dramatically different way of conceiving, strategizing, designing and developing websites. Implemented to its full extent, it redefines both the way teams interact and the workflow of the project. And it’s an approach that needs to have performance baked into the process. Brad Frost is one of the industry’s leading thinkers, speakers, and authors on the topic of responsive Web design. Benchmark recently caught up with Brad to get his views on the state of responsive Web design and what it means for performance.

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    Is there a cruise vacation in your future? If the cruise industry continues on its current growth trajectory, chances are there could be. After a relatively flat period from 2000 to 2003, the industry is experiencing a virtual tidal wave of growth, sailing from $14.73 billion in revenue in 2003 to $20.64 billion in 2006. More than 12 million people went on cruise vacations in 2006, and it is expected that 2007 will finish with an additional half a million cruisers. Yet even with such impressive stats, there’s plenty of room for the industry to expand, as some 83 percent of U.S. adults have never set sail on a cruise vacation.

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    Just six years ago, mention of the “mobile Web” would be met with a blank stare; for practical purposes, it just didn’t exist. Today, you can’t have a conversation with a marketer or website owner without some discussion about the best way to get content onto mobile devices. Developer and author Maximiliano Firtman pulled together a wealth of information and guidance on that topic in his book, Programming the Mobile Web, first published in 2010. A completely updated second edition is just off the press. Benchmark recently caught up with Maximiliano to learn how the mobile Web has changed and is changing, and to get a few free tips from the new book.

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    The smartphone and tablet revolution has passed the tipping point in the enterprise, driven from every side. Businesses want increased productivity, efficiency, and agility. Employees want flexibility to work anywhere using their preferred mobile device. And the major software providers and their partner ecosystems are scrambling to build the conduits and apps to connect enterprises with their workers, wherever those workers may be.

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    SAP is one of the best-known, most widely adopted enterprise software platforms in the world. Its applications can touch virtually every aspect of a company’s operations, from the loading dock to the C-suite and everything in between. Today, the watchword for the enterprise is mobility, and SAP is making a strategic commitment to be at the forefront of mobilizing the enterprise. SAP partner Worksoft has long provided testing services for SAP software, and now is bringing mobility into its top ranked end-to-end testing solutions. Benchmark recently spoke with Worksoft Chief Technology Officer Shoeb Javed about the shift to enterprise mobility and effective test strategies for enterprise mobile applications.

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    Mobile is now the cornerstone of YP's strategy, with native apps on all the major platforms and a robust presence on the mobile Web. Benchmark recently spoke with YP Executive Director for Consumer Products Rohan Chandran about mobile development and testing strategies, and how YP deals with the scores of device permutations that characterize the mobile market.

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    Following the changing habits of its users, Newell Rubbermaid is beginning to roll out mobile sites and apps for some of its brands. Leading that effort is Senior e-Business Program Manager Vinh Tran. Benchmark recently caught up with Vinh to learn about the mobile initiatives for Calphalon and Sharpie, how the sites are being tested, and plans for more mobile properties.

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    It's hard to think of any new technology that has had as swift and profound an impact as the smartphone. The Web took a decade or more to achieve a truly transformative effect. But it took just five years for smartphones to land in the hands of more than 100 million Americans – fully one-third of the total population, and nearly half of adults – and the pace of adoption is still accelerating. Worldwide, smartphone users just passed the one billion mark, and it's projected to take just three years to reach the second billion.

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    In April, Palo Alto start-up Pebble Technology posted a project on the Kickstarter funding site for a smartphone-connectible wristwatch. The developers wanted to raise $100,000 from potential customers. Within 28 hours, they had $1 million in pledged funding. Less than a month later – with 12 days still to go – they had nearly $9 million in support from nearly 6,000 backers.

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    Keynote Systems and Walmart Labs recently collaborated on a webinar, “What Retailers Need to Know About Site Performance in a Three-Screen World,” presented by Cliff Crocker, senior manager of performance and reliability, global e-commerce for Walmart Labs; Aaron Kulick, senior software engineer from Walmart Labs; and Ben Rushlo, director of performance consulting at Keynote Systems. Three-screen site performance is an exciting and timely topic for anyone involved in the Web,whether that involvement includes retail or not. As might be expected, the audience had many questions — too many for the one-hour webinar. Cliff, Aaron and Ben agreed to do a follow-up session to answer the rest of the audience’s questions. This is the transcript of that follow-up session.

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    Mobile has made the switch from a voice- and messaging-centric technology to become a predominantly data channel. It’s happened so fast that wireless networks are barely able to keep up, and growth will continue to compound for the foreseeable future. Wireless carriers & mobile operators are employing a variety of tools to help their networks handle data more efficiently and quickly, but none is as significant as the transition to fourth-generation technology, 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE). This new standard not only ratchets up capacity and speed, but also will serve to unify previously disparate networks. Benchmark recently talked at length with Mohammad Zaman, North American sales director for Keynote SIGOS, a division of Keynote Systems, Inc., about the incredible surge in mobile data traffic and the wireless world’s transition to 4G LTE.

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    Steve Jobs no doubt knew when he uttered the phrase “post-PC world” on the stage of the Yerba Buena Center that he was stirring up a hornet’s nest. It was first met with an expected dose of skepticism. But in the two years since it has become clear that, while reports of the PC’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, we have indeed entered an era where the PC is just one node in a network of dispersed, connected devices that together will drive both personal and business computing. As Jobs predicted, tablet devices have stepped into a major role in that network at a breathtaking pace.

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    In the post-PC era, tablets are taking on a central role in connecting consumer and business users with their online worlds. But touch-based tablets present an entirely different interface from the point-and-click paradigm of the desk- or laptop-bound Web. And tablet users on the go are frequently stymied by the inherent sluggishness of cellular network connections. It’s not an impossible task, though, to create tablet website experiences that satisfy user expectations and, with a little effort, leverage the tablet interface. Benchmark recently sat down with Keynote Mobile Performance Evangelist Herman Ng to get his insight into the tablet website experience, and get a few pointers on how to make it better.

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    It's nothing new that customers and employees are all over the place. But what is new is that no matter where they are, now they're likely connected via a smartphone or tablet. They've got their e-mail in their hand while they're waiting in line at the grocery store, and the company pricelist on their iPad while they're sitting across the desk from a prospect.

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    The explosion of the mobile app market is one of the top tech phenomena of the new century. Hundreds of thousands of apps are available for smartphones and tablets, and enterprises are quickly recognizing the business case for mobilizing their own workflows and data for their workforce. But it’s no simple matter to make sure that an app will perform in the field, on the myriad devices in users’ hands, as it was envisioned in the brainstorming session or on the back of a napkin. That’s where DeviceAnywhere comes in. Founded in 2003 and recently acquired by Keynote, Keynote DeviceAnywhere is a leader in mobile app field testing using real devices. Benchmark recently sat down with Keynote DeviceAnywhere President Faraz Syed to talk about the complexities, requirements and rewards of mobile app testing.

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    Waiting in line: It's the one thing everybody hates about shopping. And yet even today, most retailers – including many of the biggest players – think nothing of letting their shoppers wait and wait as they try to view an entire "main" website or poorly optimized mobile website on their smartphones.

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    Mobile, particularly as manifest in smartphones, is quickly moving to the center of the online ecosystem. According to Nielsen, the majority of U.S. mobile subscribers will be carrying a smartphone as soon as the end of 2011 1. Gartner projects smartphone sales to more than triple by 2012, to 563.8 million from 172.4 million in 2009. And once users get a taste of always-anywhere connectivity, they're quickly hooked and would sooner run back home for a forgotten phone than a forgotten wallet.

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    Load once, display everywhere — PCs, mobile phones, tablets. It’s the elusive holy grail of digital marketers, who pale at the prospect of building multiple websites and apps for hands-ful of handhelds. HTML5 holds the promise of bringing us closer than ever. But in the meantime, Adobe Scene7 has a solution for painlessly delivering rich media to just about every major platform. Benchmark recently talked with Adobe Scene7 Senior Director of Product Marketing Sheila Dahlgren about delivering rich experiences to mobile users via apps and websites.

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    This new "Everywhere Web" is a place where customer expectations are high, and if you want to prosper, you certainly want to ensure that your web and mobile sites always deliver for all of your customers, with no excuses. Don't disappoint them with an online experience that is slow or that doesn't serve them. If your sites don't sell to them when they want to buy from you, those customers may not come back.

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    The rocketing consumer adoption of smartphones with active geolocation capabilities and persistent Internet connections has transformed the way consumers use the Internet, and nowhere is that transformation more striking than in the area of mobile commerce, defined here as anything that facilitates the buying and selling of goods and services via a mobile device. It’s still early in the mobile commerce game, but it is projected to grow ten-fold by 2015, to nearly $25 billion in the United States.

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    When was the last time you walked into a bank? Exactly. What once was a purely in-person relationship has now moved largely into the ether. Direct deposit has made paycheck cashing obsolete. Online banking and bill pay has pushed the checkbook to the back of the drawer. And now, mobile banking puts access to our finances in our pockets, wherever we may be. San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Company has consistently (but conservatively) blazed a trail at the edge of the digital banking frontier. For the better part of a decade, Secil (rhymes with “Rachel”) Watson has been at the heart of Wells Fargo’s online and mobile banking efforts, where she is a tireless and visionary advocate for the bank’s 70 million customers. Watson has succeeded in making customer experience be owned by all of the bank’s business units – not just the digital marketing group – and has spearheaded Wells Fargo’s innovative User-Centered Design methodology. Benchmark spoke with Watson about online and mobile banking, and a future that will bring ever more powerful financial tools into the hands of consumers.

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    The world’s largest gathering of the mobile ecosystem convened in Barcelona, Spain last month, attracting 49,000 attendees from carriers, device manufacturers, developers, the media, and interested onlookers. According to GSMA, organizer and host of the four-day Mobile World Congress, attendees hailed from 200 countries and included 2,800 CEOs.

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    More than 50 million mobile phone users on every continent on the globe, on all types of phones, use an Opera product to browse the Web. With the deals Opera announced at the Mobile World Congress, that number is going to keep going up. But the event that got the most attention for Opera at MWC was their demo of Opera Mini for iPhone — a browser they hope to get approved by Apple and offered in the Apple App Store. Benchmark caught up with Dag Olav Norem, Opera’s vice president of products, mobile and devices, after his return from Barcelona to talk about Opera, browser performance, and the prospects for Opera Mini in the App Store.

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    Mobile banking is still a relatively small subset of the banking universe. The Forrester study indicates 14 percent of consumers use mobile banking, and a more recent TowerGroup study estimates 10 million active users in 2009. That same study, however, predicts annual growth of more than 50 percent, with over 53 million active users by 2013. The most recent survey by the Mobile Marketing Association and Luth Research finds 17 percent of U.S. adults using mobile banking, and projects usage to grow to 22 percent in the next 12 months; more than half of U.S. consumers are interested in accessing banking services through their mobile devices.

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    When I send a text, it just works. Right? Well, a lot of people are waking up to the reality that the answer is not what you think. SMS or texting is a great mobile app and it's being used in all sorts of ways such as mobile banking transfers, security notification, and account setup. If SMS doesn't work the whole application is compromised. So when executives at VeriSign's Messaging and Mobile Media Division boast 99.97% average uptime, you know it's something pretty important to the competitive landscape. Benchmark recently caught up with Herman Ng, Keynote mobile solutions consultant. He has worked with many leading Web and mobile businesses to set up performance monitoring practices and to diagnose faults and minimize downtime when something goes wrong.

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    John-Paul Carriveau is a Mobile KDS Analyst at Keynote with a unique perspective. He was formerly a member of the Mobile Partner Services team at AOL. While there he used Keynote's Mobile Device Perspective (MDP) to monitor and help troubleshoot AOL transactions when there were problems. He now brings his understanding of the customer experience to the work he does at Keynote. Today we asked John-Paul to give us his perspective on application monitoring—what works and what doesn't work, why it is important, and why it makes sense for a large mobile portal like AOL.

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    When it comes to application development for mobile devices, complexity abounds. “Code once, run anywhere” is a foreign concept. There are thousands of browser and device types to accommodate, plus unresolved connectivity and caching issues to contend with. We’re on our 5th generation of HTML, with WML, XHTML and cHTML still breathing. And a constellation of platforms including Java ME, BREW, Objective C for Apple devices, Linux-based Android, and a few dozen others are in play.

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    Business users and consumers alike want their cell phones to do more, more, more. Texting has become second nature. Email is fast on its way to becoming a given, on every kind of handset — not just smart phones. And with the blockbuster success of Apple’s App. Store, and wannabe’s from Blackberry/RIM, Microsoft, and Palm, the industry is scrambling to push non-voice features and functionality onto users’ handsets. Seven is at the forefront of mobile email and messaging software and service, providing solutions that run (at this writing) on more than 450 devices. Six of the top 10 U.S. carriers and more than 130 worldwide use Seven’s mobile messaging service. Benchmark dialed up Seven’s Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer Trevor Fiatal to learn what Seven’s working on today, and what he sees coming in the future.

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    If there’s any doubt that 2008 was a significant year for mobile marketing, consider this. The emergence of arguably the planet's most prominent brand was fueled over the past year in large part by a robust, groundbreaking and multifaceted mobile marketing presence.

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    There are the business power cells with their Blackberries, and the enviable but elite iPhone set. And then there are the rest of us. And while the average cell phone user has no doubt dipped their thumbs into the world of text, it won’t be long before we’re interacting with our cell phones at an entirely new, convenient and exciting level. Benchmark caught up with one of mobile marketing’s leading thinkers, Michael Becker of iLoop Mobile, to find out how marketers are using mobile to reach out and touch consumers.

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    The stage has already been set. The introduction of the Apple iPhone last year dramatically raised the bar for phone manufacturers and cellular services, and sent user expectations to the stratosphere. Love it or not, the iPhone forced the dialog about what a mobile device can be and do to an entirely new level. Manufacturers and cell services have been scrambling to make iPhone-esque devices, and to one-up Steve Jobs’ latest sensation. Cellular service providers have been prodded to finally open up their networks. And while all this has been happening, Google has thrown its colossal weight behind a new, open mobile software platform, inviting anyone and everyone to develop the next killer cell phone application.

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    On subways, at the airport, under the conference table at meetings — even, to the chagrin of their spouses, at home in bed — business people are fast and endlessly at work thumbing messages to their colleagues and clients on their Blackberry devices. These messages travel a circuitous path, across the airwaves of cellular carriers, through the Research in Motion (RIM) network that is at the heart of the Blackberry service, and throughout an enterprise's own network. Enterprise users of Blackberry devices are growing at a compound growth rate in excess of 100 percent every year, and as more and more enterprises rely on Blackberries for mission-critical communications and mobile applications, maintaining system up-time and supporting users becomes a paramount task. Zenprise is an industry leader in troubleshooting for Blackberry and Exchange users. Benchmark recently talked with Ahmed Datoo, Zenprise vice president of marketing, to learn about the solutions Zenprise provides to keep Blackberry users connected.

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    Even under the best of circumstances – say, planning a ski vacation or a romantic getaway – booking a rental car online is unlikely to be the highlight of a consumer’s trip planning experience. While there’s some relish in comparing the amenities of alpine inns, booking a car is painless at best – in part because car rental companies have been slow to establish the level of usability and performance consumers have come expect from other online transactions.

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    When it debuted some 30 years ago, it was considered a radical and risky idea – a national general-interest newspaper that leveraged new technology for extensive four-color printing (in a newspaper!) and fast nationwide distribution. Today, thanks to the doors USA TODAY opened, even small community papers sport colorful images. When the iPhone came onto the scene, USA TODAY was one of the first news apps available. Same for the iPad. And Android. And Kindle. More than any other publication, USA TODAY has exploited the opportunities presented by emerging technologies. Benchmark sat down with USA TODAY Director of Operations and Content Systems Erik Bursch to talk about news delivery in an always-connected, three-screen world.

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    The age of Web 2.0 is fully here. One of the most salient features it has brought is the aggregation of content and functionality from multiple sources, in real time, onto the pages of websites. It's a phenomenon that has developed steadily over the past several years to where today, externally sourced content is commonplace on most major websites. But because it grew relatively slowly (in Internet time), the need for external content strategies never seemed particularly urgent.

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    Back in the dial-up day, America Online was practically synonymous with the Internet, and many users found enough to keep them interested without ever leaving the AOL site. After a few years of runaway success, though, the innovators and imitators were grabbing their pieces of the action. Hotmail gave users the option to access email from any computer with an Internet connection, for free, breaking AOL’s stranglehold on mail and quickly attracting millions of users. A year after it was founded, Microsoft snapped up Hotmail and added it to its own increasingly formidable Internet on-ramp. About the same time, Yahoo! introduced the search engine that revolutionized the way users found content online. Flush with venture capital and IPO cash, it followed with strategic acquisitions, added email functionality, and turned itself into a full-fledged portal

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    You need to get out of town, but where do you start? Which one of the online travel agencies is going to give you the best deal? Or do you go directly to the airline and hotel sites? In today’s economy, with all the sites competing for fewer travel dollars, you can get a pretty good deal just about anywhere. So which site is going to make it easiest and take the best care of you? Benchmark recently spoke with Expedia Worldwide Vice President of Global Products Glenn Wallace to find out how that site manages to rate consistently in the top tier for customer experience in the online travel world.

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    But to the average Internet user, a Web site is a single destination that delivers information or entertainment in various forms — video streams, photos, localized weather, feature stories. What does it matter where the content is coming from? For the average user (emphasis on average), all the content is coming from the one site they’re visiting. But as anyone who works in the industry is well aware, the content on any given site can originate from a number of sources.

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    In the eight short years since it went live, Wikipedia has become the Internet’s standard encyclopedia and dominant general reference resource. It’s a top five site in the world; some 320 million monthly visitors peruse more than 14 million Wikipedia articles. The English-language version receives millions of page views every hour, and peaked in March of 2009 at 11.913 billion page views for the month. Benchmark recently caught up with Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner, who was selected as one of the Huffington Post’s top ten “game changers” for 2009, people “who are harnessing the power of new media to reshape their fields and change the world.” We talked with Sue about managing the world’s largest encyclopedia, evolving the user experience (especially for editors), and measuring performance worldwide.

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    Just as the Internet transformed the way business is done, social media are changing the way business is done on the Internet. Companies of every description are formulating their “social strategy,” or have already done so and are making their way — often by trial and error — into this largely uncharted territory. And just when many marketing execs were finally getting their brains wrapped around Facebook, along comes Twitter, introducing yet another channel.

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    Open a newspaper. Turn on the radio or TV. Go online. You can’t turn around without running into Twitter. Everyone is writing about it, talking about it, and millions and millions of people are actually tweeting. The first news of the Mumbai attacks and the ditching of a jetliner in the Hudson River was pushed out via Twitter. Cutting-edge marketers are using it to sell shoes and computers, and to find unhappy customers and help fix their problems. But what’s behind this phenomenon that pumps out millions of 140-character-or-less messages every day — or is it every hour? Benchmark reached out to Twitter Operations Engineer John Adams to get a look at the technology behind the tweets, and how the world’s most popular micro-blogging platform is staying ahead of its exponential growth.

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    Among the many firsts associated with the inauguration of America’s 44th president on January 20 this year were numerous milestones related to the scope and scale of the spectacle and its audience. From the massive security contingent to the crushing 2+ million crowd that converged on the National Mall, virtually everything about the ceremony set some sort of record. And as it turns out, the electronic tsunami it triggered was no exception.

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    Steve Souders is the author of High Performance Web Sites, Essential Knowledge for front-end Engineers, and creator of the YSlow front-end performance tool. He spent a number of years at Yahoo!, where he was the Chief Performance Yahoo! Currently, Steve is a member of the technical staff at Google, and a frequent speaker on Web performance topics. Benchmark talked to Steve to get his perspective and tips on optimizing front-end Web site performance.

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    Technology history was made at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and Keynote played a role in making it happen. With the unprecedented use of streaming video to inform the US and the world in real time, this year's games received coverage like never before, and those Web sites that invested upfront in load testing and monitoring performed extraordinarily well given their aggressive complexity, and the extreme popularity of the Web 2.0 enabled sites.

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    More and more every day, the on-ramp to the Internet is a search engine. Some 85 percent of Internet traffic is driven through search engines. In November of 2007, more than 10 billion search queries were initiated in homes, businesses, and universities in the United States alone. Users averaged 74 searches per month in 2007, up from 52 per month in 2006.

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    The bigger the Web gets, the harder it is to find the information you need. So search is the principal starting point for many Internet users. The Google juggernaut has virtually swept the search function, to the point of actually becoming a verb in the Internet user search lexicon. But the original Internet search giant, Yahoo!, still has a significant share of the market, and tertiary players such as Ask.com are vying for a bigger slice of the search pie. Benchmark recently caught up with Michael Kronthal, director of customer insights, Yahoo! Search Group, to get his views on the state of search and Yahoo!’s ongoing technological advances in the search arena and their impact on the user experience.

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    It’s the dawning of the streaming content era. But how quickly this star rises will depend largely on how quickly and closely the technology can approach TV quality, and on the continued growth of the broadband user base.

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    Social networking and the interactive tools of Web 2.0 are enabling the creation of highly useful, personalized customer experiences. But only a carefully orchestrated research program can shed light on what users really use and want – and the results are often surprising.

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    While the rest of the economy may be languishing or worse, the auto insurance industry is holding its own, and more and more of its sales are coming directly or indirectly from the online channel. While perhaps surprisingly, the majority of auto insurance policies were still bought through a local agent in the six months ending March 2009, that number is down from nearly three-quarters of purchasers who bought five years ago. Conversely, those purchasing online have grown more than six-fold, from just 4 percent five years ago to 30 percent in the six months ending March 2009.

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    It’s hard to turn on the TV without seeing a commercial for auto insurance. In addition to the old stand-bys like Allstate and State Farm, there are GEICO’s ever-entertaining gecko and cave man, and Progressive’s likable, perky Flo to guide you through their insurance store. It’s no wonder so many marketing dollars are being spent, with some US$185 billion in premiums at stake for private passenger and commercial auto policies (2007). Increasingly, the competition for customers is happening online. Benchmark spoke with Progressive’s Acquisition Leader Toby Alfred to find out how Progressive.com is making it easy and attractive for drivers to buy auto insurance at their online store.

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    Despite the gloomy headlines and gloomier 401(k) statements,

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    America’s currency may be the dollar, but the American consumer economy runs on plastic. The statistics are staggering. There are more than 640 million credit cards in circulation in the United States — more than two cards for every man, woman, and child. The average household has four credit cards, and one in 10 has more than 10 credit cards in their wallet. More than 40 percent of consumers aged 18 to 21 who surf the Web own a credit card.

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    The Discover® Card site made a virtual sweep of the most recent Keynote Customer Experience Rankings for credit card prospects, finishing at the top of the list for a host of measures including customer satisfaction, online adoption, brand perception, privacy and security, customer support — the list goes on. Discover also made an impressive showing among credit card customers, particularly in customer service and brand impact. Benchmark sat down with Sarah Alter, Discover’s vice president of E-business, to learn some of Discover’s secrets for creating the ultimate credit card customer experience.

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    Despite some dips and turns, the stock market continues on a record-setting upward path, and consumers continue to invest in equities, whether "playing" for a quick profit or "parking" for long-term wealth building. Online brokerages, once the upstarts in a business with deep roots, have become an increasingly popular conduit for this money as it heads into the financial markets.

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    In 2006, Fidelity Investments virtually swept the customer experience rankings in a Keynote industry study of ten leading online brokerages. Fidelity topped the ratings for overall customer experience, brand impact, acquisition impact, and customer satisfaction, and finished number two in online adoption. Keynote Benchmark magazine recently caught up with two Fidelity executives to discuss some of the changes they've made that helped Fidelity move to the head of the industry. Here are excerpts from our interview with Parrish Arturi and Paul Graham, both senior vice presidents in Fidelity's retail brokerage.

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    In the recent holiday season, shoppers’ embrace of the three-screen experience grew significantly once again, as they used mobile devices heavily from the beginning of the shopping process through checkout. The surprising result was the outsized role that tablets took on: While smartphones generated significantly more site traffic than tablets, the tablet captured well over twice as many online sales. Combined, mobile’s share of online sales grew 49% year-over-year.

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    Online retailers must have been light on the naughty and heavy on the nice last year, as once again they smashed sales records for the holiday season and contributed far more than their share to overall retail growth. Online’s joyous holiday selling season rang out the world’s first $1 trillion ecommerce year, with the United States pitching in nearly $350 billion of that total.

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    The holidays can make or break a retailer’s numbers, and online retailers are no exception. Ensuring flawless site performance and the ability to handle surges in holiday traffic is key to online success. eBags.com has ingrained performance management into its corporate culture, from the C-suite down through every department, and the results prove the difference it can make. In 2011, nearly flawless availability and super speed helped eBags.com rack up a record-breaking holiday, and they’re planning to do it again this year. Benchmark talked to Vice President of Technical Operations Mike Frazzini to get a taste of eBags.com’s secret sauce that’s behind their category-leading performance.

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    The high holiday shopping season is just a few short months away, and for retailers, the race is on – not just to get their products and employees ready, but to chase down ever-more-elusive customers armed with an array of connected devices that power their shopping sprees. For years now, industry watchers have heralded the rise of the mobile shopper. But 2012 will likely mark the official dawn of the post-PC shopping era. This year, the plus-or-minus impact of mobile shopping on a retailer’s bottom line will be significant, with as much as 20 percent – fully one in five shoppers – arriving at websites via something other than a computer.

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    If ever proof was needed of how critical online channels now are to retail success, the results of the extended Thanksgiving holiday shopping weekend provided it. That's plural “channels” because mobile is making a huge leap in prominence this year for holiday shoppers, and tablets—as yet still synonymous with“iPad” —demonstrated the important role they are going to play, too.

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    Retailers dream of having such problems as rolling out a new blockbuster and taking orders for 600,000 units in one day. But you can count on one hand the number of sellers who command such fanatic loyalty and patience. For the rest, site outages, freezes and checkout failure mean lost revenue that will likely never be made up—and those losses mount minute by minute, hour by hour, especially during the peak holiday season, when most retailers rack up most of their annual business. During those critical four to six weeks at the end of the year, when the site breaks, the bottom line breaks, too.

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    Listen to ZDNet’s Phil Waineright talk to Vik Chaudhary, VP of Product Management and Corporate Development at Keynote Systems. In this podcast, find out the best metrics to build into service level agreements and learn how to track the quality of service users of SaaS and cloud applications actually experience.

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    As has been the trend, online enjoyed significantly better growth than the overall industry, though not the double-digit numbers online retailers have previously enjoyed. Consumer satisfaction with the online channel continued to improve incrementally this year. And mobile became a serious factor on the retail scene.

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    The most watched forecast, from the National Retail Federation, predicts a conservatively pessimistic decline of one percent for the November-December holiday season, to US $437.6 billion. While this would make it the second-worst holiday season in more than four decades, the “glass is half full” set sees a silver lining in this projection. It’s not nearly as bad as last year’s 3.4 percent holiday tumble, which made 2008 the worst year since the government began tracking retail revenue.

    Article

    Over the past half century, Sears Canada has become one of the most iconic retail establishments in the Canadian landscape. With 122 department stores, 174 dealer stores, 48 home stores, and over 1,800 merchandise pick-up locations, it is said that 85 percent of Canadians live within a 10-minute drive of a Sears location. And with a long-standing catalog operation and growing online portal, no Canadian consumer is out of reach. Even as an uncertain holiday season approaches, Sears.ca is in the midst of a redesign that promises significant functionality enhancements and a richer user experience. Benchmark recently dialed up Sears Canada AVP of eCommerce Simon Rodrigue to learn what we can about the coming redesign, and to understand how this retail giant plans to be ready for what everyone hopes will be a successful holiday season.

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    Buffeted by a torrent of economic bad news week after week, month after month, pundits and average citizens alike are straining to find the slightest glimmer of good news — housing sales that don’t decline as much as last month, or a month when job losses fall below the 600,000 mark. Reports of even the most modest profits for financial institutions — though much of those profits are more the result of creative accounting than actual market performance — is enough to send their admittedly dismal stock prices on a major upward spike. As the economic crisis drags on and on, the metrics by which we judge our economy’s health have undergone a major recalibration.

    Article

    Zappos.com is synonymous with online shoe shopping, and has built its reputation and a loyal fan base on outstanding customer service, including free shipping both ways. But the quintessential shoe site has moved far beyond footwear into clothing, housewares, electronics and more. And it has ported its successful Web site and fulfillment capabilities to other brands through its “Powered by Zappos” service. Now, it’s trying to ensure its growth in apparel and other product lines through an ambitious Web site rebuild centered around a powerful new search function and other enhancements. Benchmark recently caught up with Senior Director of Engineering Brent Cromley to find out how Zappos is stepping out to go after bigger online retail success.

    Article

    Why wait? If one site doesn’t deliver what you need when you need it, there’s a dozen — or a hundred — more queued up to serve you. Today’s Internet user is looking to make a purchase, conduct business, and get information now, not five seconds from now and certainly not ten. And increasingly, they expect a “rich” experience wherever they are online. Performance is a critical Web site success driver with real bottom-line ramifications; and an accurate, ongoing perspective on site performance is key to creating an experience that will satisfy users. Keynote experts offer insights into creating a high-performance process to monitor web performance.

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    Electronics are pervasive in the lives of consumers today, playing a role in everything from personal hygiene to cooking and cleaning to entertainment to vital communications. And every major retailer is vying for a bigger piece of the consumer electronics pie. Competition is especially heated in the online channel, where general merchandisers are battling it out with electronics specialty stores, and the online versions of bricks-and-mortar chains are going head-to-head with the pure-play Internet retailers.

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    In September 2007, Panasonic launched a completely redesigned consumer Web site. More than a year in the making, the new site more intuitively reflects the tasks and processes customers go through when shopping for electronic devices. Benchmark recently caught up with Jeremy Dalnes, Panasonic Consumer Electronics’ vice president of e-business, to learn what’s behind the redesign and Panasonic’s approach to customer experience.

    Article

    Growth of the U.S. cellular telephone industry since the turn of the millennium has been nothing short of meteoric, reaching over 219 million wireless subscribers, more than 72 percent of the total U.S. population, by 2006. Those subscribers used more than 857 billion minutes in the first six months of 2006 — a jump of 27 percent from 2005 — putting annual usage on a track to reach 1.7 billion minutes and generating total wireless revenue at an annual rate of $121 billion. As a sign of just how ubiquitous wireless has become in America, more than 40 percent of 12- to 14-year-olds now carry cell phones. In the United States and around the world, the cell phone is the number-one-selling consumer electronic device.

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    It seems like it should be a simple decision — you just need a car for a few days for a business trip, or maybe a week for a vacation. But do you log on to a brand-name car rental site, or go through the online travel agency you used for your airline tickets? And do you want full-size, compact, economy — and what do those designations mean? Benchmark sat down recently with John Peebles, vice president of online marketing for Avis Budget Group, Inc., to get the inside story on Budget.com, the top-rated rental car site, to find out how they’ve built an outstanding user experience for car rental shoppers.

    Article

    The Olympic men’s long jump record, 8.9 meters, has not been broken in 44 years. The women’s 200-meter sprint record, 21.34 seconds, has stood for 24 years, along with men's shot put, 22.47 meters, and steeplechase, 8:05:51 minutes. But in 2012, one record is guaranteed to crumble, as it did in 2010 and will likely do again in 2014: the record for live-streaming Olympic events online, 25, and total streaming hours, 2,200, and the online audience itself that’s watching the games.

    Article

    Every two years, people around the world gather around their screens to watch the best athletes on the planet compete for the gold. And with each biennial edition of the Games, more and more of those screens are something other than a television. Two years can be an eon in “Internet time,” and 2012 promises to be the most streamed, most social, most mobile Olympics ever. iStream Planet’s Vice President of Operations Bhavesh Upadhyaya has been on the front lines of streaming for the past two Olympics, and won an Emmy for his role in the 2008 Beijing games. He’s one of the few individuals who has a first-hand sense of the massive scale and complexity of live-streaming the scores of events and thousands of hours that make up the Olympics. Benchmark recently spoke with Bhavesh to learn about his experiences with the Olympics and his perspective on the upcoming London games.

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    Call it the Moore’s Law of User Impatience: The more time spent online and the more rich and complex Web pages get, the less time users are willing to wait for pages to load. In 2006, users were willing to tarry a leisurely four seconds while a page loaded. By 2009, that time dropped to two seconds, and users exited a site in droves at the three-second mark. Today, Microsoft purports that a miniscule difference of 250 milliseconds (that’s one-quarter of a second; if you just blinked, that took longer) is enough to give one site a competitive advantage over another.

    Article

    Users’ thirst for speed seems increasingly unquenchable. Even as they (barely) tolerate the sluggish performance of mobile devices, they demand more and more of their PCs. Make them wait one blink of an eye too long, and they are gone, taking the revenue they would generate with them. In 2010, The World Wide Web Consortium chartered a Web Performance Working Group to give developers client-side tools, in the browsers, to gain greater visibility into the timing of each aspect of page loading and help them see how they can make their pages faster. The first product of the working group is the Navigation Timing API, which Keynote is already leveraging to provide more granular site performance reporting and to provide operations managers and developers a common language to address site improvements. Microsoft IE Program Manager Jatinder Mann lives and breathes performance, both on the Internet Explorer team and on the W3C Web Performance Working Group, and is an expert on the Navigation Timing API. Benchmark recently caught up with him to get an overview of the Navigation Timing API and other initiatives and what they offer the Web community.

    Article

    Website privacy is center stage again, as privacy incursions by major sites and apps have returned to the headlines and government scrutiny is sharpening, regulatory proposals in the European Union. Consumers are becoming more and more aware and concerned about being followed online and having their data bought, sold and warehoused in various corners of the Internet, in a personal data ecosystem commonly described as the “Wild West.”

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    Few assets are as valuable to business brands today as their online presence. Fortunes rise and fall with website reputation, and news of even minor missteps can rocket across social networks and dull a brand's luster. And as this year's Google-gate proves out (see accompanying story), running afoul of user privacy is guaranteed to generate bad headlines and user ire. Benchmark recently sat down with Keynote Director of Privacy Services Ray Everett, author and long a leader in online privacy matters, to talk about how website owners can balance the competing priorities of protecting user privacy and maximizing monetization of their sites.

    Article

    At any point in the day or night, we’re likely to have one of those screens within reach. The smartphone radically changed the way we access the Web. And now tablets, with tens and tens of millions sold already, are adding yet another twist to what, how, and where we go online. It’s no longer just a trend, it’s a fact: today we live in a three-screen world. Businesses have to again adjust their strategies and allocate resources to reach their audiences on still another category of device.

    Article

    No piece of software is as critical to the way the world works, communicates and plays today as the Web browser. Fifty percent of computer time is spent in the Web browser, according to the Microsoft Internet Explorer team – and for many, it’s much more. Businesses are increasingly adopting browser-based and browser-enhanced apps like salesforce.com, Google Apps, and Microsoft Office Live. More and more businesses and consumers are embracing various forms of browser-based communications, networking and conferencing. And then there’s our insatiable appetite for shopping, entertainment, and information.

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    The major Web browsers are engaged in a fast-pasted competition to gain market share, racing to deliver new releases and claim faster performance and the most useful feature set. One of the most anticipated releases of late was Internet Explorer 9. The IE team did a major overhaul of the world’s leading Web browser, boosting performance with a new JavaScript engine and hardware acceleration, and enhancing user experience and task flow with a variety of new features including “pinned sites.” Benchmark recently talked with IE Lead Program Manager Jane Kim and Group Program Manager Rob Mauceri about what’s new in IE9, browser technology, and where the browser experience is going in the future.

    Article

    Born in the earliest days of the Web, Firefox is the original open-source darling of the browser world. Currently in a solid number two position in the browser hierarchy, Firefox this spring debuted its much-anticipated version 4.0(as we are going to press, Firefox has released version 5.0, demonstrating the rapidly accelerating changes in the browser business). In addition to a number of under-the-hood speed improvements, Firefox 4 introduced some significant UX features, including app tabs and the Panorama tab management feature. Firefox also boasts the only browser icon to be spotted in space. Benchmark caught up via email with Director of Firefox Engineering Johnathan Nightingale to talk about the latest developments and future plans for the “people’s browser.”

    Article

    Google Chrome may be the new kid on the browser block, but it’s no technological neophyte. Chrome focused from the beginning on speed and has raised that bar for all browsers, to the delight of users everywhere. Today, it’s the fastest-growing Web browser in adoption, adding 50 million users in the second half of 2010 and now comfortably into double-digit market share. Unlike other browsers, which introduce new versions with much fanfare, Google quietly and consistently updates Chrome on a regular schedule. Benchmark conducted an electronic interview with Chrome Director of Product Management Brian Rakowski to talk about Google’s approach to browser development and to get his perspective on the overall state of the browser market.

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    Outgoing Google CEO Eric Schmidt is credited with describing the vision, way back in 1993, that became a mantra for Sun Microsystems, where he was then CTO: "The network is the computer." In its most basic form, this is the essence of the cloud – that the collective assets of processing power, storage, software and network are able to be harnessed anytime, anywhere, by users to whom it doesn't matter where anything is located.

    Article

    Imagine trying to hold onto a cloud. As soon as you wrap your arms around it, it changes shape and slips away. The best you can do is blow it in the direction you want it to go, and hope it stays intact. It’s not quite that difficult – but not that far off, either – to manage the digital cloud that is taking over the enterprise landscape. The cloud promises cost savings and agility that businesses are eager to capture. But it also is pushing IT departments to evolve their perspective and operations to accommodate the new paradigms, and to engage in dialog with more areas of the enterprise than ever before. Enterprise Management Associates Vice President Dennis Drogseth is closely following the track of the high-pressure system that is the cloud, and recently authored the EMA research report, "Operationalizing Cloud: The Move Towards a Cross-Domain Service Management Strategy". Benchmark sat down with Drogseth to learn about the impact of the cloud on enterprises, how they’re managing it, and the critical importance of cloud performance, both financially and operationally.

    Article

    In a disheveled cubicle deep inside the data center of a major consumer products company – call it Company Z – a "quant" (quantitative analyst) squints at rows and rows of numbers scrolling up his screen. Captured there in percentages and decimal points is a detailed portrait of the people buying his company's products. The quant is finding the patterns, uncovering the dependencies, statistically validating the data points that determine who their next customer will be.

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    In its proposal released in December, the FTC threw the challenge to the tech community to find a way to give consumers a Do Not Track option for their online browsing. Microsoft was already on it. The release candidate of Internet Explorer 9, expected soon, will have a new Tracking Protection feature built in, which gives users the option to build or subscribe to lists that control how they can or can’t be tracked online. Benchmark recently interviewed Microsoft’s Senior Director of Internet Explorer Ryan Gavin about how Tracking Protection works, how it fits in the overall online privacy framework, and what it means for website owners.

    Article

    If you’re an ad-supported website owner or a marketer using the Web, then you know the value of online user data. Web tracking and online behavioral targeting have transformed the ability of advertisers and marketers to connect with likely customers, and helped pay for a Web that offers tremendous content value and personalization to consumers. But with proposals for increased consumer privacy controls, that may be about to change. Not since CAN-SPAM has there been the potential for such a tectonic shift in the world of online marketing. Microsoft and other browser developers are responding with new privacy functionality. And entrepreneurs are seizing the opportunity to find innovative solutions. Benchmark recently chatted with Rob Shavell, former venture capitalist and one of three co-founders at Boston startup Abine, Inc. (“A Bit Is Not Enough” when it comes to privacy), about the current state of online privacy, the debate over regulation, and what it means for users and marketers – a valuable perspective on the privacy debate and what it means for your enterprise.

    Article

    This idea of the Internet as level playing field – that all data is treated the same regardless of source, destination or content – is called net neutrality. Content can’t be blocked, slowed down, sped up, or interfered with in any way. It’s all equal. For many netizens and content providers large and small, net neutrality is a sacred principle, often called the First Amendment of the Internet. For the owners of the pipes, though – the cable companies and telco Internet Service Providers – and some of the largest content and tech companies, there’s money to be made, advantage to be had, and new value and choices to be delivered to consumers if the Net were not quite so neutral.

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    Professor Allen Hammond has spent much of his career concerned about issues in telecommunications and broadband – in the private sector with major telcos, in the nonprofit sector, and currently as professor of law and director of the Broadband Institute of California at Santa Clara Law. Benchmark reached out to Professor Hammond to get his perspectives on net neutrality; here are some excerpts from the interview.

    Article

    Rich media — the ubiquitous video, audio, and slide shows — and rich website applications with high levels of interactivity are now the lingua franca of the online experience. (Note the use of "online" instead of "Web," as more and more of these experiences are happening outside the browser — but that's a separate semantic discussion.) Up until now, plug-ins — Flash, Silverlight, and others — plus AJAX and regular old JavaScript have been the leading technologies for creating rich online experiences. Now, though, HTML5 has inserted itself into the mix, creating confusion, often conflict, and high hopes for a streamlined, unified way to deliver what users want.

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    Few people on the planet take performance as seriously as Google’s Steve Souders, author of High Performance Web Sites and Even Faster Web Sites, creator of YSlow, and co-founder of the Velocity conference. Our conversation with Steve about HTML5 led down some interesting paths. Here are some excerpts from the Benchmark interview.

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    You see them everywhere – there next to your Google search results, tucked into a box on your favorite website, and there next to your news feed on Facebook. Search advertising is the lifeblood of the Internet — pumping nearly $11 billion into the coffers of Google, Yahoo!, Bing and other search providers last year – by far the largest ad revenue generator, according to the IAB.i The search market is a keyword casino, with advertisers bidding against each other for the terms users click most. For big advertisers, managing campaigns with thousands of keywords is a huge juggling act, and that's where Marin Software comes in. Marin provides online software that helps large advertisers organize their keyword inventory, optimize their bids, and manage reporting, generating millions of reports every month in the process. Keeping all that data flowing is the job of Christopher Ng, Marin's Director of Technical Operations. Benchmark caught up with Chris to talk about how Marin keeps the systems going that keep track of massive amounts of search marketing data.

    Article

    It’s a promise that seemed almost too good to be true: Overnight, one of the company’s enterprise-critical applications is updated to the latest version. In the morning, employees — at the home office and field offices across the country — are working along as usual, noticing only some important new features that help them get their jobs done better. Later, at a management meeting, the CMO reports that faster responses to opportunities have bumped their share five points. And the CIO reports that the technology spend is exactly on target, no additional budget needed.

    Article

    Have you read a blog today? There’s a fair chance Six Apart had something to do with it – either hosting the blog, or providing the platform it’s built on, or dispatching the ad you saw in the sidebar. Founded in 2001, Six Apart is one of the leading blogging companies, powering some of the Internet's most influential blogs and Web sites, and managing and serving up huge volumes of data on a daily basis. Benchmark recently talked with Six Apart Director of Operations Abe Hassan about blogging, bloggers and their readers, and the performance challenges of keeping millions of conversations going.

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    Warm sun, ocean breezes, blue water, exotic islands, gourmet food — what’s not to like about a cruise vacation? And no one has perfected the concept like Carnival Cruise Lines. Carrying well over 3 million passengers a year, Carnival is making a strong recovery from the economic downturn, reporting second-quarter revenues of $3.2 billion — up more than a quarter-billion dollars over the same period last year — and net income of $252 million. At the heart of Carnival’s industry-leading cruise marketing is carnival.com, a site that has evolved from basic information into a full-fledged e-commerce and social site, serving guests from booking to boarding and beyond. Benchmark recently caught up with John Masseria, Carnival’s manager of I/T engineering, to talk performance and user experience on the website of the world’s leading cruise line.

    Article

    Online travel is a fiercely competitive industry to start with. And in a dramatically down economy that seems determined to resist all efforts to revive it, online travel agencies and direct suppliers alike are pulling out the stops to capture what they can of a reluctant market. The online travel agencies (OTAs), in particular, are aggressively putting out competing offers of price protection, fee waivers, and whatever other promotional tactics they can concoct. Earlier this year, Orbitz, Expedia and Travelocity eliminated (at least temporarily) their flight booking fees — even though flights are already a business with razor-thin margins — to try to lure travelers to their sites. Suppliers, too, are offering deals, with free nights, bonus amenities, and discounted rates popping up regularly on major hotel brand Web sites. Deals like these are exactly what travel consumers are looking for. Some 66 percent of online travelers indicate that they expect the travel sites to “try harder” for their business, according to Forrester.

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