Tech Talk: Akamai's Ravi Maira

The internet content delivery specialist's vice president of web experience explains why websites are thing of the past and why usability and quality of information is critical for making the right connection.

Speaking after the release of Akamai’s quarterly State of the Internet report, the company’s US-based vice president of web experience Ravi Maira talks to Technology Spectator about the future of websites, why US firms aren't obsessing over Google's Fiber project and how fibre technology will impact the internet. 

Harrison Polites: Thank you for talking to Technology Spectator. First question, what is web experience, and why is it important for Australian businesses?

Ravi Maira: There two ways to describe the term web experience. Akamai uses the term web experience internally - and I'm the vice president of the web experience business unit products - as replacement for the word website.

One of the things that we're seeing is that the notion of websites is kind of going away. The idea that you would open up a computer, open up a browser, type in the URL, and then get to somebodies’ page, is becoming less and less the way we connect with companies. Now, while we might still do that, we might also get on a smartphone and go to their application. We might get in our car and pop-up and streaming radio or traffic or directions or anything like that. It's no longer feeling like a website.

I think my favourite example is Siri. You go to Siri and you ask her what the weather is going to be on the iPhone, she comes back and tells you. After doing a whole lot of interesting voice recognition and turning that into web specific questions - delivering you the answer. It's over the web, it feels like HTTP, but if feels nothing like a website. 

Now, the other way to describe it would be to focus on the quality of that experience. Is it a positive web experience or a negative web experience?

And that's something that Akamai has been around trying to improve since the days we were started back in 1998. I've been with Akamai since 1999. We've been working on positive web experiences for 14 years. And we've that we focus a lot around the performance of that web experience and how important it is to load web pages or respond with the information when its not dealing with a page instantly.

Web usability vs performance, is there a contest?

HP: How much of a factor is usability with web experience? Is it more important - or level - with web performance?

RM: It depends. There's a lot of things that are important with both usability and the quality of the information equally critical.

But, let’s say you're a eCommerce site. If you're trying to sell products, we know the performance of that site will have a direct impact on how many sales you have - your conversion rate of shoppers and buyers will be higher if your web performance is faster.

There have been some really interesting studies showing real user performance data, correlating with web performance data that bears that out. If your response is within 0 to 1 seconds, your conversion rate will be higher than if your response is within 1 to 2 seconds, 2 to 3 seconds, ect.

Now if you have a really bad product, or if your product is completely over priced, then you'll also not sell product. So it's hard to say whether one is more important than the other. They all come together to either mean success or failure for that interaction.

Comparing Australia to the US

HP: How do web experiences in Australia compare to those in the US? Are you able to give an indication as to where we are globally on the kinds of internet services we offer?

From what we've seen from our State of the Internet report, the web experiences in Australia vary; just like they vary in the US as well. I think the maturity of the market, the e-commerce market for example, tends to be a little bit behind the US in terms of consumers per internet population and the amount of dollars spent per internet user.

But a lot of the technologies are the same. If you look at where people are in terms of mobile adoption. If you look at where people are in terms of tablets. If you look at where people are in terms of the different types of technology that they use within specific things like the shift to responsive design in mobile. That's happening everywhere, and that's happening in Australia at about the same level that it's happening in the US.

HP: Globally, are there any sectors or companies that excel at this idea of web experience?

RM: I would say, first and foremost - and I've mentioned them a few times already - is e-commerce.

Simply because they have a specific business outcome that is:

A) Targeted, they want you to put something in the cart and buy it.

B) They can measure it. So they can do a lot of multivariate testing and changing things and innovating through iteration to be able to improve on them and understand on the positive outcome. This is because there is a defined positive outcome.

Another one is media.

In general, the media business has been transformed a lot by the internet. Creating rich and interesting experiences that also perform and also don't make a user wait is another area where the business has really evolved.

There's so many different things that we can do today, that we do do today, not because they're available, but because there is a focus on providing positive web experiences.

HP: What industries do you think in the future will really hone down on this topic?

RM: Eventually, it will have to be everybody. This will become the way you communicate, this will be the way that you interact with any business. 

Prior to this new world of web experiences, we were still in a world where we were going to webpages to interact with every type of industry. You did your banking, you did your Real Estate, you talked to your friends, you brought stuff. You worked with the government.

Today, everything we do is online and we do it using every device we have.

Google Fiber not a focus

HP: Just drawing on your knowledge on the US, how are those in the field of web experience responding to the Google Fiber network that's being rolled out in a couple of states?

RM: I don't think they're as focused to the network connectivity to the end user as much. I think that for most people, they're still trying to reach a pretty large audience.

There are some pretty regional players, but for the most part the larger companies that are focused on cutting edge web technology tend to be focused on US-wide.

So any one neighbourhood or any one city, is not their only focus. Now there are some exceptions to that. Sometimes local media, where they a really focus on subscribers in a specific area and try to change the business model there.

What they are looking for, is that anybody who has better connectivity through more devices, and easier to get online they see as a good thing. But they're not necessarily focused on targeting that case. They're focused on targeting their end user, whoever they may be on whatever device they may be on at the time.

Better bandwidth for better experiences

HP: Just finally, what kind of possibilities do you think fibre technology will unlock when it comes to web experience.

RM: Basically, better connectivity to any end user is a good thing. You can do more with it. We've seen that over the course of the internet.

My first job at Akamai was the product manager for our streaming product, back when nobody really knew what streaming was. There were few companies doing it back then, like Real Networks. And Apple had a streaming format with Quicktime and Microsoft with Windows media. It was very new.

There were all these ideas, like having radio stations online and video online. But it wasn't really doing much. People couldn't consume that much. You could do little postage stamp size videos because you only had so much bandwidth.

Today, there are entire companies who have replaced your cable television company and replaced over the air TV with online video distribution. That's been a function of this greater connectivity.

When we're able to get better throughput to more end-users, people find a way, companies find a way to leverage that bandwidth to make a better, even more interactive experiences.

Instead of just informing them from a newspaper site, the newspaper website becomes a mini television station.

Software companies move to SAS (software as a service) and instead of installing some accounting software on your drive, you can now connect to a cloud service.

Instead of the government having you come and wait in line to renew your drivers license, you do it online.

This transition is happening now and will accelerate as fibre become even more prevalent. It's just another way to get that through-put to more people - and that's a good thing.

HP: Ravi, thank you for taking to Technology Spectator.

RM: No problem, thank you.

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