Web designers face daily struggles of keeping pace with latest advances in new user expectations, new standards and technology. They should allocate enough portion of their working time dipping in and out of latest development in the industry to help them stay both competitive and relevant. While this can make the industry very exciting to be a part of, you shouldn’t get caught up in smaller and finer details. Rich Web typography, improved semantics and responsive Web design have all seen their fair share of the spotlight in recent years, however two other developments also mark the real milestones in the progression of the Web: real time data and a highly personalized Web
Since the introduction of the new Web, people are continuously enraptured by the social media. We ‘poke’, we ‘follow’ and we share contents, we have become accustomed to these new habits. Through no fault of their own, users have become lazier. The likes of Facebook, YouTube, Netflix, Twitter and Google cater to our needs, offering recommendation based on our latest behavioral pattern, tapping into our friends’ preferences, serving up personalized searches and other similar benefits. Businesses finally realize that loyal users are powerful sales forces and they employ “anti-defection” measures to maintain consumers’ loyalty.
Industry analysts and Web gurus always arrive at the same conclusion: A new chapter in the Web evolution has arrived. Many believe that the ‘next Web’ will be integrated to the location services and mobile industry. These pieces are part of bigger picture, such as real-time communication, instant data and personalization. Web developers should explore how they can adapt to new changes and how they can catch the ever-shortening attention span, to adapt their websites to the ‘new Web’.
Highly Personalized Web:
Every day, we are creating more online information than people did in 1996. Although we get significant benefits from the ‘tsunami’ of user generated contents, we also experience a number of corollary effects. Many Internet users find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information they get in a single session. This situation reduces the S/N (signal to noise) ratio or a ratio between useful and useless contents, an important indicator in data communication quality. To better organize the information and alleviate possible problems, content providers and developers may thrive by actively providing relevant information to users, as opposed to making users find the relevant information themselves.
While personalizing user experience and catering to unique visitors segments are nothing new, their relevance has never been more important. As users become more accustomed to personalized user experience, user expectation will rise again, which will leave behind sluggish online retailers and website owners that are unable to adapt the online strategy quickly enough. For information-bombarded users, the shift toward a highly personalized user experience has become a necessity and it can be considered as a measurable shift in user behaviors.
The e-commerce market has fervently exploited the method of targeting consumers based on their profile histories. Savvy businesses understand that traditional advertising and marketing methods can no longer drive consumer behaviors exclusively and they’re turning their focus on more personalized services and relying more on word of mouth. These businesses are giving consumers both the tools to discuss about products across many social networks.
Many websites are implementing recommendation engine. In addition, some also use a ‘Friends’ tab to find out what their friends are doing, so they can compare interests. Recommendation engine make use of certain information filter to present contents that may interest the user. If you plan to implement similar mechanism in your website, you should understand users’ intention, content and data. Recommendation should be defined clearly and supplemented with good marketing messages. Although, it may be too complicated and costly for smaller business, savvy developers can still do it on smaller budgets.
A simpler solution could be an API that connects with users’ and users’ friend profile information.
To reach a large targeted audience, you should allow users to share contents on multiple social platforms. Social commenting, sign-ins, API, widget and content sharing are effective for optimization efforts. In online marketing field, social optimization starts to rival the traditional SEO (search engine optimization). Today, more than half news read by users are links distributed on social networking services.
News websites should also provide a highly personalized user experience. For example, news sites should allow web developers to drag and drop the news widgets on any location in the home page. Users should be able to customize the contents in each widget. Although, many websites are optimized for social networks, their sharing utilities often have user-friendliness issues. You can also rearrange navigation and contents based on user profile, unfortunately, while this is convenient for most users, it may affect usability negatively. Web administrators should make sure that they already have comprehensive user profiles before creating rules for user preferences.
Comments and reviews are also suitable for empowering and engaging visitors. If you already deliver good products or services, then you can benefit from users activities, as they are likely to share reviews and comments across a wide range social network. It is a good breeding ground for buyer evangelism. You should also personalize your website by targeting users based on their location. Google puts a significant focus on localization to help people find what they are looking for.
Real time data: You can keep users interested and persuade them to become loyal and return visitors by serving up real-time data effectively. In large businesses, it shows accountability and transparency, and it is a good way to facilitate confidence and trust in your brand. The rise of HTML5 offers new functionality, such as the possibility to display visualizations based on real-time data, a techniques which is already employed by some Web gurus. However, supports for advanced HTML5 features are still somewhat limited. While canvas can help to display animation and simple data-driven animations, it is still too elementary compared to mature visual technologies such as Flash.
Although browsers have improved supports for canvas elements, we still see Flash as a potent force in the delivery of real-time data. Flash can be used to display an interactive bar on location on the site, based on the real-time data of objects and it also allows user to replay or roll back an event for historical research purpose. This technique gives context to the content and a useful feature when designing a website driven with real-time data.
It’s worth noting that Flash and HTML5’s canvas element can tax the device’s hardware, current low-end desktops and laptops are already powerful enough, however mobile devices with CPU slower than 600MHz may not be able to run them well. Real-time data is the new wave in Web analytics and it allows developers and users to get actionable data and allow them to mitigate threats and capitalize on opportunities.
Real-time analytics can be implemented in various ways. As an illustration, you can back up the website monitoring interface with an alert system, via a smartphone app, email and SMS. The system can alert administrators with downtime and traffic spikes. Headers can be made clear and color shades can be made consistent to make it easy to recognize the data changes. Observing how visitors interact with the website using real-time interface is one thing, however acting on the finding is another. Tools such as Monitter (a Twitter widget) allow admin to get real-time data without page refresh. The tool utilizes jQuery to deliver an asynchronous feed from Twitter, which can be implemented easily on any website. It may not be a truly real-time experience, but it is pretty close. With the surge of similar tools, it won’t be long before ‘real’ real-time widgets and API are available. A real-time widget allows website owners to communicate effectively with visitors and show what recent buyers are saying about their website, product or service.
A service called Collecta provided real-time search engine, which offers free embeddable publisher widgets and API. However, it has shuttered its main products and the company is searching for new directions in real-time market. In recent years, the company learned that there is a huge growing demand for real-time data and free service, such as search engine may not be a correct tool for reaching users. Another company, called OneRiot has also shelved its real-time search engine and it is now searching for opportunities in online ads. This highlights an important fact: API users should have a back-up plan, as the provider may pull the plug suddenly.
As Twitter is enjoying its newly-found role as a news distribution channel, RSS feeds have become another proclaimed casualty. However, some experts believe that RSS will eventually evolve to meet the increasingly challenging user expectation. Some new services provide instant subscription and publishing protocol that offers real-time capabilities to the RSS feed. These services can also ‘push’ new contents to users without the involvement of crawlers, which were previously needed to poll feeds. The more efficient process saves bandwidth and CPU utilization. You may argue that popular services such as Ping-O-Matic already provide similar functionality; however, in this case, users still need to visit the website.
If you’re considering the integration of real-time data delivery, you should be aware that it relies significantly on the data integrity. Web administrators also need to filter and curate the real-time data to optimize server performance. This will also improve or maintain user experience, because client-side hardware utilization is kept to a minimum. Only send useful data to the users and make sure real-time data delivery has no or very little impact in website performance.
If you use shared servers, keeping the data volume small is even more important, because CPU utilization and RAM are usually limited resources. Due to continuous hardware utilization, it is advisable to upgrade to a dedicated web hosting package or services that can keep the actual processing of the server, such as Kwwika.
Conclusion: While the cataclysmic shifts in the user role and Web evolution are welcomed by most, some experts argue that highly personalized Web experience can create echo chambers of ideas, opinions and information. Regardless of the infancy of some technologies used for highly personalized Web and real-time data delivery; and the continuing importance of static Web; serving up stale contents to users is definitely no longer enough.