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Will ‘Anarchy’ Kill the Web 2.0 Experience?
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By Imad Mouline

The Web 2.0 vision promises many great things, including rampant social networking, grassroots content creation and broad-based collaboration. On the tech side, Web 2.0 promises unfettered access to all the riches of the Internet with the blazing performance of the fastest desktops. The web experience would be so fast and so good that users would forget there’s a global network underlying it. In many cases, this is working wonderfully. Consider Google Maps. You can “speed drag” satellite maps of your neighborhood, city, state or country at will because Ajax is anticipating your movements and making server calls behind the scenes.

But as organizations strive to deliver exhilarating experiences like these they are, paradoxically, relinquishing control of the web experience. Seven years ago, a company’s IT organization owned its entire experience and had complete control of the infrastructure, presentation logic, business logic and data tier. In 2007, nobody really owns the experience. It has literally disintegrated.

Today’s web applications span many browser types, servers, connection speeds and third-party content/infrastructure services. No longer thin clients, browsers do more processing than ever via mashups, Ajax and other rich Internet applications (RIAs). Things get dicier when service-oriented architectures (SOAs) assemble web services from multiple sources on the back end.

Not only are we seeing more third parties involved in the web experience; we’re seeing layers of them. For example, you may think you’re just paying bills on your bank web site but really be interacting with a third-party bill-paying web service. That service may be enlisting someone else’s hidden web analytics web service, and so on. Hoping to compensate for loss of control by buying “performance insurance,” many organizations are farming out the web experience to application and content accelerators. That means even more third parties.

All this is wonderful when it works, but in most cases, organizations have no reliable data on what’s working when and how well. The organization has ceded control of its web performance, and thus the web experience.

Enrichment Can Mean Anarchy

Indeed, the factors that make a breathtaking web experience make it a potential nightmare for the e-commerce director or CIO. We now live in a composite world – or a state of anarchy, depending on your point of view. Either way, many organizations are still managing their web experience as if this were the year 2000, when IT had complete control of the web experience. It’s a dangerous position to be in.

At risk is revenue, for starters. For a company like Amazon.com, the revenue at risk is $16,153 per minute (the amount Amazon.com generates online). For Dell, it’s $7,189. For Wal-Mart it’s $1,998 . When a site or service goes down, which is fortunately rare, that money goes out the window. But it’s not just revenue at risk.

Downtime, inconsistency, slowdowns and bad design don’t just scuttle purchases; they can ruin any customer web experience and create lasting harm. The customer experience via the web can often be the only differentiator a company has to offer in an increasingly commoditized global marketplace. Inferior web experiences cause customers to flee to competitors and never come back, amplifying the cost of single missed sales. Surveys my company did in 2006 for the holiday shopping period revealed that after experiencing one to three unsuccessful attempts to complete an online purchase, 87 percent of respondents said they would give up on that online retailer.

The impact is far-reaching: 65 percent would even stop, or at least reconsider, shopping at the retailer’s brick-and-mortar stores if they had a poor experience online. For organizations that use the web merely as their corporate marketing face – their calling card – bad web experiences similarly undermine any sense of quality or competence the company is trying to promote.

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Imad Mouline is the Chief Technology Officer for Gomez Inc.
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