One of the 50 interviews we conducted was with Ted Roden, a Creative Technologist at The New York Times. In this post, an edited extract from our new report, we explore how Roden works with real-time data at The Times. We also discuss the creative real-time development he's doing on a side-project called EnjoysThings.
Pre-order now: The Real-Time Web and Its Future, $200 if you order before 30 Nov; check out the Table of Contents (PDF) and a sample chapter (PDF).
The primary contributions Ted Roden makes to understanding the real-time web include articulating:
- the material benefits of going real time
- the importance of user experience
- the changing landscape in analytics and advertising
We had a conversation with Roden about what happened after he added a real-time feed to EnjoysThings; he articulates well some of the biggest advantages of a real-time infrastructure.
EnjoysThings is a visual bookmarking site, like Delicious for images and other media. Even text snippets bookmarked are highlighted visually. User experience is a key consideration in all the site's developments and the service is a lot of fun to use.
This summer Roden added a premium subscription option to the site, called Joy accounts. Joy accounts cost $20 per year for access to all the current and forthcoming premium features, or users can pay $5 for a single premium feature like disabling ads on the site or being able to view NSFW content.
One of the features Joy account holders get is access to a real-time view of new content shared. That real-time stream can be viewed in any browser but may be best served up via a Firefox sidebar. A real-time feed as up-sold value add? That's remarkable and Roden says the response has been positive.
The sidebar is simple but compelling. New content is pushed live into the side of the browser as soon as it's shared on the site, including images. At first Roden said he used AJAX set to poll his site every few seconds. Then he switched to a Comet implementation. He says he's using the open source infrastructure Tornado, from Facebook, for his real-time prototypes at the Times.
EnjoysThings is still very small but the implications of adding real-time to this site could likely be incurred by sites of any size.
1. INCREASED TIME ON SITE
"People leave it open all day long," Roden said of the sidebar. "Time-on-site has seen a huge increase. It's like when the new content comes in on the Facebook Live Feed, if you know it's about to pop in 5 seconds you'll stick around."
There are a number of different factors that are making time-on-site an increasingly important metric on the web, compared to pageviews. Increased consumption of video is the best known, but as real-time streams of aggregated content become increasingly common, increased time-on-site will be an important measurement of how successful an implementation is.
2. DECREASED SERVER COSTS
After implementing real-time infrastructure, Roden reports that "my site runs a lot more smoothly, I'll probably move the whole site to that technology because deep down it's much easier on the database for me."
"I used to get hit by Stumbleupon and [the site] would start to crawl. Then I changed to some of this real time stuff and I've reduced the number of servers. Instead of the users sitting on the page and refreshing, I push it out to them. My EC2 bill has gone way down." Roden's experience compliments the story that Google's Brad Fitzpatrick told us about using PubSubHubbub push feeds to deliver shared items in Google Reader to FriendFeed. Changing from polling to real-time push cut traffic between the two sites by 85%. Likewise, magazine-style feed reader Feedly says that the part of its service that now consumes PubSubHubbub from Google Reader has seen a 72% reduction in bandwidth.