While much of the discussion around HTML5 and its ability to deliver compelling mobile applications centers on client-side performance, a potentially bigger problem resides on the network. Two trends in technology are on a collision course and threaten to make the web experience a growing digital bog for users on their mobile devices. Websites and applications today are increasingly complex and large in size, and at the same time a growing number of people are accessing the web over wireless networks.
As a result, browsing through websites on your mobile device can be like slogging through a marsh.
Basically, bigger applications are being jammed down increasingly congested wireless networks for display on mobile devices. While telcos have scrambled to make more and faster pipe available - 4G, for example - they haven’t been able to keep up.
Something has to give. Until now, the user experience was sacrificed. And while it may seem like an insignificant First World Problem if users have to wait a few seconds for an app or web site to load, even a few seconds delay negatively impacts top-line revenue for web publishers and corporations that rely on the web, as Tracelytics has pointed out.
I recently spoke with Manav Mital, CEO of Instart Logic a stealth company founded by a team of big data engineers from Aster Data. I asked Mital to talk some more about Instart Logic and its plans. And while Mital wasn't yet ready to reveal details on how Instart Logic significantly improves web performance, he did give some insight into how the company has approached the problem.
ReadWrite: Your founders have Big Data analytics backgrounds. And since then you’ve hired some networking, virtualization, CDNs and large scale web services gurus from companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, VMware, Citrix, Akamai, Adobe and Mozilla. It’s an unusual, diverse team. What are you doing differently?
Mital: That wide variety of backgrounds is critical to helping us think differently about the "Last Mile Bottleneck." The basic challenge we gave ourselves was how do we radically speed up the Internet over the last mile without asking a publisher to change anything on their web infrastructure or an end user to change anything on their device? Could we not only dramatically improve user experiences for the current generation of rich web sites and applications, but also make possible an entirely new class of web experiences?
That’s what we are building at Instart Logic. We all saw the same problem and felt the need for a better solution, one that we could develop by drawing upon concepts from our different backgrounds and unifying those ideas. It's not a problem that any one approach could solve, be it CDN or Big Data or any other technology. We needed to start from scratch using shared learning from different technological approaches.
ReadWrite: What is this “Last Mile Bottleneck?”
Mital: In the past, the delivery bottleneck existed between the servers hosting the web application and the access points on the edge of the Internet. Legacy approaches to speed up the web focused on solving this bottleneck in the core of the Internet. In the age of the mobile and wireless Internet, these legacy technologies fail to address the biggest source of problem today – the Last Mile, which is the part between the edge of the network and the user’s device.
ReadWrite: So you’re saying the biggest bottleneck has shifted to the edge of the network. What happened?
Mital: Two converging trends are exacerbating the Last Mile Bottleneck. On one hand, web applications have grown more complex, more interactive and more data intensive. On the other hand, users are increasingly connecting to the Internet over some sort of a mobile or wireless network, causing a huge congestion in the last mile.
How’d we get here? Publishers and companies have replaced static websites with complex web applications that provide immersive visual experiences and encourage higher levels of interactivity, oftentimes tapping into social media data sources to make sites more personalized. These applications have to be far more intelligent and context-aware. User identity, location, previous behavior, social graph, time of day, and probable intent are all now key components factored into what is displayed by sophisticated web applications.
At the same time, more and more users are accessing web applications from tablets, smartphones and laptops through WiFi and wireless networks. Corporations, too, are moving hosted and on-premise software into the cloud. That means their workforces must access these applications via the public Internet. While carriers and providers of WiFi connectivity are moving quickly to expand the size of the wireless pipe (4G LTE is the most prominent example), they simply can’t keep up with the exploding volume of data coming over those pipes.
So you have two trends – richer web applications that are bandwidth hogs, and a wireless pipe that is increasingly congested – that combine to increase application load times and diminish end-user experience on any device.
ReadWrite: So what have web publishers and companies done in the past to deal with the Last Mile problem?
Mital: Publishers and businesses tried to overcome the bottleneck by compressing images to reduce the data footprint of a web application. Too often, those images appear washed-out. Some publishers and businesses have reacted by dumbing down their mobile and tablet sites, stripping out complexity.
Neither of these approaches help get applications to the mobile device. Worse, they provide a much less engaging user experience.
Alternatively, companies have resorted to what I would call extreme measures. Often major online e-commerce sites actually keep 20 different versions of product images to better handle the huge variation in network conditions and devices accessing his site.
We don’t think web publishers and companies should have to compromise on the user experience. That’s why we founded Instart Logic.
ReadWrite: Instart Logic has been in stealth. Do you have any customers actually using your product?
Mital: Yes. We've been running a private beta program for some time, and completed it in December 2012. The vast majority of Instart Logic's beta customers – including a Fortune 500 company – are now using our service in production for mission-critical applications. These are paid customers, and they're using our service to drive conversions and increase user engagement across a broad set of industries including retail, travel and hospitality, enterprise SaaS, online gaming, and media – sectors where immersive and interactive experiences are essential.
Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock.