Top Takeaways from Velocity NYC 2013
Since its inception Velocity has always been a place where the Web Ops and Performance communities can come together to share what they’ve learned, what their visions are for the future and how we should work together to get there. This week at Velocity New York was no different. Spending the last few days at Velocity NYC allowed me to put together what I saw as the main themes to come out of one of the more interesting conferences I’ve been to this year.
UX Metrics are Going Mainstream
There is a full on effort to advance the accuracy of UX metrics so that we have a better idea of how well we are actually delivering the online experience to our customers. Microsoft previewed some promising monitoring technology that actually breaks down the page rendering process into visual phases — enabling your organization to decide which phase is most representative of the page you want your visitors to see — allowing you to optimize accordingly.
SNAP Interactive presented a technique to ensure that your page renders the content most critical to the user experience first via a small snippet of code. Both approaches show promise, although — as I’ve written before — all user experiences are not created equal and designating one phase or piece of content as the measuring stick can be dangerous. But more importantly, these efforts show that the conversation about Web performance has officially evolved beyond traditional page load speeds. Practitioners are now pushing for more effective measurements of how well they are really delivering speed, and the most important content on their pages, to their online constituencies.
It seems the industry has come to an agreement that the real online experience begins for users when they feel the page is ready to use — which in most cases should happen seconds before page load is complete. The challenge has morphed into deciphering what ‘ready for users to use’ means and how we can effectively measure it.
Continuous Deployment is the Future of Business and Security
The simple fact is that the demands on our technology — and our ability to adapt to them — are growing at a ridiculous rate. The term ‘real-time business’ came up in more than a few sessions — used mainly as a ‘catch-all’ term for being able to meet the expectations associated with today’s businesses and the technologies that support them. The belief is that continuous deployment is the key to getting us to a place where deployments, feature releases, and, surprisingly, security flow together seamlessly.
Dan Kaminsky’s keynote on Wednesday morning made a strong case for security’s place within a continuous deployment framework — arguing that they’re really not the polar opposites they appear to be, but rather, continuous deployment is a major factor in making security work in this new world of ‘real-time businesses.’
Kaminsky made the point that with continuous deployment the response to security is cheap, because it’s just another deploy — you already have all the data you need to collect a baseline for alerting against anomalies — so you simply apply the same business metric monitoring to security.
In the opening keynote on Tuesday Courtney Nash, newest co-chair of Velocity, asserted that this idea of concurrency, of ‘real-time businesses,’ has reach a critical mass — that going forward business must adapt or die on this front. The idea of a sequential approach to development, where the delivery process consists of throwing projects over multiple ‘organizational walls’ for a year plus is over. Today you need to always be deploying something. Kaminsky’s keynote pointed out an essential step in that evolution process. As Nash put it, “You’re no longer building fast websites, you’re building real-time businesses” — security needs to be a part of that for it to work.
Mobile is Here, How Do We Make it Better?
The Number of devices and the way in which people are accessing the Web has exploded over the past few years — something a quick Google search of ‘mobile traffic’ will confirm in spades — and it finally seems that businesses are taking notice. Courtney Nash highlighted recent research showing that over half of retail site traffic is now coming from mobile devices, as she stated, “The tipping point is here.”
While there were a number of sessions and demos dedicated to increasing mobile performance, the general consensus seemed to be that we’re still learning about how people use mobile, what their expectations are with regard to mobile sites and applications and how to best optimize that experience. I would be surprised if mobile isn’t the main focus of Velocity NYC next year.
Communication to the ‘Business Side’ Needs to Evolve
John Allspaw had a great quote during the closing keynote, “If you have a brilliant idea, but you suck at telling people about it, then you didn’t have a brilliant idea . . . you DO have to sell it.” This highlighted an interesting theme that ran throughout the conference around the idea that practitioners need get better at communicating the business advantages of more performant websites and applications to business leaders.
Unfortunately, the numerous case studies we have available simply aren’t enough. Organizations, the teams managing them and eventually the person cutting the checks need to understand how the results in a given case study relate to their business. For Intuit, who presented how they were able to get around this roadblock, it actually took a rogue engineer to optimize several pages on his own, and report on the resulting increases in business metrics before management paid any attention.
Courtney Nash made an excellent point around how perceptions differ from one department to the next in an organization — a delay of 300 milliseconds is much more significant to an engineer than a business manager. One attendee offered the idea that it takes consistent, patient repetition without saying the other side is wrong before change happens.
While the same attendee also said it would probably be a ten to twenty year process, I’d argue that business is simply moving too fast for that timeline to be accurate — but consistently presenting compelling performance information is essential to gain buy-in from the leadership teams at your respective organization. In many cases, and as John Allspaw so succinctly put it — it’s finding a nice way to ask, ‘Are you willing to be blissfully unaware of what can make you more money?’