ADOTAS – So there’s five of us gathered around a few tiny tables in a noisy and crowded cafe near the Adotas office in midtown Manhattan — three Limelight Networks execs, one PR rep and little old me — discussing the content delivery network’s latest technological feat, Limelight Accelerate. I’m feeling pretty sheepish as my normally quiet, secluded spot for intimate interviews is overrun with sweaty, loud tourists taking their August vacations in the Big Apple.
However, the Limelight folks don’t seem to mind too much, partially because the setting feels strangely appropriate. If the Internet is a space chock full of content and cacophony, then the challenge is finding a way to not only make content stand out, but also engage.
For Limelight, the solution is easy (in theory — application requires a bit more sweat equity): speed via efficient loading across a private content delivery network, which is exactly what the company offers with the new Accelerate service. And speedily and efficiently, the Limelight team cuts through the coffee house clamor to deliver a well-organized run-down of Accelerate’s capabilities.
“We’ve been able to spread a mile wide, but now we want to go a mile deep,” comments Jonathan Cobb, GM and CTO of the Limelight Mobility and Monetization Group. “The pipes are plenty big — the same HTML is being served, but we have no control over broadband or 3G/4G connection or browser limitations. Instead, we have to optimize content delivery through prioritization.”
Limelight boasts the fifth largest network in the world, with a private fiber-optic infrastructure hooked up to 18,000 servers and direct connections to 950 access networks. Add in more than 6.6 tetrabytes per second of global egress capacity and more than 11 petabytes of customer content storage.
Through the integration of presentation-layer (courtesy of its May acquisition of Acceloweb) and network-level optimization technologies, Limelight Accelerate employs browser acceleration techniques to prioritize page or app content so it can be loaded fastest. This is further optimized for specific browsers, because they all have different loading instructions, as well as operating systems and devices — Limelight currently has profiles for more than 1,000 mobile devices.
So after the average 2 seconds to make the handshake between browser and site, Limelight Accelerate can load the presentation layer (what users engage with — images, text links, etc.) in as little as half a second, compared to 3.5 seconds without acceleration.
However, we’re not talking about a complete page load because Limelight is more concerned with the “time to action.” How many times have you clicked-through a page while it was still materializing from the vast of the Internet? You saw what you were looking for, or something important caught your eye and the need to click was too strong to ignore. To spell it out, time to action is how long it takes before a user can interact with the page.
In the “gotta have it now” digital world, every half second of load time severely increases the potential of user abandonment — sluggish e-commerce sites and marketer landing pages stare helplessly as potential conversions walk away. On the other hand, faster load times appear to increase site engagement. Case in point, Limelight client AllBarstools.com, part of the CSN Stores family, witnessed a 17% jump in page views per visitor with the addition of Accelerate.
But is Accelerate anything like Google’s new Page Speed Service, which also promises faster content delivery?
Not really, Cobb says: “That’s a great free tool, but it’s got limited functionality and inferior technology.” It only works for end users on Google’s Chrome browsers. “It’s a great solution for small part of the market.”
Accelerate is something far bigger. “It’s great for dynamics,” adds Erin Quist, VP of enterprise solutions at rich media ad server EyeWonder, acquired by Limelight two years ago. Accelerate can enhance load times even when page content is personalized for various users. “You can bake it into every little edge-note.”
Because of Limelight’s goal of remaining neutral (“We want to be Switzerland,” Cobb quips), Accelerate can run on any content network and be integrated into any other web acceleration services. There’s no infrastructure or plugins to install — the tool is completely browser-based.
Mobile Video Ad Interactivity
Just before launching Accelerate, Limelight found the time to expand the ad capabilities of its Limelight REACH Video platform, which optimizes video delivery across the gamut of mobile operating systems (remember those 1,000 devices mentioned before?). Joining pre-roll/post-roll unit REACH Ads, REACH Interactive serves interactive rich media units within iOS and Android apps — yup, it’s a little telescoping action, or apps within apps.
Cobb shows me a video ad for the movie “Thor,” arriving on DVD imminently. I can pause the video, which brings up menu options such as a landing page that I can visit while remaining in the initial app. A call to action appears at the top of the stream suggesting I pre-order a copy of the blu-ray.
Advertisers will further impressed at the analytics related to ad interaction, such as stops and buffering trouble.
“It’s a natural transition from rich media ads,” Quist summarizes. “REACH Interactive has really resonated with agencies.”