News watchers might have noticed a bunch of hot air and chest pounding emanating from media nuts a few days ago.
The reason: the end of civilization was nigh for traditionalists, because Facebook and the New York Times had made a deal for Times content to be wrapped into Facebook pages, rather than simply linked to.
Big deal, you might say. Makes sense. Add venerable 1851-launched newspaper content to a 1.3 billion-user social network, and stir thoroughly.
Well, it does make sense. However, intriguingly, there's more to it than a simple you-scratch-my-back media deal. What's most interesting about this move is the technical reason prompting it.
The wisdom is primarily due to latency in last-mile mobile wireless. There's too much delay in serving up a distinct web page via a hyperlink from another web page, or app, in mobile.
A bottleneck takes place between the smartphone and tower, in part due to high latency and low bandwidth between them. Interference and other volatility occurs too.
Consequently, in this Facebook/Times case, it makes sense for the Gray Lady to metaphorically dump all of its content over at Facebook Towers periodically, so it can be served up alongside the chatter in the same session.
It should make for faster delivery with fewer abandoned sessions.
Optimizing the data
Alternatives exist, but they have failings. Optimizing and accelerating mobile data would be a good solution, if you could make it work well.
People have tried caching and compression with mixed results. One of the issues is that the more bandwidth a Mobile Network Operator (MNO) provides, the richer the media becomes. 3G becomes 4G and apps still load slowly.
It's like the road congestion dichotomy: if you widen the roads and make passage easier, more cars appear and traffic clogs again. Some say you should make the roads onerously narrow to keep cars at home.
But we're not road planners, and we like media. So, that's not going to work.
Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), consisting of swarms of media-delivering servers, can help.
However, they're predominantly geared towards the data center and backhaul part of the mobile connection, not the interference-susceptible, low-bandwidth, degrading bit—the tower-to-device.
Automated hypothesis testing
Newly launched Redwood City-based Twin Prime reckons it has a better solution. It says that 70% of app-loading time takes place in the tower-to-device last mile, so that's the part its SDK works on.
It says that because mobile performance changes each time an app is used, due to variability in location, signal strength, network volatility, and so on, you need to understand the "unique context" of each app, in real time, to deliver the experience properly.
Appropriate optimization strategies
Its system, which it calls Global Location and context-based Acceleration Strategy, or GLAS, analyzes network conditions in real time and devises what it calls "appropriate optimization strategies."
An SDK, for the end-user app, applies the optimization. The company says that it's not using any compression, modification, or caching of the traffic. Instead, download speeds, content download times, fastest and slowest domains, carriers and geographies are used to compile analytics.
A dashboard displays reports, such as worst-performing domains and reliability. At the same time, it provides engagement performance reports to the developer, such as time-in-app. The SDK will even bypass a service if there's a problem, like if a data center goes down.
The SDK and device acts upon all of this real-time analyzing of conditions, predictions, and historical data. It improves latency and content download speeds at the device, the company says.
Indeed, it claims to have obtained 30% to 200% speed gains, which in turn translates to two seconds saved per image download, in examples cited on the company's website.
Mobile has always been a nightmare for social network and content monetizers for two reasons: One, because of slowness issues cause by puny, non-wired mobile networks, and two, because of the small screen which restricts visible ad space.
If this acceleration technique works as promised, one of those problems might be getting addressed.
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