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Targeting Net performance: knowing who your audience is can affect your site-monitoring and -provisioning strategies. (The Bottom Line).

A New Yorker cartoon from the early days of the Internet phenomenon bears the now-famous caption, "On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog." That cartoon sums up a general perception of the Net as an anonymous, egalitarian medium where individual identities don't matter much.

As the Internet has evolved, however, that anonymity has become less entrenched. Websites regularly use cookies and other personalization tools to track attributes about regular visitors. In fact, many users have come expect that their favorite websites will automatically "recognize" as soon as they click and connect.

While site programmers and Web marketers have embraced this identity-aware paradigm, however, technical infrastructure managers generally have not. Most of them treat their company's Web audience as an amorphous mass of Internet nodes that randomly connect and disconnect to URLs in a sort of digital equivalent of Brownian motion.

This is, of course, not the case at all. The people who connect to your website fit within a certain demographic. The fact that you don't know what that demographic is doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. Knowledge of that demographic can actually be quite useful in determining how you both monitor and enhance the performance of your site.

First, let's differentiate between marketing demographics and technical demographics. Marketing demographics have to do with the personal identities of buyers and prospects: their age, gender, income and marital status. Technical demographics are quite different. They have to do with how customers connect to the Internet.

The speed of their connection is particularly important. Dial-up users experience sites in a completely different way than cable users or corporate users coming in over T-1 lines.

The particular Internet service provider (ISP) that a customer uses is relevant, as well. On any given day the performance that an AOL user experiences on your site may be markedly different from a customer using AT&T or Sprint.

Geography can also be an important factor. Despite a general sense that the Internet's "universal" connectivity renders physical location irrelevant, it doesn't. Sites hosted on the West Coast can seem fine to customers in L.A., while they appear sluggish to those in New York. Where you are still affects what you see.

Why is this important to network managers? There are two reasons. First, your Internet performance-measurement system should directly reflect your site's actual technical demographic. The readings you get from a monitoring system sitting on a high-speed Tier 1 Internet backbone won't give you a good picture of how your site looks to a dial-in user connecting via a local ISP.

If 70% of your customers fit into the latter category, you'll really be in the dark. So, the value of your investment in Internet monitoring is closely related to its alignment with your technical demographic.

Second, the measures you take to address any performance problems should also be informed by your technical demographic. For example, if your site's constituency is primarily dial-up users, then you should probably address performance problems related to heavy graphics by compressing and/or eliminating those graphics. If your users are primarily connected via broadband, then you can instead leave the graphics up and just add more server horsepower. Adding more horsepower won't do dial-up users any good. They just can't get that much content down such a narrow pipe.

Internet infrastructure managers must therefore stop treating the Internet as a shapeless cloud of intermittent connections and start understanding their specific online constituencies. Users possess a variety of differentiating characteristics that affect their online experience. If you want to deliver a quality online experience--and do it in the most cost-effective way--then it's time to zero in on your actual customers and give them what they need.
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Liebmann, Lenny
Publication:Communications News
Date:Oct 1, 2002
Words:617
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