I recently spent time with Stephen Ham­mond, Prod­uct Man­ager at Omni­ture– an Adobe Com­pany, at Adobe­Max 2009, where he spoke to the Adobe devel­oper com­mu­nity about trends and tech­nol­ogy advances in RIA track­ing. Stephen has con­sulted with hun­dreds of the Internet’s largest and most inno­v­a­tive com­pa­nies in opti­miz­ing online mar­ket­ing and devel­op­ing Inter­net appli­ca­tions and rich media. Dur­ing his tenure at Omni­ture, he devel­oped a rich inter­ac­tive media player, which streams hun­dreds of thou­sands of inter­ac­tive videos each year, and invented Omni­ture Action­Source™ a patented solu­tion for mea­sur­ing and opti­miz­ing rich Inter­net appli­ca­tion usage. In this Q&A, Stephen shares his thoughts about the his­tory of Omni­ture track­ing of Rich Inter­net Appli­ca­tions (RIA), his cre­ation of Action­Source, and the future poten­tial for inte­grat­ing Adobe + Omni­ture technologies.

Q: You cre­ated Action­Source, Omniture’s track­ing solu­tion for Adobe Actionscript-based prod­ucts. What were the busi­ness dri­vers behind ActionSource’s creation?

A: Omni­ture was actu­ally an early leader in Flash track­ing, hav­ing deployed a solu­tion which inter­acted with ana­lyt­ics through JavaScript in the early days of Flash. This solu­tion was a great start for us, help­ing a lot of our cus­tomers gain valu­able insight into Flash based appli­ca­tions when it was con­sid­ered impos­si­ble by most of our com­peti­tors. JavaScript was our stan­dard mode of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Flash for sev­eral years.
I joined Omni­ture in 2004 after run­ning a mar­ket­ing agency focused on Rich Inter­net appli­ca­tions. I had been using Flash since ver­sion 3 and loved its abil­ity to pro­vide a rich expe­ri­ence that was not lim­ited by the basic func­tions of web browsers. It offered an oppor­tu­nity to do things a tra­di­tional web browser could never do. That is why it exploded across the Inter­net, and that is why Omni­ture needed a solu­tion that could be as flex­i­ble as the Flash tech­nol­ogy itself.

I helped a num­ber of cus­tomers imple­ment ana­lyt­ics in Flash using JavaScript, but quickly found that because the solu­tion was not native to Flash, it lacked key func­tion­al­ity, and even caused some prob­lems with user expe­ri­ence. The most impor­tant ele­ment miss­ing from the JavaScript solu­tion was the abil­ity to run the solu­tion inde­pen­dently — as intended with Flash. The flex­i­bil­ity to run a Flash based appli­ca­tion in a browser, out­side a browser, on your domain, in email, or across a dis­trib­uted net­work and always have a con­sis­tent and rich expe­ri­ence is incred­i­ble. If the solu­tion requires an exter­nal JavaScript library, this inde­pen­dence is gone. Another impor­tant prob­lem with a solu­tion not native to Flash, and using JavaScript is that when the ana­lyt­ics exe­cutes the JavaScript, there is extra pro­cess­ing required which often times causes a hic­cup in ani­ma­tion or video play­back and can cause a “click” sound in many browsers. Finally, there was also a work­flow prob­lem. A Flash devel­oper was also required to build an HTML page and include a JavaScript library and scripts. This was never as sim­ple as it might seem.

With the obvi­ous lim­i­ta­tions of a JavaScript solu­tion for ana­lyt­ics in Flash, and my back­ground in Rich Inter­net Appli­ca­tions, I started work­ing on an alter­na­tive solu­tion. At first, it was just for fun, but then I started work­ing with com­pa­nies like MTV, Lexus, GM, and oth­ers who wanted a bet­ter­track­ing solu­tion for their ever increas­ing use of RIAs. This cre­ated a pri­or­ity, and I started work­ing in earnest on an Action­Script solu­tion. It was fun. I loved the thrill of reach­ing cer­tain milestones.

When I had a work­ing solu­tion, I intro­duced it to Omni­ture and we started refin­ing and pack­ag­ing the solu­tion for our cus­tomers. Our biggest mile­stone was when I intro­duced it at our annual user con­fer­ence, the Omni­ture Sum­mit. We had one of the biggest rooms at the con­fer­ence and it was packed so full that peo­ple were stand­ing all around the room. Cus­tomers were hun­gry for a solu­tion that would match the incred­i­ble dis­tri­b­u­tion free­dom that Flash allowed.

We launched the offi­cial solu­tion in the spring of 2006 and we saw tremen­dous adop­tion. Not only were cus­tomers able to under­stand their Flash based Rich Inter­net appli­ca­tions as never before, but because of the insight Omni­ture was able to pro­vide, they had the con­fi­dence to deploy RIAs in mis­sion crit­i­cal areas of their sites. Omni­ture pro­vided the ana­lyt­ics that enabled com­pa­nies to use Flash in areas they had never before dared.

Ref­er­enc­ing a 2007 Omni­ture Sum­mit pre­sen­ta­tion — In 2006 Nike tran­si­tioned from all JSP based sites to Flash RIA based sites, and it was only through the native Action­Script solu­tion from Omni­ture (named Action­Source) that they were able to have full vis­i­bil­ity of mis­sion crit­i­cal met­rics and vis­i­tor behav­ior across the appli­ca­tion expe­ri­ence from load to pur­chase. The tim­ing of the Omni­ture solu­tion for Nike and other cus­tomers was per­fect as RIAs using Flash really started to go mainstream.

Q: What’s the dif­fer­ence between Action­Source and stan­dard javascript tagging?

A: Stan­dard javascript tag­ging relies on a javascript file or library and scripts to accom­pany the Flash file wher­ever it is deployed in order to use ana­lyt­ics. The pri­mary limit imposed by this approach is that the Flash appli­ca­tion is no longer inde­pen­dent and eas­ily dis­trib­uted. In order to deploy the Flash file and get ana­lyt­ics with javascript, the two have to always be pack­aged together and this is a major prob­lem with desk­top appli­ca­tions like AIR or RIAs dis­trib­uted across net­works, via email, or embed­ded virally. In addi­tion, the pro­cess­ing required for the javascript com­mu­ni­ca­tion can cause poor user expe­ri­ence in rich media appli­ca­tions.
The Omni­ture Action­Source solu­tion which uses native Flash Action­Script is part of the com­piled Flash appli­ca­tion, so it can seam­lessly trans­mit ana­lyt­ics data wher­ever the appli­ca­tion is dis­played and with­out any impact on user experience.

Q: You’ve con­tin­ued to inno­vate around RIA track­ing at Omni­ture. How has Action­Source changed since you first cre­ated it?

A: Action­Source was orig­i­nally intended to pro­vide ana­lyt­ics for Rich Inter­net appli­ca­tions, pri­mar­ily around loads, inter­ac­tions, path analy­sis, vis­i­tor behav­ior and more. It has been enhanced to ensure com­pat­i­bil­ity with all ver­sions of Flash, Flex, AIR, and any other Adobe solu­tion which uses Action­Script, includ­ing mobile appli­ca­tions and other devices which use Flash Lite.

Omniture’s very tal­ented engi­neer­ing team now man­ages the Action­Source com­po­nent and its ongo­ing improve­ments. Most notable of these improve­ments are media track­ing for full ana­lyt­ics of video and audio play­back, and inte­gra­tion with our opti­miza­tion prod­ucts. Now cus­tomers can not only under­stand the behav­ior of vis­i­tors using their appli­ca­tions, and how on and offline cam­paigns are influ­enc­ing these, but they can also under­stand full stream­ing data, and using Test&Target they can test vari­a­tions of their appli­ca­tions and cre­ate dynamic and self opti­miz­ing expe­ri­ences within the applications.

These improve­ments are open­ing the doors to a whole new gen­er­a­tion of Rich Inter­net Appli­ca­tions. It will be excit­ing to see what com­pa­nies con­tinue to do in lever­ag­ing these technologies.

Q: You attended and pre­sented at Adobe­Max 2009, what did you learn from the Adobe community?

A: It was refresh­ing to see the excite­ment and enthu­si­asm of those who were learn­ing about how they can use ana­lyt­ics and opti­miza­tion to lead a new evo­lu­tion in Rich Inter­net Appli­ca­tions. I pre­sented at the con­fer­ence show­ing how ana­lyt­ics and opti­miza­tion are inte­grated into RIAs, and the par­tic­i­pants were fully engaged and very excited, par­tic­u­larly in the area of the ana­lyt­ics dri­ven opti­miza­tion. Many talked with me about how this was open­ing new rev­enue and cre­ative chan­nels for them. That is where inno­va­tion is driven.

The Adobe devel­op­ers, design­ers, and cre­ative man­agers have shaped the cur­rent Inter­net with their cut­ting edge ideas. As they lever­age the new com­bined tech­nolo­gies of Omni­ture and Adobe, they will lead a new evo­lu­tion in Rich Inter­net Appli­ca­tions based on real-time objec­tive ana­lyt­ics and optimization.

Q: What’s next on your roadmap for Omniture?

A: Exist­ing and future Omni­ture and Adobe cus­tomers will see a con­tin­ued focus on ana­lyt­ics and opti­miza­tion across all indus­tries. Omni­ture is being run as a busi­ness unit within Adobe, focused on our core com­pe­tency which is online opti­miza­tion. The com­bi­na­tion of Adobe and Omni­ture is a promise of more and bet­ter for all our cus­tomers, whether they are in retail, media, B2B, finance, travel, tele­com, or any other indus­try. They will ben­e­fit from the com­bined oppor­tu­nity of Omni­ture and Adobe. It is very exciting.

You can expect to see a lot of excit­ing con­ver­gences of the Omni­ture and Adobe tech­nolo­gies. Early on, we will see the exist­ing Action­Source com­po­nents for ana­lyt­ics and opti­miza­tion included as options for stream­lined instru­men­ta­tion of these tech­nolo­gies in the Adobe devel­op­ment appli­ca­tions. The net result of this is that com­pa­nies using Omni­ture tech­nolo­gies will con­tinue to see the high stan­dards of prod­ucts and ser­vices they are used to, but they will also have oppor­tu­ni­ties to stream­line imple­men­ta­tions and improve com­mu­ni­ca­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion across their busi­ness units, even extend­ing their abil­ity to opti­mize their online and offline channels.

Adobe and Omni­ture are extremely inno­v­a­tive com­pa­nies, with top tal­ent across mul­ti­ple indus­tries. The inno­va­tions and inte­gra­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties we see today will be expanded many fold in the months to come as syn­er­gies between appli­ca­tions and processes are extended, and as cus­tomer feed­back helps us find new opportunities.

Stay tuned, you will see a lot of incred­i­ble, and value ori­ented solu­tions come from Adobe with the Omni­ture tech­nolo­gies and ser­vices. Very exciting.