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.