February 27, 2009, 12:00 AM

Balancing Act

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But there’s more than one way to get rich media content in front of shoppers. Liquid Pixels and Adobe Scene7 generate interactive product display dynamically, which means the various product images don’t exist until they are called up at the user’s request and created and delivered on the fly. But caching can shortcut the process.

Sheila Dahlgren, director of product marketing for Scene7 at Adobe, says when a request for content in a rich media application goes from a consumer’s browser to the platform that will originate it, technology like Scene 7’s first checks for where it may already reside close to the point of request-on the consumer’s own browser, on a content delivery network or on Scene7’s own servers-before it generates the image and serves it to the consumer. Scene7’s platform is hosted; Liquid Pixels delivers its technology in the same software-as-a-service model and as preloaded servers retailers can install on their own premises.

The platforms’ job is to get the requested rich content in front of the shopper fast. But that content faces potential hiccups as it travels across the Internet. So, many retailers using rich media applications also use content delivery networks like Akamai. The networks automatically find the quickest routes between Internet hops and route content through them.

But not every retailer using rich media needs a content delivery network to make sure the applications perform. Heritage Auction Galleries, for example, one of the world’s largest collectibles auctioneers, uses zoom and pan functionality from Liquid Pixels to let customers get a detailed product view and gain confidence to bid. The site knows when loads typically will peak in response to special auctions, has a preconfigured LiquiFire server on the premises, and has enough horsepower in its own servers to serve the applications speedily during the anticipated highs.

Looking for balance

If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is-one reason rich media vendors have been able to make a business out of doing the heavy lifting. Bundled into a package by platform vendors or built from scratch, that pretty spinning picture or that cool tool has to work flawlessly to justify its on-site real estate.

Though a retailer’s I.T. staff will go deeper into the mechanics of rich media implementation, marketing staff with an understanding of what it takes to execute rich media can form more realistic expectations and make better decisions about resources and return.

“Customers expect sites that engage them, provide personalized information and perform tasks quickly,” Forrester analyst Mike Gualtieri advises online marketers in a recent report, “Best Practices: Attaining and Maintaining Blazing Fast Web Sites.” “Your challenge is to find the proper balance between maximum performance and maximum interactivity.”


Click here for the Internet Retailer Rich Media Products & Services Guide

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