REDMOND, Wash., Nov. 6, 2002 — On an average day, journalists at USATODAY.com serve up breaking news and information to more than 800,000 readers, who churn through online content at the rate of 8 million page views daily. On a heavy news day, traffic at the 24-by-7 newspaper Web site can spike to two times that level.
That’s a lot of text, interactive features, graphics, audio, video and live Webcasts to deliver, and in the breakneck world of news, no organization can afford to waste a minute. So when Microsoft .NET technologies offered editors at USATODAY.com a way to shave an estimated 7,800 hours a year from their publishing process, it was news they could use to help maintain a leading industry position.
NYTimes.com also recently implemented .NET technologies, which enable businesses to quickly and efficiently build solutions that boost productivity, save money, support growing numbers of users with around-the-clock reliability, and capitalize on the connected world of XML Web services.
Ability to React Quickly Is Critical
In the past, USATODAY.com — an arm of the USA TODAY news and information network — had used a static HTML publishing model that required editors to not only publish new content but also to update and republish the section fronts, or lead-in categories, that link readers to full stories. Automating this time-consuming process would let the editorial staff focus more on content and business value, and less on format and presentation.
Developers used Microsoft Visual Studio .NET and the .NET Framework to build a custom application called Automated Fronts. The application relieves USATODAY.com editors of a cumbersome publishing process, streamlines the business of Internet news, improves the user experience by providing better content, and takes a first step toward a fully dynamic publishing model.
“With .NET, the technology becomes a facilitator for what we’re trying to do, instead of the other way around,” says Adriaan Bouten, vice president of technology and business development at USATODAY.com. “That’s very valuable. Being a technologist, I do get excited about the technology itself, but I get a lot more excited about what it can do for our business.”
Various .NET technologies have contributed to the business gains that USATODAY.com is realizing. ASP.NET made the development of Automated Fronts easy and quick, freeing developers to spend more time on additional application features. The use of ASP.NET also allowed USATODAY.com to introduce dynamic Web pages without having to make a sizable investment in its hosting infrastructure.
“The .NET Framework, especially with ASP.NET, provides an opportunity to leverage more dynamic technologies without requiring a large-scale expansion in processors or Web servers to host current traffic and scale for peak traffic,” says Louis Schilling, director of IT operations at USATODAY.com.
Meanwhile, COM interoperability simplified integration with USATODAY.com’s legacy system and allowed the organization to proceed with the migration to .NET at its own pace.
One of the most significant ways that Visual Studio .NET and the .NET Framework helped USATODAY.com realize business value was by accelerating application development time. USATODAY.com estimates that it saved 25 to 30 percent in time to market because of .NET.
“.NET ended up being a tremendous advantage to our developers,” says Tim Tenpas, technical architect with Applied IS, a technical partner firm that assisted USATODAY.com in the development. “Fewer lines of code had to actually be written. By the time we were wrapping up our application, we were over two weeks ahead of schedule. With that extra time, we were able to expand the scope of functionality that we were working on and increase the amount of product that we were able to deliver.”
.NET Solution Benefits NYTimes.com Users and Advertisers
To understand how a second media organization is capitalizing on .NET technologies, assume you’re looking for a 3- bedroom, 2-bath apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. If you’re a smart New Yorker — or hope to become one — you know to check out NYTimes.com’s listing of more than 40,000 properties for sale and rent in and around New York City. But in today’s tight real estate market, you’d be competing against 500,000 other people who search the market-leading site’s online real estate listings in a typical month. And to compete successfully, you’d have to visit the site often.
New York Times Digital, which operates NYTimes.com, sought to help users respond more quickly to new listings and, in turn, add value for the real-estate brokers who advertise on the site. Recognizing the need for up-to-the-minute listing notification, NYTimes.com recently launched a Real Estate Tracker solution that helps turn property hunters into successful shoppers. The Real Estate Tracker was developed using Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Notification Services — a new class of Web application that delivers personalized and timely information to any device. The tracker alerts users whenever newly listed properties match the search criteria they’ve specified, such as location, number of bedrooms, amenities and price range.
“The SQL Server 2000 Notification Services platform allowed us to quickly develop this application for our users and advertisers,” says Jeff Moriarty, director of classifieds operations at New York Times Digital. “In a competitive real estate market like New York’s, users need the latest listings as soon as they become available, and the Real Estate Tracker helps us meet that need.”
The notifications include a brief description of the property and a thumbnail photo. By clicking on a link in the body of the e-mail, users can access the listing broker’s contact information and more details about the property. The tracker offers alerts via e-mail exclusively today, but in the future, it will allow users to subscribe to notifications via cellular phone or personal digital assistant (PDA).
Based on initial reactions to the notification service, New York Times Digital expects the tracker to foster loyalty among users of the real estate listings while enhancing the advertising broker experience. As a result, the company anticipates an increase in listing response rates.
“Advertisers are eager to direct their listings to qualified and interested buyers,” Moriarty says. “This service gives advertisers a more targeted audience for new listings, while continuing to offer the benefits of the browsing environment on NYTimes.com.”
In the first six months after the Real Estate Tracker’s debut, NYTimes.com anticipates that it will process user subscriptions and new listing matches numbering in the tens of thousands, and send notifications numbering in the thousands.
Besides Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Notification Services, NYTimes.com relied on Microsoft Visual Studio .NET and the Microsoft .NET Framework to develop its solution.