22 May 2014
Sarah Toporoff @SJToporoff
It’s the question on everyone’s mind: How can newspapers become profitable again? High-volume news sites need a supercharged user experience to earn reader loyalty. Most websites use caching platforms, which accelerate delivery. See video below for the basics on how these work. But what else can caching platforms do? We spoke with Founder and Chief Technology Officer from Varnish Software, Per Buer, about the potentials for caching technologies and the future of journalism.
Let’s say I have only a limited knowledge of software. How would you explain Varnish Plus to me?
Per Buer: Varnish is basically is a bit like a high-performance printing press for the web. The idea is when a web server creates a web page, it takes quite a bit of time to actually do that even though it seems fast to us. So what Varnish does is enable that application server to re-deliver that content a lot faster than it could originally. Approximately a thousand times faster. And Varnish Plus is what we’ve built to create a bundle of products and services that makes it easier to actually use this technology in a commercial setting. So this includes access to professional services, it includes statistics tools, management tools, and of course the caching platform itself.
Per Buer @perbu
And how can it help digital media? For example, how can it help a news site?
Per Buer: A lot of what we do is to help these digital news sites improve their user experience, mostly by speeding things up. We accelerate the content delivery part. Varnish also can move functionality problems people typically solve in the web server to the caching layer. That includes things like setting up paywalls. We have twenty to thirty newspapers that run their paywalls through Varnish.
Can you give me some examples?
Per Buer: We have Aftenposten [one of Norway's largest newspapers], Svenska Dagbladet in Sweden, Jyllands-Postens in Denmark, and The New York Times.
Adapting payment structures is increasingly important for newspapers. It’s quite a hot topic.
Per Buer: Absolutely.
Does a website need to be high-traffic in order to need a caching platform?
Per Buer: There’s two reasons for using a caching platform. One is if you have a small audience but it’s very high value. We have some customers with really miniscule publications but they deal with financial information, so subscribers typically pay a thousand dollars a month for access to this content. When you pay a thousand dollars a month, you want that product to be as good as it can be. So for them it’s not about scalability at all, it’s only about user experience. And then on the other hand, you have organisations like The New York Times or like a lot of the Nordic newspapers which are pretty big in volume and for them, user experience is still important but it’s also very important to keep cost structures down. The caching servers are really quite simple with low management costs. Web servers tend to be pretty advanced and might have more licensing costs associated with them. Companies would want to keep the number of those as low as possible. It’s an efficiency tool.
And can you give us a little teaser about your Summit Masterclass, please?
Per Buer: You have now this Formula One racing car performance thing on your website. What can you do now? We want to teach people to take full advantage of the technology we're offering. As all of your content flows through Varnish it's an ideal place to capture data about your readership and how readers interact with your content. There are tools available that can give your editorial staff real-time statistics about what demographics are interested in what articles. Instead of relying on what is now the traditional ways of gathering and organising data we propose somewhat novel approach to data gathering and analytics.
The Varnish Masterclass will be on Thursday 12 June 5:10-5:55 p.m. at the GEN Summit 2014 at the CCCB in Barcelona.