Keynote's Umang Gupta on the health of the Net

It's amazing to think about just how much the internet has changed in the last fifteen years. Dial-up was how people connected, Google didn't exist and there wasn't an iPod in sight.

Mobile phones were not smart' and online shopping was just a pipedream. It was the days when users could only log on at snail-like speeds and nobody really paid much attention on the quality of what they were actually getting just as long as they got it.

Things have changed fast. In 2008 the internet has expanded beyond all recognition.

As the choice gets wider and demand gets bigger, users now have certain expectations when it comes to what they want from websites they want them fast, effective, trustworthy and reliable any slip in standards and they'll go somewhere else.

Umang Gupta has seen all these changes and as the chief executive of Keynote Systems is well qualified to talk about them. Keynote has worked with companies such as eBay, Cisco and Microsoft in improving user experience when it came to online business, online commerce and mobile communications.

It does this by using testing and monitoring solutions, primarily using the Software as a Service model. Keynote also positions itself as a neutral third-party monitoring authority, with Gupta describing Keynote as a champion' for the end-user.

"We have probes or measurement computers located in more than 50 cities in the world," Gupta says. "These computers are constantly doing some kind of monitoring. They are monitoring the health' of websites, and in this case it means speed, reliability and usability, with all these factors are collected. Data is collected in a large centralised database, with the data being made available at a subscription fee for our customers."

Gupta emigrated from America in 1971 to get a graduate degree in business and for seven years worked at IBM. In the early eighties, he worked on Oracle's first business plan (as employee number 17) and later set up his own company Gupta Technologies.

Unfortunately it wasn't strong enough to compete with the big boys like Microsoft and Oracle, and this lead to him leaving the company for Keynote.

"When I got involved with Keynote it was barely 14 or 15 people when I invested in it," says Gupta. "It had a very interesting idea in measuring the health' of the internet. It was a chance for me to experiment, innovate and prove that my ideas about what might happen with the industry."

The move to Web 2.0

It is impossible to talk about the progression of the internet in the last few years without talking about Web 2.0. Gupta said that although it is a catch-all phrase, it basically meant that there was more interaction between users and the website than in web 1.0, which he described as simply downloading a page and reading it like a newspaper.

"With Web 2.0 sites you're constantly uploading as well as downloading, and so in a situation like that the complexity of the website is exponentially higher than in web 1.0." he says. "The technologies that you need to build web 2.0 pages include Java, Javascript, Flash all kinds of technologies that were never anticipated ten years ago."

This had meant that when it came to website performance, application developers were now becoming more important than network engineers. During the web 1.0 days it was bandwidth and connection which were the only factors affecting performance; the key factor now was how well a site was constructed.

Previously, web performance was measured by how fast a page took to download, now it is common for all pages to download in seconds. This means that the emphasis has shifted not just on the speed of a homepage but on the entire online transaction.

He said: "Now you want to know how long it takes to buy a boat, a travel reservation, online bank enquiry or do a stock transaction. For example, people are also interested to know how stuttery or jittery your video screen is when you download a news clip from the BBC. People want to know when you send a SMS message from a mobile device, how long does this message take and how it gets to the other side.

"Even these types of interactions will change as the technology changes. Ten years from now I doubt we will be doing what we are doing today. But I suspect we'll still have the same customers."

Taking the web mobile

Mobility was also a factor when it came to web performance, as Gupta made it clear that he believed that with the internet, it was moving into a direction where mobile devices were going to be more important than fixed desktop computers.

With the numbers of devices increasing, content providers face more problems, as they and website designers must make sure that web pages work for more platforms and phone types.

He said: "You could have problems with web pages working differently with a Nokia to an iPhone. Both connection and construction problems are in order of magnitude much higher on the mobile web."