How to improve your digital front door with WebOps

Online shopping and ecommerce have become more important over the last two years. According to the Office for National Statistics, Internet sales accounted for 27.1% of all retail activity in the UK at the start of 2022. 

During the first four months of the pandemic, more than 85,000 companies implemented new online stores or joined ecommerce platforms in the UK, based on research by Growth Intelligence. Consumers were pushed to ecommerce, which went up from 81% to 95% in Europe according to a 2020 survey by McKinsey.

All this activity led to more companies building and launching sites to interact with their customers. However, these digital experiences need to be kept up to date over time, which can be harder than getting started in the first place. 

For instance, website updates involve both technical requirements and new content posting. Security updates, changes to site plug-ins and new digital services would all require developer and IT team support, while changing brand assets or adding more content might fall under the remit of the marketing team. However, all those changes will come in at the same time, making the process more complicated.

WebOps and Collaboration

The biggest challenge around managing web operations is the number of potential stakeholders involved. Aside from developers responsible for creating any code that runs those digital services on the site, there are the IT operations staff responsible for running the systems involved. There is the marketing team, responsible for the content and assets on the site, and there is the brand team that looks at the design and delivery side.

Each one of these roles will have a hand in the success of a site over time, and they will be responsible for business goals that the site is used for. However, much of the time, these teams will work in their own silos rather than together.

Website Operations – or WebOps – is about breaking down those boundaries that exist around website management. WebOps establishes joint processes and goals so that marketing, developers and IT operations staff work more effectively. It is based on the principles of DevOps and having more collaboration, rather than stakeholders working to their goals in separate silos. WebOps works by putting all website project work in context of that bigger business goal. 

This can involve getting over some of the pre-conceptions that teams have of each other. For example, marketing departments today are driven by technology rather than solely by advertizing. 

Rather than being solely about creative work like brand and positioning, marketing teams today have to build and track customer journeys, deploy personalization tools, and automate customer relationships. These activities rely on online interactions to track engagement and preferences, which then inform the unique next steps in a customer’s journey with the brand. 

Similarly, content marketing activities involve deploying the right assets to customers depending on their browsing habits and preferences using automation.

On the IT and software sides, solving potential problems around customer actions demands creativity too. New launches for the business will rely on integrating software and creative assets into novel, innovative experiences that perform well and are available under stress. 

Delivering these kinds of projects effectively involves planning ahead and understanding workload across the whole team, rather than looking at individuals or specific departments alone. All of these tasks involve processes and timelines, which can be shared and made more visible to everyone.

This visibility can make a big difference to WebOps teams, as it helps everyone understand their responsibilities and priorities in context. For instance, it can be all too easy to assume that tasks are simple, or can be accomplished in timeframes that are not realistic. 

For example, marketing may assume that updating a website is the same as accepting an update to an application on their desktop, while IT operations teams may think brand refreshes are simply about new logos. The work required on both the IT and the marketing sides is often more involved and more complex than it is given credit for.

All sides in this have more in common than they might think. WebOps approaches can help define the goals that all the stakeholders have around website developments. This involves looking at the overall business goals that the organization has, and then how each team contributes to those aims. 

For instance, IT teams will see how brand updates can make a difference to company performance and customer acquisition goals, while the marketing department will find out exactly how much work goes into updating all the sites that a company may operate for security.

Making it easier to serve content

This recognition of what really goes on across teams or departments is an essential building block for more collaboration. Once teams understand the pressures they are under as part of delivering an overall goal, it is easier to make changes so that everyone pulls in the same direction. This makes work around website projects easier for everyone.

Similarly, you can break down some of the silos that exist around how sites are implemented and maintained. Rather than relying on developers to manage content updates, you can decouple your content management system (CMS) from the web front-end systems. This means that marketing teams can launch new content and iterate on their campaigns as soon as they’re ready. That agility is what drives results, as it allows marketers to quickly respond to market opportunities and serve customers with experiences that resonate. 

Using headless content management systems alongside your website platform like Drupal or WordPress means that marketers can implement their updates faster, rather than having to break into developer workflows to get changes made. This can also make it easier for them to review the effect that those content changes might have, rather than relying on back and forth between different teams, which slows down the whole process.

The aim for WebOps

WebOps is about removing the barriers between teams that exist around website development. Rather than compartmentalising teams and their goals, WebOps ensures everyone involved understands what their work builds towards. It presents a unified approach to how websites are managed across technical, brand and experience parameters.

This understanding is essential to keep up with the demands that customers have for a better digital experience. 

Company websites are the digital front door for more businesses than ever before, so simplifying the process to host, update and manage those sites is essential. With WebOps, all companies can improve their internal processes and deliver results faster.

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Brave update slams the door on devious ‘bounce tracking’ technique

Brave Software has rolled out an update for its privacy-centric web browser to combat an invasive tracking technique capable of bypassing existing protections.

As explained in the company’s latest blog post, bounce tracking is a method of circumventing protections by pulling users through intermediate domains as they navigate between web pages, without their knowledge. Over time, this practice could supposedly allow a third-party to build up a detailed profile of someone’s interests.

Although Brave already features a number of mechanisms designed to repel bounce tracking attempts, the company is now bolstering its arsenal with a new feature: Unlinkable Bouncing. Under this system, bounce tracking sites are still able to collect information about the user’s interests, but cannot connect that information with data collected on previous occasions.

The new Unlinkable Bouncing feature is currently available in early-access, but will roll out to all users with Brave version 1.37.

The fight against trackers

Although the objective of services like Brave is to shield against all predatory tracking techniques, doing so is effectively impossible as a result of the ever-changing nature of the landscape.

The relationship between Brave and stakeholders in the web tracking market can be compared to that between threat actors and cybersecurity specialists; advances on one side necessitate innovation on the other.

In a recent conversation with TechRadar Pro, CEO Brendan Eich explained that his team is monitoring constantly for chinks in the armor created by “sneaky” new tracking techniques.

“We’ve got an aggressive ongoing agenda, because privacy has an adversary: the trackers, data brokers and ad tech vendors. And they keep evolving; they are always trying new and sneaky ways to get around what Brave does,” he told us.

The latest Brave update is an example of this process playing out; the company has identified a method of tracking capable of weaselling through its existing protection and deployed an additional mitigation.

Specifically, Unlinkable Bouncing utilizes a capability called “first-party ephemeral storage”, which prevents websites from re-identifying users that visit on multiple occasions. The feature is said to be comparable to clearing browser storage each time someone exits a site, but more effective.

“Unlikable Bouncing is just the first application of our first-party ephemeral storage plans, and we’re excited to share more features with Brave users soon,” the company explained.

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Universal Control blasts open the door between Mac and iPad for an eye-opening experience

Are macOS and iPadOS becoming one? Not exactly, but the arrival of Universal Control on iPad OS 15.4 Beta and macOS Monterey 12.3 Beta pierces the thinning barrier between the two.

The update, which may take weeks to arrive for general download, connects a Mac and iPad and creates an open road for your cursor to travel from one interface to the other without breaking a sweat.

There are some small hoops to jump through, like signing in to all the devices with the same Apple ID and verifying that you want to connect these systems, but you only do that once. After that, Universal Control gives you a double-wide desktop, albeit one with some significant limitations.

Universal Control

Both systems, the iPad and MacBook appear in the display settings. (Image credit: Future)

Universal Control might remind some of Apple’s Sidecar for macOS, which Apple introduced a few years ago. It’s similar but less of a two-way street than Universal Control. It extended the Mac desktop onto the iPad, which more or less put the iPadOS to sleep in the background. It was a bit more than that, though, in that you could use your finger on the iPad like a mouse and, if you had an Apple Pencil, use it to draw on some macOS apps much in the same way you would on an iPad.

After I installed the latest development betas and set up my iPad Pro 12.9 and MacBook Air M1 with the Universal Control, I found I could instantly move my cursor on the Mac to the left, see a little control bar appear along the edge of my iPad display (it appears only upon the initial connection), and slip right through the ether to the iPad screen. After that, the door is more a less open for dual-platform operations. I can even grab, say, an image and drag it from the Photo app on the Mac into Procreate running on the iPad. I could not, however, drag and drop images from my Mac desktop into a Mail window open on the iPad. They would drag to the screen, but then disappear instead of appearing in the message.

There’s still the ability to extend or mirror your Mac display onto the iPad, though it’s hidden under Advanced settings. This offers the added benefit of being able to drag over complete application windows from one screen to the other. When I use Universal Control to move my mouse between platforms, it puts the iPad to the left of my Mac. Switching to screen extension expands the Mac display on the opposite side.

Universal Control

Some of the settings to control how much dual screen interaction you get through Universal Control. (Image credit: Future)

Screen extension also turned off the iPad’s Magic Keyboard trackpad but, like Sidecar, it still lets me use the Apple Pencil. I can even enable the Pencil’s double tap in the settings.

In Universal Control’s “Linked Keyboard and Mouse Mode” I can also use the keyboard on the Mac to take notes on Note on the iPad, while also using the same keyboard to take notes in another instance of Notes on the Mac. That’s an instant doubling of my productivity power. I can do it in reverse, as well, using the iPad's Magic Keyboard to type on either screen.

Universal Control

Universal Control in action (Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

The ability to connect the two disparate OSes and use one keyboard and mouse to control all of it is, as some have noted, magical. It’s also still limited. Until I can drag complete windows and Mac or iPad Apps from one screen to the other, this universe will still feel relatively small.

It’s early days, of course. The beta’s not done, and Apple may refine and add some features before it arrives as a fully baked set of updates.

Ever since Apple started positioning the iPad as a productivity tool and not simply a content consumption device, it’s been transforming iPadOS – like adding mouse and trackpad support – to better support that notion.

Universal Control is another exciting, big step in a long-term effort to make the marriage between iPad OS and macOS seamless.

 Will they ever become one platform? I think it’s still too soon to tell.

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