Hitting a home run with IM

Case Study: Major League Baseball turns to web-based instant messaging to increase dwell time on its web site and boost fan loyalty.

Baseball has a small, but loyal following in the UK, and the audience is growing thanks to increased live coverage of games in the US on British television.

With a global audience to support and promote the sport to, Major League Baseball (MLB) - the baseball equivalent of the Football League – began looking at ways to boost the popularity and user value of its main web site, mlb.com.

Most fans consider mlb.com to be the online home of baseball information and coverage. The site offers a wealth of information and services, including Game Day, a flash-based audio application that enables fans to follow every pitch as it happens.

MLB.com wanted to make its web site as ‘sticky’ as possible so that fans would want to come to the site over and over again, get involved and stay for a long period of time.

It therefore decided to develop a new instant messaging facility to enhance the features of the Game Day service.

At first, the organisation had some concerns about the project. A previous attempt to develop instant messaging had been unsuccessful because the solution implemented had been neither sufficiently scalable to meet demand nor visually exciting enough.

In the previous year, MLB.com’s Game Day application had attracted over 85 million users. MLB knew how many concurrent visitors it attracted to its site on game days and it knew what its average year-on-year growth was. It also knew how many fans had used its earlier instant messaging service. Using these figures as the basis for some solid statistical analysis, it anticipated that demand for its new chat

facility would not only be huge – but would also grow steadily over time.

Trial and error

MLB interviewed many potential partners for the project and carried out practical product evaluations. However, the solutions that it initially tested failed to provide the flexibility and scalability that it needed. Then, MLB met ProcessOne, a provider of high performance instant messaging servers, at a conference in California.

“We were immediately impressed by ProcessOne’s offering,” says Joe Choti, chief technology officer for mlb.com. “ProcessOne was head and shoulders above everyone else.”

ProcessOne’s IM technology is based on ejabberd, an open source IM technology that can run in a cluster mode, making it suitable for large-scale deployments.

The chief executive of ProcessOne travelled to New York to work directly with mlb.com’s internal team and specify the precise requirements of the solution. “His help was extremely timely and useful,” said Christian Gough, system administrator at mlb.com. “The quality of support that we have received from ProcessOne has been very, very good.”