The Numerati by Stephen Baker, a Book Review

The Numerati by Stephen Baker

Numerati?

The Numerati by Stephen Baker remains a fascinating work about sensors, technology, data mining and where it’s all going when it comes to our privacy.

Cover of "The Numerati"
Cover of The Numerati

 

And it ends up all about data, about collecting, refining and interpreting it. People are, well, a bunch of fish in a bowl. Or, if you prefer, hamsters on a wheel. We are lab rats, we are subjects, we are collections of bit streams. We are … information.

And the kicker is that, put together enough things about us, and conclusions can suddenly be drawn.

Conclusions

Let’s say I go to the same grocery store every week (not a stretch – I really do). And I buy fish every single week. What if I buy, say, tuna steaks 70% of the time, and swordfish the other 30%? Am I automatically a tuna lover? Or am I simply scared to try something new? Or am I getting to the fishmonger when everything else is sold out?

And what happens if a coupon is introduced into the mix? Does my tuna consumption go up to 80% if you give me $1 off per pound? However, that’s not too much of a victory, seeing as I normally buy it anyway. Will a $1 off coupon entice me to buy more pricey salmon instead?

Ideas But Not Gospel

The data gives its interpreters (Baker refers to them as the Numerati, which sounds a tad like Illuminati and perhaps he means that) ideas. However, it’s not really a slam-dunk. Or, at least, not yet. Hence essentially the Numerati bucket you. So I am a tuna buyer. And I am a sometime swordfish buyer. And I am also a Caucasian woman, in her (ahem) fifties, married, no children, living in Boston.

So far, so good. And when the data are all herded together, when the bits and bytes of our lives are aggregated, this may very well have a lot to say about us. Because it might be a predictor of how I’ll vote in the next election. Or perhaps it will show how I’d use a dating site if I should ever need one in the future. Or it may even tell whether I’m likely to become a terrorist.

Border Collies and Data Goats

The data matters, but, to my mind (and to Baker’s as well, it seems), there are not only herds of data but there are also nagging outliers. And these constitute the Border Collies amidst all the data goats. Perhaps I am buying tuna to feed to a cat. Or maybe I buy it with the intention of eating it to improve my health but, alas, never get to it and it goes to waste every single week.

So consider this case: a sensor is placed into a senior citizen’s bed, to determine whether that person is getting up in the morning. And, let’s say we also collect weight data. Because a sudden dramatic rise in weight would indicate the possible onset of congestive heart failure. And let’s say the senior in question is a woman who weighs 150 pounds. Your own mother, maybe. Day one: 150 pounds. Day two: 158 pounds. And then day three: 346 pounds. Day four: 410 pounds. Golly, is Mom really that sick?

Maybe Mom’s dog is 8 pounds. Okay, that explains day two. But what about days three and four? Maybe Mom’s got a boyfriend.

Or maybe she’s got two.

Messy Feelings

When I had the occasion to meet Stephen Baker, we had the opportunity to talk a bit about these squishy, messy feelings. Sure, our hearts are in the right place. And we want Mom to be safe and healthy, and we can’t be there. She might live in a warmer climate, and we cannot (or won’t) leave our cooler climes. Or the job opportunities may be no good there for us. For whatever reason, we are here and she is there. So we want to be aware, and caring and all, but in our desire to gather information and protect her, what else are we learning?

If Mom is competent, and single, and protecting herself from STDs, we truly have no business knowing who she spends her evening hours with. Yet this technology makes this possible.

And if we have any sense of the future at all, we have to think to ourselves: what happens when I become Mom’s age? Will my bedroom and toileting habits potentially become a part of this huge bit/byte hamster wheel lab rat canary in a coal mine data stream? You betcha.

Worrisome?

It is often said that only people who have something to worry about in their private lives are the ones who are worried. Everyone else should be fine, blithely giving up their warts and preferences, their virtues and secrets, to all who ask.

I say bull. I like my secrets. And I like my hidden life. And I’ll be damned if I give it up, even in the name of health, diet, voting, national security or even love.

A terrific read. I highly recommend this book.

Rating

Review: 5/5 stars.

Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, An Updated Book Review

Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff

This is something of an updated review of Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff as, by the time I got to the ICM 522 Social Media Platforms class at Quinnipiac University, I had already read this seminal work.

Cover of "Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
Cover via Amazon

But no matter. Because this is still a terrific work by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li, and it remains more than a little relevant.

And in fact, I think I understand it better than I ever have.

Changing the Way You Think about Online Marketing for Good

For Li and Bernoff, the online world is a rich and diversified community. And in that large umbrella community, there are several smaller communities. But unlike in the case of the classic Matryoshka (Russian nesting dolls), there is an enormous amount of overlap.

Above all, they put forward the idea of a system called POST. And if you read nothing else, read this part of not just my review but of their book itself.

  • Personae – who are your potential buyers? Who are your readers? And who makes up your audience?
  • Objectives – what do you expect to get out of going online, and continuing online, or going in a different direction online?
  • Strategies – how will you implement your ideas? What comes first? In addition, what must wait?
  • Technologies – which platforms will you use? How will you use these differently as your strategy begins to click into place?

So the last time I read Groundswell, I suspect that I did not really understand POST.

And now I know never to start a social media campaign without it. So thanks to Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff! This work is a classic for a damned fine reason. It really is that good. Because you need this book in your social media library.

Rating

Review: 5/5 stars.

They used to call me Robot Girl

They used to call me Robot Girl

I haven’t blogged for a while. Yeah, I know.

I was uninspired, and didn’t want to just subject all two of my readers to my ramblings. Plus, I was looking for an actual day job.

Well, I found one. It’s a temping gig for a large financial services company which shall remain nameless. I am a Financial Analyst, preparing and running database reports. The job is rather similar to several other gigs I’ve held. And then I will be back in Social Media full time.

In the meantime, the Bot Boys are not forgotten, and I actually blog more for them that I had been. The need for Social Media exposure does not diminish just because I’ve got a new gig.

But I wanted to reach out, on this blog, for the first time in quite a while, to offer up some of the things I’ve learned along the way. So gather ’round, and hopefully I can help someone else to navigate the wild world of startups.

  1. The best gift that anyone can offer startups is money. Advice and expertise are great, and they are helpful, but it all pales in the face of do-re-mi. And while startup competitions may not want (or, truly, be able) to part with too much of it, it is money that is most needed because, to truly succeed, someone has to quit their day job. You know, the thing I just got a few weeks ago? Yeah. Someone has to take a flying leap into outer space – but that person still needs to be able to afford ramen and a futon.
  2. Speaking of ramen and futons, the startup game is, often, played by the young. This is not to say that those of us who were born during the Kennedy Administration have naught to offer. Rather, it is that we have mortgages. We may have children. We have lives that often require more than minimal Connector-style health insurance. We may have aging parents, credit card debt or any number of things that make living off ramen, on a futon, nigh impossible.
  3. However, this does not mean that the not-so-young do not have a place in the land of startups. But that place is often a different one. The enthusiastic feel of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney
    Cropped screenshot of Judy Garland and Mickey ...
    Cropped screenshot of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney from the trailer for the film Love Finds Andy Hardy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    (now I’m really dating myself) yelling, “Hey, kids! Let’s put on a show! We can get the barn!” is replaced with “Let’s see if we can get this thing to work before defaulting on the mortgage/Junior needs braces/gall bladder surgery is required/etc.” Our needs are different, and we may be more patient with setbacks. This does not necessarily spell being less hungry but, perhaps, less able to truly go for broke. The not-so-young person’s role in a startup is often more advisory. We are the ones who can’t quit day jobs until the salaries are decent. And that day may never come.

  4. Startup events are best when they have a focus. Mass Innovation Nights, I feel, is something of a Gold Standard. There is a coherent beginning, middle and end to each event. It’s not just a lot of business card trading. The participants and the audience get good conversational hooks. Making contacts is vital – I hooked up with the Bot Boys at an event like that – but it can’t just be “Hey, let’s get a bunch of startups together, eat pizza and trade business cards!” The startups that are succeeding are too busy for such activities. And those that aren’t ….
  5. Cloud computing, apps and software companies are everywhere in the startup space. With the Bot Boys, we can stand out a bit as we are a hardware company. Having a product that people can see and feel is valuable amidst a sea of virtual stuff.
  6. The downside to that is that hardware companies have spinup problems that cloud computing companies just don’t have – app companies do not have to worry about shipping and packaging. They do not have to perform quality control checks on shipments. They do not have to work on product safety.
  7. No one wants to talk to the job seeker, but everyone wants to talk to the entrepreneur – and those are often the same person! Human nature is a bit odd in this area, but I have seen people who are barely past the “I’ve got this great idea I’ve sketched on the back of a napkin” stage where there is a flock of interested people swarming around, whereas a person honest about looking for work is often overlooked.
  8. Charisma counts. While one founder is going to be the inventor or the developer (the idea person), the other pretty much must be the socializer. Otherwise, even the best ideas are all too often buried. Someone must be willing and able to do public speaking, elevator pitching and sales. This need not be an experienced sales person, but that person has got to be a lot friendlier and a lot more fearless than most.
  9. Most startups and most entrepreneur groupings will fail, morph, coalesce or break apart before succeeding. And perhaps that is as it should be, for being nimble is one of the characteristics of a successful startup. If the product sells when it’s colored blue, but not when it’s colored green, dip it in dye, fer chrissakes!
  10. We all work for startups, or former startups. Even the large financial services firm was, once, a gleam in someone’s eye. Every invention started off as an idea. Even day jobs were, at one time, in places where the founders were living off that generation’s equivalent of ramen and sleeping in that era’s analogue to a futon. Yet somehow, against the odds, they made it.

And a lot of today’s startups can, too.

See you ’round the scene.

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Quinnipiac Assignment #08 – NESN SEO

Quinnipiac Assignment #08 – NESN SEO

Once again, I reviewed NESN. But this time, it was in order to understand a few basic SEO (Search Engine Optimization) choices that their management had made.

Programmatic Decisions

I strongly suspect that NESN has some form of fancy programming behind their online page creation. NESN SEO just seems to be way too good.

If I were to guess, I would say that their program (possibly developed in house) scrapes the title of a submitted article, wraps it in H1 tags and copies it to the meta descriptions. That same article title is the basis for that particular page’s custom URL. Hence the article, A.J. Pierzynski Designated For Assignment; Christian Vazquez Joins Red Sox is connected to the following custom URL: http://nesn.com/2014/07/a-j-pierzynski-designated-for-assignment-christian-vazquez-to-start-wednesday/ The page title is: A.J. Pierzynski Designated For Assignment; Christian Vazquez Joins Red Sox | Boston Red Sox | NESN.com. The meta description for that same page is: The Boston Red Sox shook up their situation behind the plate in a big way Wednesday. Manager John Farrell confirmed to WEEI‘s “Dale and Holley” that the team has designated veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski for assignment and promoted 23-year-old Christian Vazquez from Triple-A Pawtucket. Finally, the keywords were: a.j. pierzynski, christian vazquez, christian vasquez, boston red sox, red sox catcher, a.j. pierzynski released, a.j. pierzynski dfa, red sox prospects, christian vazquez promotion, christian vazquez red sox.

Quinnipiac Assignment #08 – NESN SEO

Double quotation marks truncate meta descriptions. This meta description was no exception – in Google search, it simply reads: “A.J. Pierzynski Designated For AssignmentChristian VazquezJoins … Sox shook up their situation behind the plate in a big way Wednesday.” (Note: the bolding comes from Google itself).

The Power of Programming

NESN SEO programmatic work (if that’s what  it is) was just great. Pages are named properly. The URL structure is organic and easy to follow. The meta descriptions are generally excellent (the double quotation marks in my sample were probably the doing of the article writer. Perhaps the program should be refined to replace all instances of double quotation marks with single marks?) and are enticing to human searchers because they are written by professional writers.

With a programmatic solution, NESN can get this work done quickly and turn around better online product for more abbreviated deadlines. Having the computer system do this does not require writers to master SEO beyond the basics of naming their articles properly and making sure that the keywords in the titles show up with those articles.

Even better, any time the theory of SEO changes, there only has to be one change made at NESN. Simply (probably not so simple!) tweak the program to accommodate any changes, test it, and roll it out. All without missing  a deadline.

Conclusion

NESN continues to impress. NESN SEO is great. NESN.com is a well-crafted website. No wonder it’s an advertising cash cow.

Twitter helps Canadiens’ Price Find Lost Dogs

Twitter helps Canadiens’ Price Find Lost Dogs

File this one under awwww.

The Boston Herald reports that Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price‘s two Labrador retrievers took an unauthorized vacation but were later found after his wife suggested that he tweet about their disappearance.

Carey Price, goaltender for the Montreal Canad...
Carey Price, goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Price tweeted, “If anyone finds two labs running around Candiac they’re mine.”

Fortunately, a happy ending was soon to come.

The wayward canines were found by Habs fan John Mastromonaco at 6:15 AM on Monday, May 5th, 2014, when he heard a radio report about the peripatetic pooches. “Almost at the same time, I see this jogger with two Labradors following him, but the dogs didn’t look like they were with him,” Mastromonaco told The Canadian Press.

To me, what is most interesting about this story is not just that a potential tragedy was averted, but that social media and traditional media worked together, and it was completely and utterly unintentionally. John Mastromonaco was not even on Twitter; he was listening to the radio. But that radio report would not have been made, had it not been for Carey Price tweeting. And Carey Price’s tweet would never have been made, had it not been for the quick and resourceful thinking of his wife.

Think about this in terms of attribution qualitative analysis, and seeking context for online behaviors.  It seems to me that, when a lot of athletes think about using Twitter or any other form of social media, it is often for self-promotional activities. They may be personally mentioning that they are excited to be playing in a particular venue (or anything else, for that matter), but this tweet was different. It was more like a neighbor reaching out to fellow neighbors.

By knowing the entire story, we know which networks to attribute the outcome to: Twitter and radio. Twitter for the initial message, and radio for its amplification.

Twitter to the rescue!

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Twitter bigots have no place in Boston, says NHL

Twitter bigots have no place in Boston, says NHL

On May 3rd, 2014, ESPN reported that the Bruins and their coach, Claude Julien, are appalled by recent racist tweets against Canadien PK Subban.

Boston Bruins
Boston Bruins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Subban’s winning goal against the Bruins sparked Twitter outrage that turned racist very quickly.

While fans were angry afterwards, and some threw debris, the organization says that the racist outrage doesn’t seem to have come from the fans who don black and gold and attend the games.

“I didn’t hear anything from the fans — at all,” said Bruins forward Brad Marchand. “It’s all Twitter.” 

When asked whether he’d heard racist comments while on the bench, Julien said, “Not to my knowledge, no. There’s a lot of good fans out there, and that’s the sad part about it is that your good fans get tarnished because of a couple of comments like that who don’t belong in that same group.” 

With social media moving almost as fast as the speed of light (or so it seems), anger is the emotion that moves the fastest.  Couple it with racism, and it all seems even more accelerated.

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Just Trying to Make Some Sense of it All

Be aware, there are adult words in here, for very adult events. Turn back if four-letter words bother you more than terrorism.
Stay Strong

For all who have been living under rocks, things here in Boston have been astounding over the course of the past week. If it were a film script, it would never be made. No one would believe it.

On Monday, April 15th, 2013, the unthinkable happened, when two bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three people died, and nearly 180 were wounded, many gravely.

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Trying to Make Sense
Close call in Brighton – the blue star is more or less where I live

Then, going from Thursday, April 18th at night, into about 24 hours later, Friday, April 19th, at about 8:40 PM, there was a lockdown and a manhunt here. To give you an idea of how close it all was, check out this map – I can scarcely fathom it. And I have friends, former colleagues, who were even closer, people who heard shots and explosions.

This is reality.

But I want to put in what, to me, is a bit of perspective, I hope.

Destruction and Despair

There are plenty of horrible images and I will, mainly, not focus on them.

But this image should tell the tale of Friday. We, like most people, did as requested and stayed in our home.

I took maybe 20 minutes at about lunchtime and sat on my front porch. I saw a guy walking his dog and another getting a smoke. Plus maybe three cars went by.

And that was it.

I firmly believe that staying out of law enforcement’s collective way was vital in not just keeping bystanders from being harmed but also in the swift conclusion to the manhunt. Also, I will not publicize the alleged (yes, alleged; I believe in the right to a fair trial) perp’s name.

Hope and Glory

There are a lot of images and words and I cannot possibly cover them all so I will cherry pick a few.

Neil Diamond and Sweet Caroline

Neil Diamond hopped on a plane yesterday morning at 4:30 AM.

Neil Diamond at Fenway Park
Neil Diamond at Fenway Park

He just showed up, 40 minutes before the Red Sox game was to start, and asked if he could sing “Sweet Caroline“.

Sure thing, Neil.

David Ortiz

David Ortiz got on a microphone and dropped the f-bomb on live TV. The FCC shrugged and said the equivalent of, hey, no sweat.

David Ortiz: This is our fucking city!
David Ortiz: This is our fucking city!

Ortiz, I am sure, did not plan what he would say. He just spoke from his heart.

And I am sure most of us agree with him and aren’t about to hold the f-bomb against him. I know I don’t.

People care. And they have expressed their caring in some amazing and offbeat, quirky ways.

Always & Forever

The Always & Forever Tattoo Salon in Watertown has a sidewalk memorial going. Add to it, if you like.

Fundraising

There are multiple fundraisers going on. The big one is OneFundBoston. This charity was started by Mayor Menino and Governor Patrick and is of course legitimate.

The local running club, the Brighton Bangers, held a fundraiser, too.

Memory and Healing

I refuse to provide the names of the alleged perps, but I will gladly share the names of the lost and the injured.

Krystle Campbell

This young woman was 29. She was a restaurant manager at Jasper White’s Summer Shack and mainly worked in Hingham and Cambridge, putting in 70- and 80-hour weeks.

I celebrated my 50th birthday at the Cambridge location last September, and may very well have seen her.

Sean Collier

This MIT police officer lost his life in the Thursday night shootout. Boston Police stood at attention with respect as his hearse passed, remembering this young man who gave his all.

Lingzi Lu

This young woman was a graduate statistics student at

Lingzi Lu
Lingzi Lu

Boston University, my alma mater.

The wildly generous trustees of Boston University have already raised over half a million dollars for a scholarship in her name.

Martin Richard

This eight-year-old child was wiser than most of us, eh? His father, mother and sister were also hurt. Please remember them, too.

Jeff Bauman

This young man‘s image was all over the news, as Carlos Arredondo helped get him to safety and care. Some images were cropped. Others showed the full extent of the awful damage to his legs. This site is a legitimate fundraising site to help pay for his care.

If you want to send him a card, send it to:

In care of Jen Joyce
for Jeff Bauman
117 Tynsboro Rd.
Westford, MA 01886

Celeste and Sydney Corcoran

Sydney and Celeste Corcoran at Boston Medical Center
Sydney and Celeste Corcoran at Boston Medical Center

These women are mother and daughter, and they were both hurt (Celeste has more extensive injuries). There is a legitimate fund to help with their care.

Dic Donohue

Officer Dic Donohue
Officer Dic Donohue

This police officer and Navy veteran was wounded in the Thursday night gunfight. Here is a legitimate fundraising site for him.

Patrick and Jessica Downes

These newlyweds each lost a leg. This is a legitimate fundraising site to help pay for their care.

Marc Fucarile

He is neighbor to a friend who lives in Stoneham. And this young roofer has already lost one leg, and there is shrapnel in his heart. There is a legitimate fund to help him, too.

It’s Personal

I have loved Boston ever since I attended BU (I am from the Class of ’83) and am also a runner (but only 5K races – marathons are too long for me).  Many of these directly affected people are second and third degree of separation from me. I cannot begin to describe just how personal it all feels, and I know that my feelings are rather small within the scope of this immense tragedy.

So I leave you with this image –

The Strip
The Strip

and with this song.

Peace. Please.