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.

Community Management Tidbits – Analytics

Community Management Tidbits – Analytics

Community Management Tidbits – Analytics are a term that scares a lot of people. Don’t panic.

You’ve got a community. And you’re working hard on it. It’s growing. But you have no idea whether what you’re doing is having any sort of an impact whatsoever. This is where analytics comes in.

Community Management Tidbits - Analytics
Google Analytics: How to Identify Top Content Posts (Photo credit: IvanWalsh.com)

Now, don’t panic if you don’t have a data analysis background. It’s not strictly necessary. What you do need, though, are (a) a means of measurement (preferably you should have a few of these) and (b) the willingness to measure. Really, it’s that easy. You do not need a degree in Advanced Statistics.

Google Analytics

First of all, the primary measurement stick you want is Google Analytics. And it is free and very easy to use. It’s also a rather robust measurement system, showing trends in Visitors, Absolute Unique Visitors, and more. In addition, it shows, among other things, where your traffic is coming from, where your users land, and where they departed your site from. It also shows Bounce Rate, which is defined by Measurement Guru Avinash Kaushik as, “I came, I saw, I puked.” In other words, only one page of the site was viewed.

Compete

Yet another place for measurement is Compete. Since Compete gathers data for a good six months before you get anything useful, be sure to set it up as soon as possible. Compete’s virtue is that it allows for a comparison between you and up to two of your competitors at a time, assuming they are also on Compete. And a comparison of trends over time can be extremely enlightening.

Alexa

And another yardstick (albeit a far less useful one) is Alexa. Alexa really only works well for anyone using Alexa’s own toolbar for their search. Still, it is of some use, and it is free. Hence as an aside, ask your users if they will prepare a write-up about your site on Alexa.

More Yardsticks

Furthermore, there are also measuring websites specifically designed to help you comprehend how you’re doing on Twitter, namely:

  • Link Diagnosis – measure backlinks
  • HootSuite – count the number of clicks you receive on shortened URLs, to supplement your Google Analytics click counts
  • Hubspot – measure how influential you are and
  • Tweet Reach – measure how many people are receiving your tweets and any retweetings of your messages.

Using Your Findings

So what do you do with all of this information once you’ve amassed it? Why, you act upon it! Does one page on your site have a far higher Bounce Rate than the others? Check it and see if the links on it are all leading users away from your site. If that’s not the culprit, perhaps its content isn’t compelling enough. Got a series of links you’ve tweeted that have consistently gotten you the most clicks? Then check to see what they all have in common, and offer similar links in the future. And maybe even build some onsite content around those subjects. Has your Hubspot grade tanked in the past week? That might be due to external factors beyond your control, but check to see if any of it is within your purview. Perhaps your server was down.

Finally, small fluctuations over short time periods are perfectly normal and are no cause for concern. However, much larger hikes and drops, or trends over longer time periods, are more of an issue. But you’ll never know about any of these things unless you start to take measurements, and read and use them.

Next: From Small Things.

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Quinnipiac Assignment 11 – ICM 527 – Continuing Program Evaluation

Quinnipiac Assignment 11 – ICM 527 – Continuing Program Evaluation

This week, we continued studying the evaluation of public relations campaigns.

Ethical Issues Regarding Evaluation

As is true for any presentation of numbers, there are ways to spin findings which can lead a reader to believe one thing or another. Numbers can be used to make a case, and some numbers, if suppressed or deemphasized or just plain omitted, could alter organizational decision-making. This only gets into telling the truth with numbers. All bets are off if a strategic planner or any sort of analyst out and out alters the figures they have to present, or if they weren’t given accurate or truthful numbers to begin with.

But even if the analyst is completely honest about results and figures, there are still issues with emphasis and language. For the Cans Get You Cooking campaign, the initial purpose had to have been to increase the sale of canned goods. Instead, the campaign was labeled as a success for leading to an increase in awareness of canned foods. While awareness is a perfectly legitimate (and objective) goal for a campaign, the goal of increased sales seems to have been swept under the rug in favor of the one, demonstrable, favorable outcome – a boost in awareness.

On page 125, Place notes, “The role of ethics in public relations evaluation was described by participants as inherently associated with truth and fairness. For some professionals, this meant conveying evaluation data accurately and truthfully to organizational leadership or clients. For other professionals, this meant measuring whether the most accurate story or brand image reached an organization’s publics.”

Professionals, fortunately, realize that their words can be misinterpreted, even if they are reporting accurately on the numbers. If a campaign increases, say, signups for a class by five over an initial figure of five, then how is that reported? Is it a report of a new five signups, or does the professional state that signups have doubled? Both are mathematically correct, but there is an exciting spin to the latter which may be making it look more significant than it truly is.

The Real Warriors and Okay 2 Talk Campaigns

A review of both campaigns revealed good attention to detail. Both campaigns seemed to be rather carefully planned.

The Real Warriors Campaign was designed to encourage active armed services personnel and veterans of recent American military campaigns (since 9/11) to seek psychological counseling and other help for post-traumatic stress disorder, e. g. ‘invisible wounds’. Primary research included focus groups and key informant interviews. All of the campaign’s goals were awareness-based. The goal was to decrease stigma felt by veterans seeking mental health assistance.

The measurement of the effectiveness of the campaign included the distribution of campaign materials, website visitors, and social media interactions, plus news stories. This is good for an awareness campaign, but where are the actions? Where are the increased numbers of veterans seeking help? A far more germane measurement would be to show an increase in personnel hours for armed forces mental health professionals. Or perhaps there could be a measurement of the hiring of more counselors, or agreements with more civilian counselors. Without naming names or otherwise violating privacy, the number of patients being seen could be readily tallied, as could the number of appointments made, even if some of the appointments were never kept. Another objective measurement of success would be a decrease in suicides and fewer calls by veterans to suicide prevention hotlines. The campaign shows none of that.

Continuing Program Evaluation
Tumblr dashboard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As for the OK 2 Talk Campaign, that campaign’s goals were to create awareness and also to launch a safe social media space. Tumblr was the chosen platform as it allowed for anonymity. It seems to have also been chosen for a demographic match although that is not spelled out.

The measurement of the effectiveness of that campaign was a lot more closely aligned with its initial goals than the Real Warriors report showed. For example, the OK 2 Talk report gave objective figures regarding engagement on OK2Talk.org. The page views are not necessarily indicative of much. It is the content submissions which seem to better reflect engagement. On the Tumblr blog, visitors are encouraged to anonymously post about how they are feeling. The blog makes it clear that not everyone’s writings will be posted. However, there are several well-written or illustrated posts showcasing various viewpoints. OK 2 Talk intelligently shows all kinds of posts, even those where the writers clearly need help or are just reblogging messages put together by creative professionals.

The campaign report shows the number of content submissions and the number of clickthroughs to a ‘get help’ screen. There is also a statement regarding ‘thousands’ of comments but no specifics; that could have been more clearly shown. But that does not truly matter. Showing the number of clickthroughs to the ‘get help’ screen was an objective and direct measurement of how the campaign is going. It answers the question, ‘did it work, or was it just a colorful and fancy waste of time?’ with ‘yes, it did’, and far more effectively than the distribution of materials ever could. As Smith notes on page 335, “Guesses aren’t good enough; Hard work and cost aren’t measures of effectiveness; Creativity isn’t, either; Dissemination doesn’t equal communication; Knowledge doesn’t always lead to acceptance; and Behavior is the ultimate measure.”

In particular, Real Warriors should have remembered that dissemination does not equal communication. After all, the distributed campaign materials could have gone right into the trash. Without some demonstrated actions (yes, the campaign’s stated goal was awareness, but it could only really be measured with some form of observable action), Real Warriors seems more like a lot of paper redistribution.

The two campaigns have similar goals, and both have the valiant ideal of helping the mentally ill. But it’s only OK 2 Talk which is showing objective and relevant results.

Relating it all back to the ILSC

For the Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration, deciding what to measure, and to make sure it is being accurately measured, are important steps to take. While it is pretty easy to count website visitors using Google Analytics or the like, a better measurement is actual engagement like blog comments, Facebook comments and shares, and LinkedIn comments. This will tie directly to awareness objectives.

For objectives regarding adding high schools to the Small World Initiative, good measurements include the number of times that educators click through to a ‘get information’ page which should be added to a revamped website. Such inquiries could also be expected in the comments and messaging sections of a possible future Facebook group devoted to the ILSC. A similar vehicle for obtaining such inquiries could be a possible future LinkedIn group for the ILSC, and its topics.

Measurements of the campaign reaching donors could be a look at the number of visits to a donations page. It would also be the percentages of site visitors who went all the way through the online donations funnel. Knowing where they stop (if a visit does not lead to a donation) would be extremely helpful information to have.

For the website, Google Analytics should be used to tie back to visitor acquisition. If Facebook turns out to be the most popular place for visitors to come from, then the ILSC should be concentrating their efforts there. A surprisingly small amount of money (e. g. $20.00 or so) can boost a post and reach even more people. This measurement is useful for all types of objectives, as it helps to define where the ILSC’s social media time should be best concentrated. There is little use in devoting hours and hours of time to LinkedIn if the publics don’t come to the website and don’t donate any funds. Awareness needs to be related to action, for it is action that will get the SWI out of its funding gap and help keep the ILSC going for years to come.

Quinnipiac Assignment 10 – ICM 527 – Program Evaluation

Quinnipiac Assignment 10 – ICM 527 – Program Evaluation

Program Evaluation

This week’s readings were about evaluating a strategic plan and program.

Key Concepts

As Smith said, on (Page 331), “Program evaluation is the systematic measurement of the outcomes of a project, program or campaign based on the extent to which stated objectives are achieved.”

With a plan in place and measurable, clear objectives included in it, the next question is whether anything is working. This comes from figuring out how to measure results and what’s ‘good’ or at least adequate. In Module 8, we studied Cans Get You Cooking, where the idea was to increase awareness of cans’ use in cooking via cooking shows and blogs. However, another objective was increased sales (after all, why bother with such a campaign if sales don’t increase?), and in that respect the plan was unsuccessful. According to Companies and Markets, the purchase of canned goods declines because of improvements in the economy. When consumers have more discretionary income to spend on foodstuffs, they purchase fewer canned goods – no matter how well-crafted a campaign is. There was increased awareness, yes, and under that criterion, the campaign worked. But under the criterion of increased sales, it did not. It seemed a little as if the goalposts were moved in that campaign, that increased sales were seen as being a less attainable goal. Awareness was a far more readily attainable goal, and so awareness was presented as being the premise behind the campaign.  

These moved goalposts are the difference between what Smith refers to as awareness and action objectives, on pages 332 – 335, with the third type of objective, acceptance, straddling a line between both of the others. For the Cans Get You Cooking campaign, it seems as if the attainment of the awareness objective was the only cause for celebration.

Smith makes a compelling case on page 334, that creativity, effort, and cost don’t count as measures of effectiveness. All of those facets of a campaign are on the side of the organization, but measures of awareness, acceptance, and action are all effects felt (and acted upon) by publics. By definition, creativity, etc. should not be seen as having anything to do with the effectiveness of a campaign.

The Eight-Step AMEC Social Media Measurement Process

Jeffrey (Page 4) outlines, “The Eight-Step Social Media Measurement Process

  1. Identify organizational and departmental goals.
  2. Research stakeholders for each and prioritize.
  3. Set specific objectives for each prioritized stakeholder group.
  4. Set social media Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) against each stakeholder objective.
  5. Choose tools and benchmark (using the AMEC Matrix).
    • Public Relations Activity
    • Intermediary Effects
    • Target Audience Effects
  6. Analyze the results and compare to costs.
  7. Present to management.
  8. Measure continuously and improve performance.”
Quinnipiac Assignment 10 - ICM 527 - Program Evaluation
Avinash Kaushik, author of Web Analytics 2.0

This process compares favorably to methodologies learned in ICM 524 – Social Media Analytics. In that class, we read Web Analytics 2.0 by Avinash Kaushik. On pages 29 – 32, Kaushik outlined his Step 3 – Identifying Your Web Analytics Soul Mate (How to Run an Effective Tool Pilot) (average time: 2 years) Evaluate the following –

  • Usability
  • Functionality
  • Technical
  • Response
  • Total cost of ownership

Also –

  • Get enough time
  • Be fair
  • Ask about data sampling
  • Segment like crazy
  • Ask about search analytics
  • Test site content grouping
  • Bring on the interns (or the VPs!)
  • Test support quality
  • Reconcile the numbers (they won’t add up, but it’s fun!)
  • Check the daily/normal stuff
  • Sweat the TCO (total cost of ownership)

What Kaushik said, and what Jeffrey said, are similar. Measurement is an objective activity. This is why objectives need to be clear and measurable. Five percent is measurable; better exposure (in general) is not.

For both authors, the idea is to have specific objectives and then act on them, whether those objectives are to launch a strategic campaign or select a web analytics vendor. Then, once the vendor is chosen, get the yardstick in place, and use it. Kaushik further reminds us that, while our intention may be to select a vendor and essentially ‘marry’ it, we still need to be evaluating the evaluator. If it’s not performing up to our reasonable specifications, then it’s time for vendor divorce court.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

On page 7 of Jeffrey, it says, “Shel Holtz, principal of Holtz Communication + Technology (www.holtz.com) defined a KPI as a ‘quantifiable measurement, agreed to beforehand, that reflect the critical success factors of one’s effort.’”

This puts KPIs on a par with what we have been referring to as objectives. Wanting to ‘get better’ is one thing. But it’s vague and subject to weaseling. Wanting to improve recognition of the Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration  (ILSC ) and its missions by 5% as is measured by surveys taken during the second quarter of 2016 is a measurable key performance indicator. Anyone who can read numbers will be able to determine whether the KPI has been met.

Applicability to the ILSC

Beyond just recognition measurements, there are any numbers of KPIs which can be measured, including the number of schools served by the Small World Initiative by a certain date, or increasing donations by a particular amount, subject to a clear deadline.

Currently, the ILSC website in particular seems to be just sort of thrown together without any sense of how to deal with technological and design changes, or scalability. Keeping measurements out of the mix means that the ILSC website can be tossed up and then forgotten about – and it seems a lot like that’s exactly what happened. However, a website cannot be a flash in the pan, as that can cause the publics to feel the organization behind it is also fly by night. Particularly when asking for money, an organization needs to give forth the impression of trustworthiness and solidity.

Adding Key Performance Indicators and measurements means there needs to be a sea change in how the ILSC views the website. It isn’t just something thrown together in an afternoon, to be handled by some temp hired for a few weeks and then never seen again. Instead, it needs to be an integral part of the organization. While the organization’s work is (generally) offline, there still needs to be room for the website in the minds of the organization’s board members. One facet of their thinking has to include how to best utilize the website and social media, in order to better communication the ILSC’s mission and goals, and to communicate with its publics. The website has got to have a place in those conversations, and it currently does not. That has to change.

Quinnipiac Assignment 01 – ICM 526 – The Most Important Role of a Community Manager

The Most Important Role of a Community Manager

I’ve been a Community Manager for over a decade but don’t believe I have seen a better outline of our roles and sub-roles than this graphic –

Most Important Role of a Community Manager
The Mind of a Community Manager (image is from class and is intended for educational purposes only)

I have been in all of these roles, at one time or another. Because I am a volunteer and Able2Know is a large generalized Q & A website, some of my experience has been slightly different.

Piñata

A lot of community members might not realize when they do this. Sometimes it can feel as if you’re the punching bag. But you can’t punch back. Whenever I’ve been involved in an altercation online (usually by being dragged into one; I tend not to instigate), I inevitably recuse myself and ask that other Moderators and Administrators handle what is to be done.

Sponge

I’ve never been more in tune with this role than after a member’s death. I’ve written maybe a dozen online obituaries. It’s an odd thing to put together something of the life of a person who used a screen name and an avatar. Those moments require taking the temperature of a community, and understanding whether the remembrance should be a rollicking, funny wake, or posted music and poetry, or something else.

Gardener

I haven’t been a gardener since the site was rather young. When there are few members and topics, the Community Manager is often tasked with creating content. That has to stop at some point, as the community needs to take over and make a far larger percentage of the content. With a brand-related community, it is different. The brand will likely retain far more of the content creation role.

These days, I prune or shape a lot more than I create. That leads me to the Cheerleader role.

Cheerleader

There’s nothing like being enthusiastic about a new feature and having the membership scream bloody murder because they don’t like the change. And then, a year later, seeing the community embrace that very same change. Cheerleaders, at times, are treated like Piñatas.

Traffic Cop

We have a Help Desk, and I regularly route more of the developmental work elsewhere. Still, this is a role that could conceivably be done by others.

Mediavore

While I am a Mediavore as a matter of personal characteristics and behaviors, this role hasn’t exactly been necessary at Able2Know. I have used this knowledge and familiarity, though, to bring interesting social media information to the site. Plus I answer a lot of the Facebook and Twitter questions.

Empathy

This is another area less important for a volunteer position at a shoestring site. More likely, I am checking Facebook, etc. to see if users are disgruntled, or leaving entirely. For me, this role has a lot in common with the Sponge.

Spam Warrior

Oh, how I despise this role. But it’s got to be done every single day. These tasks are often delegated to newer volunteer Community Manager/Moderators, mainly because it’s a large and daunting task. It’s also to get their feet wet and give them an idea of how we do things.

Sculptor

I keep some rough stats, as the site is run on a shoestring. My background is in data analysis; I know the value of objective, measurable, quantitative information. In particular, objective data is usually important at budget time. Management needs to know the community is working, and is more than a few people chatting. Data and its analysis can sometimes mean the difference between a project with a budget that’s continued, and one which loses its budget and dies on the vine.

Concierge

For this role (again, keep in mind, I’m a volunteer, and the site is run with a rather low budget), it’s more of the times when I’ve answered questions at in-person gatherings or helped someone get back onto the site when their only means of communicating with me is via Facebook wall posts or Twitter or the like. But this doesn’t happen too often.

Drumroll, please!

The Most Important Role of a Community Manager is ….

Empathetic Sponge, with a dash of Sculptor.

The role of a Community Manager, I believe, is mainly as a listener, and all three of these sub-roles are mainly centered around listening. What are people saying? How can we understand the community? And how does what we’re hearing convert into metrics?

Allow me to add a new role, perhaps one that melds these three – the Windmill. That is, a means of harnessing the wind. The Community Manager needs to know which way the wind blows, and how to measure it, and how to use it to power the community.

Quinnipiac Assignment 10 – ICM 552 – The Future of Big Data

The Future of Big Data

What is the future of so-called ‘Big Data’? Big data is defined as being characterized by a large volume of information being (or able to be) analyzed by computers in an effort to comprehend human behavioral patterns. More often than not, the behaviors that are being observed and studied are related to either spending or voting.

I spent over a decade of my career as a data analyst so here are my predictions. Come along with me and we’ll go to ten years from now.

Special Prices

The Future of Big Data
English: first-degree price discrimination Español: Discriminación de precios de primer grado (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever struck up a conversation with a stranger on an airplane? If so, then at some point, you might have compared what you paid for airfare. For your trip to, say, Albuquerque, you might have paid $450. Your seatmate might have paid $250. The people in the two-seater across the aisle from you might have paid via frequent flyer miles, and those miles might have been obtained via flights that cost $1,000 or as low as $100. What’s going on here?

First Degree Price Discrimination

Everybody on the airplane is subject to what’s called ‘first degree price discrimination‘, which, according to Adam Ozimek of Forbes, “involves charging every individual customer a price based on their individual willingness to pay.”

Now,  you probably would have preferred paying $250 to $450, particularly when it seems that your seatmate’s experience is identical to your own. But you might not have been given the opportunity to do so. Or maybe you were, either by the time you were booking, or where you were booking from (either your IP address or where you surfed in from), and you didn’t know it at the time.

Pervasiveness

But here we are, ten years from now. And guess what? First degree price discrimination is the rule, and not the exception. You go to buy groceries, and you are shown choices.

Green bananas cost more than yellow ones, because you can store them longer, and so can the supermarket. A mixed salad costs more than the fixings not only because of the labor involved in putting it together, but also because you are willing to pay extra for the convenience.

You are offered the choice between a whole chicken and one that’s cut into pieces. Combine it with broccoli and pasta and you’re presented with offers for soy sauce or tomato sauce, and the prices are dependent not only on what you paid last week, but also on your spending habits. Are you more likely to cook Italian or Chinese style foods? That will also determine which prices you’re offered, as will the supermarket’s stock and the expiration dates for the sauces.

Messing with the System

You can really throw a monkey wrench into things if you step out of character and throw a party, and shop for it. Suddenly the system might think you have a dozen teenagers, based on all the pizza and chips you bought.

In some ways, it’s the electronic equivalent of an outdoor market. But instead of people haggling over rugs or spices, it’s the use of big data, as the supermarket attempts to predict what you’ll pay, what you’ll buy, and what will keep you coming back. How do you beat it? Current conventional wisdom is to clear cookies, surf privately, and be patient and watch for changes. But what if you need it now? And what if this is all happening in the grocery aisles or at the checkout counter? About the only things you can do are to pay in cash or put your purchases back, thereby opting out completely.

More Unfairness

Here we are, still ten years from now. And there’s even more social stratification. The rich are richer. The poor haven’t budged much. The middle class is even more squeezed. Why?

Bias

This is another issue with big data – biases. So much attention is paid to the quantity of data that its quality can sometimes be overlooked, as can its relevance, or the reason for the quantity. Take the tweeting that goes on after a disaster. During the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bomber, all sorts of tweets came from Boston and Cambridge. But how many tweets are there currently about a tsunami (these disasters often occur in poorer countries, although not always) and Germanwings?

The bias is heavily in favor of more tweets about the Germanwings air disaster, versus an unspecified tsunami. When just looking at raw numbers, Germanwings looks like a far more important news story. But is it? Or is it just being tweeted about more because (a) it’s new (as of the writing of this blog post) and (b) it happened in the West, where there’s more use of Twitter?

Selection Bias

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | The Future of Big Data
Mentions of Tsunami on Twitter versus Germanwings, data taken from Topsy, March 31, 2015.

It’s a bit of a selection bias, too, as readers might select or retweet information about the Germanwings crash as they’ve heard of it, and then more retweet and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that the information will continued to be spread at a more rapid rate than news of tsunamis.

Ten years from now, we might not even notice the selection biases going on around us, or that we ourselves have made. After all, we’ve told Facebook or its successor, and all news outlets, that news about, say, dolphins, is important to us. Hence we are served up more and more tales of dolphins, whereas stories of famine or elections or the like aren’t served up quite as quickly as we, and a statistically significant portion of our peers, continue to choose fluff pieces and familiar storylines over hard news, particularly if it’s about faraway places.

Make Big Data Smaller

How do we get off this train? Let’s come back to the present time. And let’s deliver hard news even if it’s not necessarily requested, because it matters. Let’s make pricing more transparent to consumers. And let’s look for reasons for data quantity and popularity that go beyond numbers. Just because there’s more of something, doesn’t make it better or more important. It just means there’s more of it.

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 #15 – Reflections about ICM 522

Quinnipiac Assignment #15 – Reflections about ICM 522

With the end of my first Social Media class came a request for our overall impressions of how things went. Hence, I prepared Quinnipiac Assignment #15 – Reflections about ICM 522.

Quinnipiac Assignment #15 – Reflections about ICM 522

My classmates and I were also tasked with showcasing what we felt was our best work.

I was so very pleased that I had a few works to choose from, but I narrowed my choices down in order to save some space.

My reflections essay included comments about the video and essay portions of Module #4, Module #9, Module #10, Module #11,  and my Final Project; that video is duplicated below.

Module Four was about the Ad Astra Star Trek fan fiction writing community. Module Nine was about the Facebook page that my partner, Kim Scroggins, and I created for our ‘client’, the as-yet undiscovered Rhode Island rock band, J-Krak. Module Ten was about the creation and growth of the Twitter stream that we made for J-Krak. And Module Eleven was all about our less than successful experiments in spreading the gospel of J-Krak to MySpace and Google+ (the former was a particularly abysmal showing. At least our client’s presence on Google+ assured better placement in overall search results).

The class was great fun, and I could not get enough of studying for it. I have never, ever had a course like this before, where I was so into it that I could not wait to study, and I did all of the extra credit because I wanted to, and not because I necessarily needed to. That has never, ever been my experience with a class before this one. This overwhelmingly positive experience has given me the incentive to not only finish my Social Media Certification training, but I am also rather seriously considering going on and getting my Masters’ Degree in Communications, with a concentration in Social Media.

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Quinnipiac Assignment #13 – Review of the J-Krak Communities

Review of the J-Krak Communities

Once again, this was a week where we did not have to create a video. Instead, we conducted a review of the J-Krak communities that Kim Scroggins and I had created. We compared our efforts on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and MySpace. We also reviewed our efforts in the blogosphere.

Our efforts were all as strong as we could make them (at least, I believe so), but our levels of success were certainly all over the place. We ranged from exceeding our thirty follower requirement for Facebook in about an hour, to nearly no engagement or followers in Google+. Although, in all fairness, the number of views on Google+ was fairly impressive. We were about to join the overall conversation in Twitter. Our experience on MySpace was, we felt, a waste of time. And our blog had a decent following, and the followers were, by the end of the semester, beginning to tip more heavily into the realm of true followers, as opposed to our classmates, friends, and families, who would follow us in order to be nice and help us out, versus people who were truly interested in our message.

Review of the J-Krak Communities

Instead, we wrote up a PowerPoint slide show to get together our strategy for the final two weeks of the semester.

We spent time over the past week performing a lot more social listening and analysis. We grabbed screen shots of all sorts of things which ended up in our final project, which I will post next week.

J-Krak Final Project Presentation

I hope you enjoy our presentation about our review of the J-Krak Communities.

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Quinnipiac Assignment #11 – J-Krak on MySpace and Google+

J-Krak on MySpace and Google+

My partner and I certainly never intended to create two separate new platform presences for our project. However, it turned out that way. We just didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter as our first choice took a spectacular nosedive.

J-Krak on MySpace

Oh, God. MySpace.  We tried. I swear, we tried. But it felt like a waste of time from the get-go.

J-Krak on MySpace and Google+

The board flashes and zips by, but there are nearly no instructions as to how to use it. Search is little help – you can locate people by city, gender, and music genre. And that’s it.

J-Krak on MySpace and Google+

I could not find (confirmed) professional DJs, but I could sure as hell find professional escort services.

Engagement was virtually nonexistent. And this wasn’t just true about a tiny outfit such as ours.  Britney Spears, God love her,  has a million and a half incoming connections but, since she doesn’t have to connect back, her outgoing connections list is considerably smaller. There are comments on her profile by fans, but she and her marketing team don’t seem to answer them.

Perhaps the most telling piece of information about the Britney Spears page on MySpace is that it seems to have last been updated last December. You know, five months ago.

J-Krak on MySpace and Google+

Hit Me Baby, One More Time?

Don’t you have to hit MySpace once, first?

Like the shiny wasteland that it is, Britney seems to be leaving MySpace in her rear view.

And so did we.

J-Krak on Google+

J-Krak on MySpace and Google+

On Google+, it was easy to set up a band page and make it look good.

While we still need to add music, the look and feel of the page are already there.

Even better is the fact that posts can be scheduled in HootSuite, a capability that is missing from MySpace.

It’s too early to really get meaningful metrics, but we’re trying!

Stay tuned.

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