Sunday, December 26, 2010
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
I wonder why neither Facebook nor Twitter is sharing analytics data for a Facebook Page or Twitter Page - they have become destinations in themselves and brands would surely be willing to pay to see user behavior on these pages.
One reason to not share this data could be that brands would start asking for more freedom with page layout and content. A way around this would be define and provide new "social media metrics" centered around the structure of the Facebook or Twitter page rather than providing either basic clickstream data or standard web analytics metrics.
Some data I would like to see:
Next up might be allowing A/B testing on FB/TW pages and updates. But that seems a little distant at the moment. :)
Posted by Umang at 10:07 PM
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Some food for thought about ad targeting:
Posted by Umang at 11:26 PM
Monday, August 30, 2010
It takes The New York Times one article to set the world abuzz (and a-twitter!) with how creepy re-targeting is and how it freaks people out and how advertising is evil.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Posted by Umang at 1:20 PM
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Posted by Umang at 7:11 PM
Sunday, August 15, 2010
I'm reading about Nike's CEO Mark Parker and how he created the Nike Air line of shoes, saving the company and the brand: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/148/artist-athlete-ceo.html.
I remember Nike Air shoes were really big (in terms of ads - not many could afford them) in India in the early 90s, and I remember longing for those Rs. 2000 worth shoes when the average Nike sneaker probably came for a fourth or a third of that. It is nice to understand, years later, what went into those shoes and what they meant for one of the largest innovators in the world.
Posted by Umang at 4:47 PM
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Web search has been a game changer in many ways. One of those ways is making users habituated to finding what they need, when they need it. Search has obviated the need to keep track of stuff on the internet anymore. What's more, users have come to expect search to work really, really well.
So when it doesn't, and people can't find what they thought was there, it becomes a matter of trust. That just the search part might be broken is not the first thing that they think: is the website just losing data?
If the internet were to be considered information organized as a tree, it would be two levels deep, with a search function as the root node.
Besides being a gateway to information, search is also the most natural way (as yet) users interact with computers - they type exactly what they are looking for. This is valuable information to gain insight about your users' intent.
If you are a website, are you letting users search? And, more importantly, search well?
Posted by Umang at 11:19 PM
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
John Battelle hits the nail on the head when he says news coverage in the tech industry is an "endless cycle of post and spin" when what is really needed is "leaning back and considering".
News coverage - and I am broadening the scope from just the tech industry to all news - can be split into two: (1) Facts, and (2) Opinion & Analysis.
Facts need to be comprehensive, correct, terse, and instantaneous. And not repeated.
Opinion and analysis add value by providing insight not immediately obvious at the fact. Balanced arguments and structured thought take some time to produce and consumers are willing to wait for this.
I think news coverage will increasingly polarize into these two kinds.
140 characters are enough to bring you facts, and consumers don't mind these facts being pushed to you constantly, throughout the day. When it comes to detailed analysis, consumers are going to be more selective, and open to engaging more closely through comments and "likes" and "shares". Also, the former is more of a commodity, while the latter is where experts and niches can be found.
And this last point is most important - especially for marketing and monetizing strategies of news organizations, small and large. There definitely are opportunities.
Posted by Umang at 8:29 PM
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
This is the first in a series of posts about my thoughts on end-user privacy on the internet.
Did you know that websites you visit sell your browsing history information to companies that aggregate this information from many users and sell it to advertisers? BlueKai is one such company. Go here to see what information it has about your browsing behaviour. eXelate Media is another example of such "behavioural data providers". Most online advertising networks do this, but keep the data within their network, for use by their own partners/advertisers, instead of making it commercially available.
The NAI makes all member companies (most companies involved in online advertising are members) provide an opt-out mechanism to users. For example, Google's opt-out page is here: http://www.google.com/privacy_ads.html. However, most users are not even aware of how much information is being tracked, much less how they can avoid being tracked.
Deleting cookies is often stated as a way to maintain privacy. However, there are these crumbs called Locally Shared Objects, provided by Flash, and supported by any Flash-enabled browser, that allow a website to store any data in your browser. They are very similar to cookies in that only the website that creates a particular LSO can access that LSO. However, they cannot be deleted from your browser. Adobe provides a Global Settings Manager on its website to manage the Flash component in your browser. Go there and see which websites have stored LSOs on your computer. Very often, LSOs are used to replicate cookie information, and deleted cookies can be restored from these LSOs. So even if you delete cookies, websites can identify you again. In fact, they can even tell if you deleted cookies.
Facebook's Instant Personalization is not the first to enable tracking of your browsing behaviour across websites and allowing websites to use that data. But they are doing it in the most transparent manner, sparking off the debate that is essential to figuring out the right+acceptable way to go about this, and taking all the flak for doing so.
The existence and protection of privacy has implications of systemic proportions on the ethos of the internet, and should not be taken lightly by only economic or political consideration. More on this in another post.
Posted by Umang at 10:10 PM
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Meg Whitman spoke at the Commonwealth Club a few weeks ago, speaking about her ideas for California were she to be elected Governor.
She spoke about about the required operational efficiency in governance, providing various examples of how money could be saved. She spoke about her experiences with the government while running eBay in the Silicon Valley and how the government needs to be more business-friendly: about how technology jobs are being lost to other states and what California can do to win them back.
All in all, she seemed ready to govern Silicon Valley, but perhaps not yet California.
Which is not to say her ideas were not substantial or consequential. When it comes operations, states would do well to hire business people. And from this particular speech, I think Ms. Whitman might turn out to be a great COO for California.
You can find the talk here in the Commonwealth Club archives.
Posted by Umang at 7:03 PM
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
With so much being said about Game Mechanics and how it can drive people's behaviour, I wonder if there is a breaking point to it.
One article on CNN talks about toothbrushes telling some website on the internet how often you brush and rewarding you on that basis. I already see too many people fretting about credit card reward points and micro-optimizing their rewards to the cent. If such fake rewards take over our daily lives, one of two things will happen: we will become immune to the concept of rewards and competition; or we will become so engrossed with competing in every single activity that fun and utility both will become meaningless, giving way to a perpetual vanity.
p.s.: Apparently, FourSquare usage (which is a classic use-case of game mechanics) goes from curiosity to addiction to apathy. If true, it might be an indicator.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
While the use of touch and gestures cannot be over-rated when it comes to human interactions, the recent gadget-makers seem to have some fundamentals wrong.
Touch is an "input" mechanism, as it were, for people, not machines! Putting your finger to cold glass and pretending it is touching a button drawn on the glass is not good user experience. It may be state-of-the-art technology, but the state-of-the-art needs to catch up with convenience quickly. If you've ever tried taking a picture with the camera on the iPhone, you'll know what I mean.
Swiping your hand or finger across a screen does sound like sci-fi made real, but it does not beat the convenience of pressing (or "touching") a button to turn a page. Sure, swiping seems to be a natural gesture, but representative gestures that require less movement, less concentration or allow for parallel activity (like eating, holding a phone to one's ear, etc.) add significant value. It is easier to press the eject button for a CD tray than to tug on it as a signal. In the same way, it is easier to zoom with a lever than to "pinch" the screen. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to drive a car if you had to turn your head to turn the car?
Humans have been using instruments even before the Stone Age. That means millions of years of conditioning to get comfortable with temporary extensions to our appendages - from knives to wrenches to racquets and even toothbrushes! It is much easier to draw with a stylus than a finger, whether on paper or an electronic screen, and many people prefer using a mouse with their laptops to the touchpad that comes with it. The next generational devices seem to ignore, even deride, the use of additional instruments, and that will be a handicap for users.
When it come to user experience, convenience is a much longer lasting advantage than novelty.
I am not being a Luddite - it is not the technology I criticize, but its experience: the application and messaging.
Posted by Umang at 7:54 PM
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Some months ago I got interested in mining some Twitter data and played with their API and started following @TwitterAPI. Not much came out of it, except that I would get a few updates a week regularly about their API. Which seems to have progressed quite a bit while their website is still much the same. I decided to take a closer look.
It isn't hard to get data from Twitter. Kudos to them for that. Here's an interesting representation of the data I got about the different Twitter clients being used. The numbers are the percentage of times that client was used in a sample of public tweets taken over 6 days. Hover over the circles to see the data, or click on a row in the table on the left to see the corresponding circle in the chart.
48% of tweets are from the web. Which means the Twitter.com website. About half of that are from regular clients. From the looks of it, I guess about 8% are from the mobile. And the rest are from other web applications trying to get users to popularize their own content like tweeting about a video from YouTube or your scores from an online game, connecting your Tumblr (or blog/rss feed) to your Twitter account so updates get tweeted automatically, tweeting your Facebook or LinkedIn status automatically either through these sites or through an aggregator service like Ping.fm, etc.
So clearly, using Twitter for a viral effect is a popular use case - somewhat like the Facebook News Feed or FriendFeed. If you look closely at the various clients there, there are so many web apps are trying to get hooked into the users' Twitter accounts. And an API for that purpose makes a lot of sense.
Twitter lends itself naturally to mobile use, and I suspect Twitter has a higher proportion of its usage on the mobile than most other web apps. But the big question mark here is the Twitter website. So many people are still using the website. Why isn't Twitter doing something about that? Most Twitter clients offer much richer functionality than their site.
Firstly, by making the site a proper destination, Twitter will have a lot more data about user behaviour. Right now it is probably highly fragmented across the various clients. Secondly, being a destination is very useful when you want to experiment with features and see how users respond to them. As a semi-functional website, or a fully functional platform, they are removing themselves from the users, forgetting that a lot of the Twitter protocol (@ replies and RT's, for example) was invented by users. Thirdly, Twitter has given up control of content to clients. Which are not doing even a half-decent job. Sure, they have gotten better at spam filtering, but with millions of tweets a day, and hundreds of thousands of conversations, they can filter a lot more than just spam. Filter and collaboratively filter. And best way to bring this data to users is they were a destination. Lastly, there is a huge monetization opportunity in being the destination. And I don't mean ads. I am referring to Twitter as an incredible proven ability to enable conversations between businesses and their customers, regardless of whether the business is a 1-man show or a faceless corporation. Conversations are very underrated - in marketing, product design, in product support and this is where Twitter's real potential lies - in enabling multiple paradigm shifts, rather than being one.
Please go reclaim your website, Twitter.
Posted by Umang at 11:27 PM
Saturday, January 30, 2010
I was listening to a debate on whether America is responsible for Mexico's drug wars and at the end of the debate, each speaker was called to summarize his or her position. Having grown with debating a prominent activity at school, I was surprised to see people like CNN show hosts and Congressmen fail to summarize. There was one anecdote in support of the main argument, one gentleman went so far as to even concede some of his points to another and the others just used their summarizing time to extend their arguments, not to wrap up.
This was a couple of days ago.
Today, interestingly, I read about someone else lamenting good conclusions - in the State of the Union, and other presidential speeches. James Fallows objects to Obama (and other presidents) using "God bless you all; God bless the United States of America" to end their speeches. It started with Ronald Reagan and all presidents since have used to say "this speech is over". Before Reagan, they would end their speeches with a more natural conclusion.
Read Fallows' take about this on his blog. He also has the recent State of the Union address with his annotations, which are quite interesting.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Someone pointed me to a TED talk on the changes brought about by the internet and social media. In his bio, the speaker is highlighted as a "prescient voice on the Internet's effects". I wouldn't call the talk prescient; it was peppered with anecdotes from the internet revolution already well underway, and some extrapolation from those.
The trouble with trying to be "prescient" is that it lasts only until the event you predicted does not happen, the probability of which is extremely, extremely high. If you are only studying and/or talking about technological forces today, you are already behind the curve.
I was recently at a PARC Forum called Technology-Mediated Social Participation where academics were lamenting the fact that theory is trying to catch up with practice.
One interesting point from Shirky's talk is how the "former audience" now becomes "producers" and "participants". Interesting because it is not only true of media as he says, but, in my opinon, for business and social processes as well. Twitter is a great example of this. Users were using the @username style to refer to one another and the "retweet" format long before Twitter formalized and inducted these into their technology.
The only "prescient" voice is a collective one of the "participatory audience" - some of them are already doing what the rest will be doing in the near future.
Posted by Umang at 10:03 PM
Thursday, January 14, 2010
I just heard a great program on NPR's Talk Of The Nation about giving to Haiti, with the founder of the American Institute of Philanthropy.
Both traditional and social media are abuzz with various ways to contribute, and reflect heightened emotions of people wanting to help.
Here are some takeaways from the discussion.
Money is the only useful thing right now. It helps buy all the emergency items required to get by while the clean up happens. Any kind of goods will cost a lot in shipping, are not useful right now, might clog up supply/chain for the emergency requirements. Besides, you don't want to send goods even later, but have things sourced locally to support the local economy.
A lot of callers expressed interest in volunteering, but if you are not trained in handling such emergencies, it is better to stay away. They only need experts at the moment.
Most of the help that Haiti needs is not in the next few days, but in the next few months, or even years. Emergency response teams are helping the Haitians clean up. But once that is done, the task of re-building is more challenging and a longer one. The rest of the world must step in then, instead of forgetting it once public shock and recency are no longer factors.
Sending money through cell phones and such is easy and lots of people are doing it. I myself did it yesterday, and asked my Facebook friends to, as well. But know that what you are doing is really pledging money. It is not clear whether your phone company will pass along the money to the charity until you have paid your bill. And then it will take a while for the charity to send this collected money to the intended destination. It is better to send money directly to charity organizations working in Haiti.
Most charity organizations keep a percentage of the money you donate to cover their own costs. Find out the details about the organization you are donating through. It could be as low as 55% or as high as 97%. Also, make sure the organization is using your money for what you intended, and not for other purposes (even if other charitable purposes).
On the show they mentioned www.charitywatch.org as a good resource for charities helping Haiti.
If you know how to send money directly to Haiti, or can endorse a particular charity for Haiti, please leave a comment.
You can also donate to Mercy Corps from your Amazon.com account: http://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=1297795011
Update: Find that NPR show here: Reliable Ways To Donate Money To Haiti Effort.
Posted by Umang at 1:22 PM
Sunday, January 3, 2010
Nuclear energy used to be the next endless energy source.
Tens of years later, that dream failed to materialize and the world has moved on to trying to tap into a host of different kinds of sources - solar, wind, tidal, bio-matter, etc. - and make it economically viable on a large scale.
Nuclear energy is still our next endless energy source.
The reasons for failure in the past decades have political roots. The "developed" nations were involved in the Cold War that centered around stockpiles of nuclear weapons. As such, using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes was relegated to being a front for nuclear arms and there was a huge political impetus to tie together weapons and nuclear energy generation. Power generators were made to use Uranium so they could create Plutonium as a by-product which is needed for nuclear bombs. The problem with using Uranium is that it is not well-suited for energy generation: it needs to be enriched (create fissile U-235 from naturally occuring U-238) in an expensive process, the nuclear reactors are dangerous and need many precision controls, and toxic waste is left over. And before you knew it, nuclear energy became the untouchable: dangerous and with evil intentions.
With some natural progression of history, this is where we find ourselves: the "nuclear" nations have enough nuclear weapons stockpiled, almost everyone has realized that nuclear deterrent is not the way forward, there is an impending energy crisis and a global warming crisis and we desperately need a solution to both.
Thorium tells a different story. This nuclear energy fuel that was discovered decades ago, but shelved because it did not generate Plutonium for weapons. It has already been proven to be a much safer and easier way to generate nuclear power, without any toxic waste and expensive enrichment processes. Scientists are now trying to create efficient and long-lasting reactors that use Thorium for large scale energy generation.
If this succeeds, it will be an interesting turn of events.
There will be some economic upheaval as the economy moves from being fossil fuel-based to being nuclear energy-based: transportation, as vehicle technology, range, capacities change, even energy storage and transportation. The politics are going to be interesting too, as different countries will be able to produce nuclear fuel.
Timelines for large scale nuclear power generation seem to be 20-40 years in the future, which is far too long. Oil is expected to peak in 10 years' time. I can't imagine ocean tides, for example, solving our civilization's energy needs in the coming decades. Governments need to give more impetus to safe and clean nuclear energy.
Posted by Umang at 4:42 PM