Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th edition

It’s with great pleasure and a little pride that we announce Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th EDITION.

Reading Virtual Minds V1: Science and History, 4th edThat “4th EDITION” part is important. We know lots of people are waiting for Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation and it’s next in the queue.

But until then…

Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th EDITION is about 100 pages longer than the previous editions and about 10$US cheaper. Why? Because Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation is next in the queue.

Some Notes About This Book

I’m actually writing Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation right now. In the process of doing that, we realized we needed to add an index to this book. We also wanted to make a full color ebook version available to NextStage Members (it’s a download on the Member welcome page. And if you’re not already a member, what are you waiting for?)

In the process of making a full color version, we realized we’d misplaced some of the original slides and, of course, the charting software had changed since we originally published this volume (same information, different charting system). Also Susan and Jennifer “The Editress” Day wanted the images standardized as much as possible.

We included an Appendix B – Proofs (starting on page 187) for the curious and updated Appendix C – Further Readings (starting on page 236). We migrated a blog used for reference purposes so there may be more or less reference sources and modified some sections with more recent information.

So this edition has a few more pages and a few different pages. It may have an extra quote or two floating around.

You also need to know that Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History is a “Let’s explore the possibilities” book, not a “How to do it” book. As such, it deals with how NextStage did it (not to mention things that happened along the way). It does not explain how you can do it. This book’s purpose is to open a new territory to you and give you some basic tools for exploration.

There are no magic bullets, quick fixes, simple demonstrations, et cetera, that will turn you into jedis, gurus, kings, queens, samurai, rock stars, mavens, heroes, thought leaders, so on and so forth.

How to Do It starts with Volume II: Experience and Expectation and continues through future volumes in this series. We’ve included a Volume II: Experience and Expectation preview with a How to Do It example on page 302 so you can take a peek if that’s your interest.

That noted, I’m quite sure that you won’t get the full benefit of future volumes without reading this one because unless you’ve read this one you won’t understand the territory you’re exploring in those future volumes.

Reading Virtual Minds V1: Science and History, 4th edThat’s Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th EDITION. It’s so good and so good for you! Buy a copy or two today!


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Back from eMetrics DC’07

[Note: this post is from Oct ’07. We’re backfilling again for Joseph’s references in Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation]

Officially home, officially exhausted.

My thanks to everyone who attended my presentation and the folks who attended my workshop. I enjoyed talking with you all, learning from you and sharing with you. Many folks came up to me after my presentation to share how much they enjoyed it. I’m grateful.

My favorite, I’ll admit, is a toss up. Getting a nod from Dell’s Annette Priest during her keynote was nice. I also received something in my emails that gave me a kick…

I can quite truthfully say that your talk was one of the most memorable and useful from the conference. I am sad to say that I chose to do the predictive analytics course over yours; however that choice was made prior to my arriving at the conference and it would be a very tough call if I weren’t already locked in. I will certainly keep you in mind when I am talking to clients and I will certainly follow your work in the future.

I don’t know if you caught the multivariate testing spiel from {a company}, but after seeing your talk I noticed that their use of imagery in the control and winning recipe pages was very interesting.

Their first image showed a couple with one of them looking slightly above the key message and the other slightly below the “call to action” button. The winning formula had an alternative couple image where they were both looking in the direction of the “call to action” button. It makes me think that perhaps a few small rules like that could have resulted in a similar outcome without the need for elaborate, expensive and time consuming multivariate testing. Naturally I would do an A/B test with a control group; however this would be much simpler than the full blown version.

Keep up the great work.


Many thanks. This reader is talking about a part of my presentation that I also used in Putting the user’s eyes to work. NextStage Members can download the full paper as part of their membership.

Enjoy!


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NextStage gets a nod from Dell’s Annette Priest at eMetrics DC Summit

[Note: this post is from Oct ’07. We’re backfilling again for Joseph’s references in Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation]

It’s so nice when one’s work get’s noticed, in this case by Dell’s Usability Research Manager, Annette Priest. First and so there’s no confusion, Dell is neither a NextStage nor my personal client. Ms. Priest’s nod was a recognition that more and more companies need to start utilizing the kind of research that NextStage is known for – understanding the hearts and minds of consumers through a variety of disciplines.

My thanks to Ms. Priest for the kind words and to Jim Sterne for putting the venue together.


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The Complete “Responding to BT and Privacy” Arc

Note: Another four part arc presented here, single post style, and you’re welcome.

Responding to BT and Privacy, Part 1

In keeping with my habit of catching up on readings months after the fact, I was reading Dave Smith’s “BT And Privacy, Part I: Opt-Out On-Demand“, the first entry in a four part arc on…uh…privacy.

I’ve read this post and the others in the arc several times now (I rarely read things once and usually over several months or even years. Each time I’m reading something new because I’ve changed so my responses to what I’m reading have changed. It’s what’s happened in the silences, if you will, that tell me what what I’m reading means to me) and believe I might have something to share about it.

The premise is that site visitors should be given a chance to opt-out of advertising they find offensive via a button. My online response is:

This is an interesting methodology for opting out and I would be curious to learn how implementation would integrate with Creative’s efforts. I do agree with Dave Morgan that things could blow up. The increasing sophistication of users and the increasing felicity of mobspots (smart mobs for the web) is, I think, contributing to the increasing need for companies to proactively address consumer fears before consumers craft their own methods for addressing their fears.

I would add to the above that even opting out of some ad is a data point worth harvesting. The kindness being offered — an opt-out option for offensive material — is a worthy idea and let no one thing altruism is its intent. Even if not originally fashioned as such, anything and everything done online is analysed and, much like my reading habits, analyzed again and again and again.

Responding to BT and Privacy, Part 2

I’m still reading through Steve Smith’s BT and Privacy series, this time “BT And Privacy, Part 2: Tacoda’s Choice“, part 2 in this arc.

There were some phrases that gave me distinct pause:

  • “If they opt out, a Tacoda cookie is set and our targeting engine knows not to serve them an ad.”
  • “The publishers’ privacy policy will refer to the existence of third-party cookies and to the fact that data is used to target ads by other than the publisher. But as you point out, it’s a hard concept to
    grasp for the average consumer, which is why we are taking our own steps.”

  • “We think that if we are proactive in explaining what we do, that consumers and our peers in the industry will recognize and be able to separate the good and careful players from the bad.”

My thoughts follow…

This is an interesting follow-up to Part 1 of this arc. I agree that being proactive with user privacy is paramount, and definitely agree that explaining what is being done is a good step. I wrote about just that thing in A Little About Cookies. I disagree that these concepts are difficult for the average consumer. At one time, perhaps yes, now not so much so. What is pointed to by this article is that getting consumers to accept privacy as a commodity is ripe for a good viral campaign.

What I didn’t add in my comment is that the method used to determine someone has opted out is foreshadowed in my previous post. It is another data point in the system.

The final question will be the value exchanged. Is the consumer willing to exchange information for what is presented on the page? Consumers, especially web-based consumers, are increasingly savvy. That exchange is going to have to be exponentially to their benefit as time goes on.

Responding to BT and Privacy, Part 3

I’m now at “BT And Privacy, Part 3: Revenue Science Says Safeguards Are Already There“.

As with part 2, there were some phrases that gave me distinct pause:

  1. “…the industry already does a good job of covering privacy
    concerns and giving consumers the tools for opting out of whatever offends them online.”

  2. “They can obtain an ‘opt-out cookie’ to prevent any data from being associated with their browser. In addition, we provide complete instructions on how to opt out of Revenue Science’s network advertising services.”
  3. “It is necessary for interested consumers to be able to find accurate information about all of these issues.”
  4. “We never collect personally identifiable information, so people benefit from more relevant content while remaining completely anonymous.”
  5. “We not only have to communicate how consumers’ privacy is being protected, but the benefits that they are getting from BT, which will only increase as BT continues to become a more integral part of the economics of online media.”

Let me respond (my opinions) by the numbers…

  1. The ultimate decision maker regarding how good an job any industry is doing meeting the needs of consumers is the consumers themselves. In this case, companies using an ad network will feel the force of consumer decision before any network group does.
  2. I defer to Stephan Spencer’s, Founder and President of Netconcepts, great adage “If we want people to use it, it’s going to have to be stupid simple.” I have no idea how simple any company’s opt-out methodology is and I’m not inferring anything about anything, I’m merely offering that for any tool to be used, it must be simple. The requirements that tools be initially simple then increasingly complicated was documented in For Angie and Matt, and The Noisy Data Finale.
  3. Has anybody seen National Treasure? It’s a great movie. Rent it if you can’t find in on cable. Watch it a few times then decide if you agree with this statement (I do agree with it) and think it’s actionable by the majority of consumers (I don’t think it is).
  4. Very honorable. Neither does NextStage. We’re so finicky about being honorable, we list our Principles on line.
  5. An interesting problem to solve, much like communicating the values of inoculation; we’re going to protect you from something you can’t actually see but might hurt you if you don’t let us do this. I know that sounds facetious and I don’t mean it to be. The purpose is essentially prophylactic and phyletics are a notoriously hard sell until people are dying around you.

An issue that was raised in this post is “relevancy” and it’s a worthwhile part of this discussion. People (we are told) don’t mind seeing ads when those ads are relevant to them. To me the question is “Who decides what’s relevant to them?” The answer, me thinks, is “the consumer” and thus the circle is complete.

Responding to BT and Privacy, Part 4 and finale

This section is a response to Steve Smith’s “BT And Privacy, Part 4: Higher Education“, last part in an arc on online privacy that I found a fascinating read (several times).

I’m not going to list separate phrases which caught my attention because, when all is said and done, I admit to a great deal of discomfort with the issue. I don’t think consumers understand the difference between privacy and anonymity, I think an industry policing itself is laudable and hasn’t worked well in the past (think Big Tobacco, S&Ls, …).

Analyzing all statements made in this arc reminds me of how the general populace first learned of AIDS; it was a disease of the poor, it was a disease of blacks, it was a disease of minorities, is was a disease of Gays, it was oh my god what do you mean white heterosexual men can get it?

I also get concerned when someone says, essentially, “This is too complicated for you to understand.” Such statements minimize both who’s speaking and who’s listening. If Einstein could explain relativity to a child, an industry should be able to describe its practices to an interested public. Yes, I know there’s a catch here; you need an interested public to explain it to. This is where I complete my circle, I guess, as I think having simple explanations in place now will make addressing future concerns that much easier, should they appear.

There is an interesting merry-go-round going on here; should consumer privacy concerns increase and spread, a market will be created (one already exists and I’m thinking a much larger one would come into being). Another market will then come into existence to extract the necessary targeting information required by the types of networks discussed in this arc. This goes beyond the lock and pick metaphor, I think, and drops into opt-in marketing (which would be extremely high relevance marketing) because now the consumer is no longer worried about keeping unwanted content out, they’ve taken steps to make sure only wanted content gets in.

Links for this post:


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Canoeing with Stephane (Sentiment Analysis, Anyone? (Part 2))

The iMedia Brand Summit has kept me a little busy, and I do keep my promises.

One of the folks I asked about Sentiment Analysis prior to writing Sentiment Analysis, Anyone? (Part 1) was Stephane Hamel. I asked Stephane for a site I could analyze without my knowing anything about their strategy, demographics and such. Stephane suggested canoe.ca since it’s a well known Canadian site that receives lots of traffic and has lots of diversified content.

Canoe French homepage

The Canoe.ca site has an English and a French version so we analyzed the homepages of both versions to demonstrate the differences in cultural cuing. This image is the Canoe French homepage. Below is the English homepage. The information I’m sharing comes out of our tools, specifically the one I described in Sentiment Analysis, Anyone? (Part 1).

Canoe English homepage

This image is the Canoe English homepage. I’ll share at this point that the tool I’m using reads whatever digital information you give it exactly like a human of the intended culture would read it, provide it material in French and it thinks in French, provide it material in Gaelic and it thinks in Gaelic (we get a lot of calls for that, you betcha. The first language our technology understood was Gaelic because if you can do Gaelic you can do anything. Now we’re teaching it Etruscan because you never know when you might want to sell sandals to a dead gladiator). What makes the tool different from the standard human is its ability to report on what will or would happen in the reader’s mind at the non-conscious and conscious levels. Most people don’t have that kind of training, our technology (Evolution Technology or “ET”) does.

Age Appeal

Both homepages are designed for (not necessarily intended for. We’re not talking about who the desired audience is, we’re talking about who this material is going to work best with) relatively tight demographics. The French homepage will appeal to about 71% of the 25-34yo native French speakers who see it, the English homepage will appeal to about 60% of the 35-44yo native English speakers who see it.

<ET Tool Training Alert>
When I originally presented this analysis to Stephane for comment I thought that a possible reason for the different age appeal targeting was that the canoe.ca site was a Quebec specific site, hence English might be a second language — meaning learned via education or life experience — for Canoe visitors (ET will interpret higher levels of education and life experience as “more mature” hence add a few years to its age appeal estimates).

Stephane explained that canoe.ca was created in Toronto then moved into Quebec, and that the English site is still done in Toronto and the French site in Quebec.

In any case, what’s most interesting is the relative spikyness of the Appeal charts. This material — regardless of the intended audience or its origins– is designed to best appeal to a limited age demographic.

<Stephaneism>
Stephane noted:

Another thing… your classifications aren’t equal… why 15-19 (5 years), 35-44 (10 years), 55-59 (5 years)… Does each of the graph age ranges have the same “population size”?
The age groupings are based on neurology more than much else. The five year groups occur when the brain starts to change, the ten year groups are when the brain is relatively stable neurologically.
Usually, I think each segment should be the same range (number of years). If population is different sizes for different ranges it usually mean the number of classes should be reviewed. Am I wrong?

Excellent catch. The age breakdowns are based more on the most recent and most well documented neurology studies than anything else. As such, they can fluctuate from time to time. ET’s basis for understanding and decision making is neuroscientific, not marketing demographics per se. Originally we tailored the age breakdowns to match the US Census bureau’s breakdown and do our best to match those the best we can.

That offered, if you can define the age breakdowns of greatest interest to you (maybe 15-24, 25-39, 40-54, 55-74, … work best for you) we can tell ET and have the results appropriate to your needs.

</Stephaneism>

</ET Tool Training Alert>

Clarity/Understandability

Readers of Sentiment Analysis, Anyone? (Part 1) or Websites: You’ve Only Got 3 Seconds will remember that there are three “age” levels designers really need to be concerned with; Appeal, Clarity and Actionability. The brain-mind system doesn’t “think” in terms of a chronologic age, it “thinks” using one subsystem to determine “Is this going to be important?” (that’s Appeal), another subsystem to determine “Do I understand why this is important?” (that’s Clarity, Cognition, Understandability, call it what you will, god knows we have) and yet another subsystem to determine “Shall I do something about this?” (that’s Actionability).

The chart above shows that both English and French homepages will be best understood by a broad demographic, yes (the curve doesn’t spike), as well as a large population (its position on the chart).

<ET Tool Training Alert>
There is a possible problem when the Appeal and Clarity charts are taken together. The ideal is that Clarity peak at an age demographic just shy of the Appeal peak. This is necessary because humans, once you’ve got their attention, want to quickly determine if something is important or not. This desire to quickly understand something’s importance means less neural activity is required and ET reads that as a slight drop in neurologic age requirements.

However, the Clarity here is above the Appeal of both English and French audiences, meaning both audiences will need to work (as in “think about”) what’s on each page in order to understand its importance to them. If these pages truly are designed for the Appeal spikes, then they will not be easily understood by those age groups, hence Actionability (click through, conversion, whatever) will be lower than it could be.

On the other hand, if the target audience is 35-59yo, this Clarity is fine. Now the problem is that the age group will not find the homepages appealing enough to devote time or energy to them (except possibly some percentage of native English speakers), meaning “your conversions/clickthroughs/… would be higher with a judicious redesign”.
</ET Tool Training Alert>

Actionability (conversions, clickthroughs, …)

Both sites are designed to be actionable by 35-44yo. This is great for the French site (and assuming it is correctly designed for its intended audience) and not so good for the English site. Actionability needs to be a tad more than the Appeal because action requires effort and ET reports this as an increase in neurologic activity, hence a shift to a more mature age group.

<ET Tool Training Alert>
The good news for the French site is that the Actionability spike is pretty much as the same height as the Appeal spike and it’s in the correct demographic. This means every native French speaker who comes to the French homepage will act on it.

Unfortunately, the Clarity value is way off from where it should be. Native French speaking visitors may find the site appealing and be able to act upon it but they will not understand what it is they should do, hence numbers could be higher with some redesigns.

The English Actionability is acceptable and is also quite the spike. It almost matches the Appeal spike, but the page also suffers from the Clarity issue.

</ET Tool Training Alert>

Gender

Both sites favor a male audience design wise and in roughly equal measure.

Rich Personae, {C,B/e,M} Matrix

Often this is where real cultural design differences make themselves known. The English site is designed for an A9 Rich Persona (I’ve written about Rich Persona on this blog and in iMediaConnection), the French site for a V16 Rich Persona.

The A9 Rich Persona has the following attributes when it encounters web based information:

  • These people focus on the negative, they make decisions based on what might go wrong
  • They are motivated to take action when things are phrased in the negative
  • They often need to confirm their beliefs with visual information
  • They’re motivated by avoiding trouble and are strongly influenced by the possibilities of difficulties down the road

The V16 attributes are:

  • These people need to have information presented to them in pictures, charts or graphs
  • They finalize their decisions by using internal dialog
  • They need information framed in a positive manner before they can accept it
  • They have no sense of time or process

So we immediately see that the French homepage is designed for happier people than the English page.

<ET Tool Training Alert>
The fact that the two sites target completely different personality types can be a plus or a minus based on how much of the Canoe visitor populations match these psychological profiles. What is most important is that what is essentially the same design will target very different psychologies based on the native language of the visitor.

Which personality profile is better? Couldn’t tell you without knowing more about the goals for the site.

</ET Tool Training Alert>

10 Must Messages

10%20must%20messages%200906081039-small.jpg

The basis for communication and relationship are what NextStage calls “The 10 Must Messages”, meaning unless your site is communicating this messages well your site won’t work at all.

<Aside>
Interestingly enough, during the iMedia Brand Summit Master’s Class I taught earlier this week I asked all the attendees what the basic function of a website was. There were lots of answers and none of them were the most important one; to establish a relationship between the visitor and the brand. Regardless of intent, a relationship is being established and the success of that relationship is going to be based on how well the site communicates these messages to the visitors.
</Aside>

What we see here is something I mentioned in Sentiment Analysis, Anyone? (Part 1), that Canadian based companies tend to shout “We’re a Leader”. The fact that the two lines have roughly the same shape is to be expected (my guess is the same design group handled both homepages or a single template was used for both). Again we see some cultural based differences in the strength of the messaging.

<ET Tool Training Alert>
Take each line separately and the values are fair, there’s not a lot of shouting. What is a problem for both sites is the “This Is Important” message’s relative weakness. It is so low compared to most other messages on either site that visitors will feel no sense of urgency, no impulse to act, and in any case nowhere near as strong as it could be. The ideal would be for the “This Is Important” message and the “This Is Important To You” message to be high with the latter just enough higher to have visitors non-consciously recognize the difference.

I tend to liken the difference between these two messages to hearing the newscaster tell you about some news story then call in their talking-head to explain specifically why this news story is important to the viewer. Another way of thinking about their difference is the recognition that something may be important but not relevant to the individual versus important and relevant.

In any case, you can’t convince people that something is both important and relevant unless you first convince them that it’s important, period.

</ET Tool Training Alert>

Suggestions

That brings us to the last thing ET will report on, what to do to change the design for the target audience. I don’t know who the target is so any suggestions would be irrelevant, me thinks.

<Stephaneism>
After reading this analysis, Stephane commented:

I think what’s also interesting is ET gives you the data and the charts, but you still have to know that “Actionability needs to be a tad more than the Appeal because action requires effort”. The next stage of ET (no pun intended!) could involve bringing this “higher intelligence” (your intelligence!) to a rule engine that would gradually integrate this additional knowledge.
Let me take an example… web analytics tools today collect, analyze and provide the data, but they don’t provide any insight. Yet, some rules are readily applicable if we see high traffic from a specific campaign but a lower conversion rate than average: incoming traffic is less qualified, the campaign might need to be realigned. This intelligence could be integrated directly into the tool to raise “alarms” when things like this happen. The system would need to be trained and the architecture should allow to include new rules easily.

This is an excellent thought and yes, we’ve got it covered. People who’ve heard or seen my presentations know that one of ET’s differentiators is its ability to make suggestions. The tool that produces these reports — the one that doesn’t need a tag on a client’s site to generate actionable results — provides suggestions that incorporate “my intelligence” and additional knowledge (the system borrows heavily from knowledge management systems I worked on several years back) into its analysis. If I understand the rules system you’re describing, it’s already in there.

Anyway, we’re currently in the process of looking for alpha clients to help us integrate those rule engines into the product that does these analyses. [[(Already done and in NextStage OnSite, NextStage Experience Optimizer, NextStage Immediate Sentiment and NextStage Veritas Gauge)]]

</Stephaneism>

And there you go, Stephane. Hope it’s useful.


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