I did a little research…

I’ve mentioned in several places how much time I spend in research. There’s an interesting (to me) anecdote tied to that which I’d like to share.

I was in a meeting with a US$5MM company describing what NextStage does. Eventually the questions got around to “How did you figure this out?”

My reply (same now as it was then) was, “I did a little research.” It is, I believe, a truthful statement.

Many of the people in the room, however, rolled their eyes. Some pushed themselves away from the table we were sitting around. Most of them looked at my host as if to say, “Why are you wasting my time with this yutz?”

My host — a woman I consider one of my mentors (Howdy, Laureen!) — moved her hand slightly, a signal to everyone in attendance to wait a second before leaving the room. She asked,

Joseph, can you describe your research, please?

Me, nufratedes (Italian for “Clueless in Seattle”), said matter of factly,

Oh, I was listening to a conversation during lunch as MSU in ’87. That got me started, I published my thesis in ’91 and then…

It was 2003 in which this conversation occurred, you understand.

One of the people at the table replaced his jaw because it had dropped to the floor. “Fifteen-sixteen years and you call that ‘a little research’?”

“Yes, why?”

“To me ‘a little research’ means you looked up something on the web and maybe read one or two papers on the subject.”

This time my jaw dropped. “That would be foolish and a waste of time.”

“What do you call ‘a lot of research’?”

“Oh, I don’t know…a longitudinal study, I guess…sixty-five, seventy years, perhaps.”

Did I ever mention that NextStage Evolution is a research company. NextStage Global [[(Susan closed it down shortly after she took over, hence it is no more)]] productizes and markets what comes from our research [[(Most of this is just available to our members and clients now. And you should be one if you’re not already!)]].

Enjoy…


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Defining “RealTime”


I’ve read through this thread a few times and have been hesitant to respond. My hesitancy stems from a definition of the “real-time” paradigm. I completely agree with you that, if the goal is to simply analyze (no intention to minimize “analysis” with that phrasing), then there is no point and is possibly harm in using a real-time system.

However, if the point is to respond to visitors in real-time (the requirement being to engage in an active “conversation”, a true interaction) then a real-time system is a necessity. I also recognize that my use of “real-time” may not be relevant to what is posted here, so I’ll go back to my lurking at this point. – Joseph

I have read through a thread on Avinash Kaushik’s blog several times and finally responded to it today. The theory is that real-time analytics isn’t worth the money or horsepower involved and several reasons are given. Let me start by saying that I completely agree, real-time web analytics is, I believe, a tremendous drain on horsepower and time, and without people sufficiently skilled in its interpretation and the ability to modify the site in response to the analysis, why bother?

Where I disagree is in the italics above. The ability to respond in real-time is a requirement for true interaction and in order to engage in a “conversation” with the visitor.
A recent Science article and NextStage’s own research [[(available to NextStage Members)]] over the past (oh, a long time) years has demonstrated that being able to respond to individuals in real-time is not only doable, it is desirable. For what it’s worth, we’ve implemented such a system and have documented its use in several places, most notably in Reading Virtual Minds, Volume I: Science and History.
Just an FYI, folks.


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Whose pages do you trust?

No, really, I’m taking a break, a slight vacation from work. This means (for those who don’t know me) that I’m burying myself in research and reading…

In this case, I wanted to put readers on the alert that I’ll be doing an IMediaConnection column on measuring online trust — do visitors to your website trust the pages they’re navigating, do they believe the products and services listed will live up to their promise, can the company advertised on the site be trusted with the visitor’s business — on or before Jan ’06 [[(it’s 6 Ways to Make Your Ads Sticky)]]. If there are specific items you’d like me to cover in the column, comment here and I’ll do my best to get them in.


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The Cobbler’s Children

I was reading an article this morning and came upon this quote, “You can never revisit the past and replicate what went on, you can only get a glimpse. That’s an inevitable challenge.” (David Starkey in Nature)

The quote reminded me of several conversations I’ve had over the past month with some very knowledgeable and well respected web analysts, none of whom use web analytics on their own sites.

First, let me write that neither I nor NextStage do web analytics. When potential clients ask if we do web analytics, I mention the names of several analytics vendors and help the client decide which vendor best suits their goals and needs. That offered up front, on with this post…

Each of the analysts I talked with had reasons for not using analytics on their own sites. Those who did use analytics used whatever their hosting service gave them for free, and even so they only looked at their numbers when someone asked a specific question. As one analyst said, “I know. Kind of funny, isn’t it?” Frank Della Rosa of FDR&Associates explained it at a Progress Software meeting, “It’s like driving down the road by staring in your rearview mirror.”

But that doesn’t answer why so many cobblers’ children have no shoes, does it? Well, yes and no. It depends on how you define “shoes”.

Web analytics is growing and expanding well beyond answering the questions of “How many visitors did our site get this week?” and “How much did our site earn this week?” Today’s questions are more like “How come we had that many visitors and only earned this much on our site this week?”

Answering those questions requires some advanced understandings in fields unknown 10-15 years ago when web analytics got started. The children are growing and shoestyles are changing. For example, NextStage research started in 2004 and soon to be concluded indicates that the time a visitor stays on a page prior to taking some action on that page is directly related to their trust (covered in Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation and we hope it’s available soon) in the page’s content. There’s a lot that goes into this, it’s not a simple “Visitors stayed on this page 2 minutes, I guess they don’t trust it” or “Visitors stayed on the page 10 seconds, I guess they really trusted it” (You can get on a email list to be notified when this research is published [[(sorry, published long ago. Did you miss it? Bummer, eh?)]] here).

But think about how something as simple as this can help put shoes on all those children; it won’t matter how much traffic you get because this type of metric is a) anonymous and b) measured on a visitor by visitor basis.
Again, no single metric is enough. Each single metric is but a small step onto a vast landscape of necessary information. Want to walk that entire landscape and plumb all its depths? Then you need to take many steps.
Time to put some shoes on those children.


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Is Behavioral Really Behavioral?

In keeping with my quest for top notch blog content, I discovered some worthwhile posts on Anil Batra’s Web Analysis and Online Advertising blog, two on behavioral targeting (here and here) and one on homepages.

I wrote in that blog and repeat here that I’ve never been comfortable with the way the industry is defining behavioral… well, behavioral anything, actually. It seems the industry is collecting a bunch of action and result pairs, let’s call them “Xs to Ys”, and labeling them as a behavior.

I have trouble with that and here’s why.

Behaviors are not action and result pairs, to me. I would yield that in the commonest sense of the word, “behavioral” can be used in the current paradigm and have meaning. But assuming common meaning is accurate meaning is a falsehood, don’t you think? I wrote in Anil Batra’s blog that part of the difference (again, to me) involves differentiating the manner in which something is done and the fact that it done. Consider this quote from ScienceNews:

Consider that hale and hearty coworker. He may cozy up to lots of folks because he loves social contact and craves his peers’ approval. Or perhaps his chummy behavior masks discomfort around others and a deep-seated need to manipulate them for his own ends. If the latter proves true, is he more shy than gregarious, or vice versa?

The quote above points to the missing piece in the behavioral blah blah blah. Marketers need to understand why something is happening in order to generate revenue from the fact that it happens.

Yes, the scalability argument can be made here, but when the big players are fighting over tenths of percentage points, doesn’t it make sense to investigate why that one sheep keeps on getting lost? After all, you already own the flock.


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