Rocks, Hammers, Competition and How People Get Left Behind

Note: this post is from Jun ’07. We’re reposting because J references it in Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation.

I’ve been talking with lots of people about what NextStage does, about our Evolution Technology, and about how I never wanted people to lose their jobs because of it. Ever since I made the first announcement about being awarded our patent, people have been walking up to me and saying things like “Well, there’s goes A/B and Multivariate testing” or “There goes web analytics as we know it” or “There goes marketing”.

It was never my intention to have people lose jobs or have industries go away. I am (at my core, probably) a tool maker. I recognize challenges and create tools to address those challenges.

I also make the tools I create available to anyone who wants to use them (and often at a sliding scale based on their ability to pay). Nobody gets it for free, though. That’s pretty well understood by anyone who asks me.

I also often talk about the history of technology, how tools change culture and, in environmental time, how tools change tool users.

Consider rocks, hammers and those who lost their jobs versus those who didn’t when this technology — a mass accelerated through a torque arc. That’s what both hammers and rocks are — changed.

You can think that the hammer put the rock out of the business of being a striking tool in flint based societies (“stone age”). The hammer’s advantage was it took less effort to do the same amount of work as a rock. Rocks had to be accelerated through the torque arc of the arm and lacked the ability to deliver constant impact strength to small areas (you usually had to swing your whole arm and you couldn’t do fine work).

The hammer could be accelerated by the whole arm. It could also be accelerated by the wrist and deliver close to the same impact strength. Also, because it was controlled by the finer muscles of the wrist, it could do finer work.

So the hammer put the rock out of business, yes?

The hammer put the rock out of business, no!

The hammer put people who refused to learn how to use the hammer out of business. People who learned how to use the hammer could also learn how to use the rock. The aboriginal people I’ve been with often start people with rocks when teaching them how to knap, then progress them up to primitive hammers as the student’s skills develop.

However, people who stop their education with the rock? It might be impressive to watch (it is. I’ve seen it) and the amount of time required to do the same amount of work with hammer or rock? Much longer with a rock. Much more expensive.

I won’t stop people from using rocks. I just think hammers are much more effective.


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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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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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Evolution Technology and What It Gets You

Note: This post originally served as a marketing paper. Some things change, some things don’t. Most of what’s described in here is in NextStage OnSite, NextStage Experience Optimizer, NextStage Immediate Sentiment and NextStage Veritas Gauge

What is ‘Evolution Technology’?

Evolution Technology increases the effectiveness of website commerce by dynamically adapting presentation to a user’s personality. It makes using a website more comfortable and natural for users and promotes more frequent purchases by presenting opportunities that fit the user’s comfort level.

Evolution Technology’s ability to fine tune presentations allows it to perform targeted marketing and sales to members of different user populations visiting the same website. Other technologies recognize that user B behaves the same as user A and therefore would suggest policies and products to user B that user A was historically interested in or had purchased. Evolution Technology would be able to learn enough about the users by analyzing their usage profiles to determine which of the two was a better candidate for which service or product and tailor its presentation accordingly in real time.

How it Works

Regardless of culture or background, each of us has constructed over our lifetimes a kind of “map” that we use to guide our decisions. This map consists of the habits, perceptions, experiences, and beliefs we rely on to understand and deal with the world we live in every day.

Making a decision of any kind consists, first, of referring to this internal map and identifying various possible “routes,” then, second, applying our internal strategy — our set of unconscious “rules” — for making choices.

Behavior professionals — psychologists, neuroscientists and others — have standardized methods to “read” an individual’s map and identify the rules each individual uses to make decisions. These methods are easily codified.

Once a user’s map is properly understood and the rules are identified, it is possible to rearrange the “territory” of a web site’s presentation to match the individual’s map, making navigation easy and natural and guiding the user to the desired destination. This done, it is equally easy to present purchase choices in a way that conforms to the user’s “rules” for making a decision to purchase.

To date xCommerce and B2x systems rely on such methods as Bayesian Analysis (Autonomy), Syntactic Analysis (Sentient Systems), “Open Profiling” which is variations on ELIZA and HOMR analytic methods (FireFly) and similar tools to generate usage characteristics over time. All of these systems make use of questionnaires, response-analysis surveys, site-surveys and so on to create their demographic profiles.

Evolution Technology doesn’t interest itself with the ‘what’ of each web experience. In other words, Evolution doesn’t care that you bought a book or a sweater online, it is more concerned with the decision process that led you to make those purchases from that particular site at that particular point in time. This grouping of decisions to buy something when you did can be thought of as the ‘why’ of your purchase. Evolution Technology determines why purchases are made and then works to repeat the why experience whenever it finds you or someone who closely matches you online. In other words, once Evolution Technology determines why you made a particular purchase decision it works to recreate as much of the experience of a purchase decision as possible in order to encourage other purchase decisions.

The Result

Evolution Technology’s synthesis of knowledge about human behavior and advanced internet technology dramatically increases the effectiveness of web sites. With each mouseclick, Evolution Technology presents a site that more and more precisely matches a user’s personal “map” and internal “rules” for making decisions. The personalized experience for users encourages comfort, repeat visits and repeat purchases.

Active Selling, The Web’s Missing Link

When a master salesman talks with a prospect, he unconsciously notices and processes dozens of equally unconscious cues from his customer. With each cue, he adjusts his spiel to choose just the right emphasis that will close the sale.

For all the power that the internet has brought to doing business, eCommerce websites lack that master salesman’s talent. They remain essentially passive, waiting for the prospect to choose where the transaction will go — if anywhere.

Active — Not Passive — Listening

Evolution Technology blends all we have discovered about human behavior with the best in web usability studies and advanced design techniques to power websites more like a master salesman.

From the moment a visitor arrives, Evolution Technology is processing subtle cues about that visitor’s interests, choices and preferences. It customizes the presentation to that visitor’s personality before the first link is even followed.

The Advantage

eCommerce sites have an average of only five clicks to capture a transaction before new visitors drift away in boredom or frustration. Any distraction or click that takes a visitor down a blind alley risks losing that customer forever. Some studies show those lost customers represent four out of ten visitors for most sites.

Evolution Technology brings active listening to the website, taking users directly to the places they want and need to go and guiding the visit toward closing a sale that will satisfy the customer. By sensing what the customer wants to see and delivering presentation that meets that search exactly, Evolution Technology dramatically improves the chances for closing, as well as for opening new opportunities and building customer loyalty.

The Difference

Evolution Technology does not rely on cookies or on customers’ actively providing information through filling out forms. Because it is dynamic and not completely reliant on databases of customer information collected in the past, it offers a technology that is unique in the market today.

General Use Case and Discussion

Imagine yourself sitting at your web-browser. You sat down just twenty minutes ago to go through a credit approval process and you’d been putting it off for weeks because you knew you’d have to answer lots of questions, have to look through your files, not be sure you were answering the right questions the right way… In fact, you gave up your Saturday afternoon because you were sure it was going to take hours, probably most of the day, and most of the time you were going to spend had little to do with your connection speed.

But that was twenty minutes ago and now you’re done. Not only are you done, but you’re relaxed. You’re happy. You’re glad. You’re smiling and you’re wondering why the gods smiled upon you.

This was easy. So easy.

You even printed out the forms the website asked you to print out and checked them over to make sure you’d answered the questions correctly, and you did answer them correctly. First time! Amazing!

You’re so impressed at how easily you managed this session and how expertly you navigated the website that you jump up to go tell your mate and your kids.

The only problem is you sent them all to the mall so you’d have the day free and clear with no interruptions and no one to hear you when you cussed the site, the computer, credit card/mortgage companies in general and yours in particular.

Now you’re left scratching the dog’s ears, explaining to trusty Fido how easy and effortless this was.

What happened?

Well, you’re not exactly sure, but you know darn well that you’re going to tell your friends at work and probably your in-laws when you see them tomorrow for Sunday dinner just how easy this was and what a genius you are for being able to get through this so quickly.

As you run your fingers through Fido’s fur, you tell that gloriously good mutt exactly what you’re going to tell your sister and brother-in-law. “How long does it normally take you to get your credit approved? Yeah? Well I did it in less than twenty minutes. No, I’m not! Where’s your computer? You got it hooked to the ‘net? Here. Let me show you.”

You finish by giving Fido a dog-biscuit and then you relax in front of the TV with a good book.

Yeah, this is the way doing business is suppose to be.


But what did happen? To answer that question we need to back up those twenty minutes and invite you to now imagine you’re the credit/mortgage company’s computer. There are lights blinking on and off on your faceplate like eyes waking to the bright morning sun, disk drives are whirring and spinning like arms and legs stretching from a welcome nap, somewhere deep inside your silicon heart electrons are pumping information through hardwired arteries and programmatic veins.

It’s time to go to work, you know. Someone has just browsed onto your company’s website. You also know you’re serving up an Evolution Technology enhanced website. You’re designed to help whoever’s browsing get where they’re going. Because you’re Evolution Technology enhanced, you know that people don’t truly “browse” and don’t truly “surf” the net; they perform what are called directed searches. You know you will benefit them the most in two ways; One, you can quickly help them decide what they’re searching for is something you can’t provide and they should move on. Two, you can quickly decide if this individual is someone you want to do business with (such as recognizing an individual’s a bad risk and encouraging them to go elsewhere for their needs).

But here’s the big one; Because your site is an Evolution Technology enhanced website you can dynamically alter your company’s website presentation to maximize the chances this individual will complete their transaction before quitting, finish what they came to do before moving on, or become so exasperated they decide to call customer service anyway.

Q&A

What does it mean, “dynamically alter a website’s presentation”, and how do you do that? Are you somehow modifying the basic content of each presentation for individual users?

Yes.

So you mean what you send to Charlie is subtly different from what you send to Gladys and that the two of those are subtly different from what you send to Pat?

Yes.

And you’re doing this in real time, click by click, so that what this individual is doing while they’re browsing is influencing your dialogue, tailoring your presentation to a specific, individual audience of one?

Yes.

That’s kind of what a master salesperson’s does, isn’t it?

Yes.

Wow. That’s impressive. But I’ve seen and heard all that before. You use some kind of marketing models, right?

No.

Okay. Then you have some kind of personal history database you purchase or tie into, right, so you get a profile of this individual the minute they sign on?

No.

How about this, then; You look at their address and income level and a few other things and run some numbers or something like that, right?

No.

Okay. I give up. What do you do, some kind of magic mumbo-jumbo?

Well…yes…and no.
First off, Evolution Technology enhanced websites begin gathering data on individual users the instant they enter a site. If a person comes to a site from another site via a referral, Evolution Technology uses that referral as part of its identity information. If a person comes to a Evolution Technology enhanced site from another Evolution Technology enhanced site, Evolution Technology will alter and sometimes dramatically individualize the new website’s homepage during the referral process.

You’re kidding.

No, I’m not.

So what are you doing, watching click-throughs and things like that?

Again, yes and no. Evolution Technology does pay attention to click-throughs but lots of stuff is going on before an individual clicks from one presentation to the next. In fact, it may take a few minutes or more for a person to get from a company’s homepage to the page they were looking for. But during that time the individual is actually quite busy and here’s where Evolution Technology comes into play.
Everyone, regardless of their background, their homelife, their job, their this-or-that, manifests what are called psychomotor behaviors. Psychomotor behaviors range from distinctive walks to ways of reading a newspaper. Evolution Technology pays attention to these distinctive behaviors to determine one individual browsing the site from another individual browsing the site.

Yeah, well. How does Evolution Technology know how somebody walks or how they read a newspaper?

That’s our secret, but walk with me a minute and maybe I can show you. Does that sound like something you’d be willing to do?

Okay. You’ve got a minute.

You ever been to a webpage?

Of course.

Ever use a mouse while you’re looking at that webpage?

Sure.

Ever move the mouse to what you were looking at on that page, to maybe focus your attention on what you were reading? Kind of like using your finger to highlight one line in your DVD burner’s instructions from the rest so you’d get it right?

Well…uh…

And if you haven’t done it, ever seen anybody else do it?

Oh, yeah, well, sure.

That’s what Evolution Technology does. It pays attention to little things like that, things that most people aren’t even aware they’re doing.

So Evolution Technology pays attention to where I move the mouse. Big Deal. How much can you learn from that?

You’d be impressed. But Evolution Technology doesn’t just watch where you move the mouse. It does much, much more, and it links what it watches to information that’s too detailed to get into right now, but it does all this so that it learns — even before you make your first click — what types of things work for you and what things don’t. When you click to the next page it’s already subtly changed the presentation so that it’s easier for you to use. It’s kind of like talking to an old friend. Evolution Technology can learn enough and do it quickly enough to finish your sentences for you, so to speak.

Wow.

Right. And it keeps track of who’s who so it can change the presentation for you, Charlie, Gladys and Pat and deliver the correctly modified content to the right individual as they’re browsing the site. Evolution Technology is true 1-1 marketing, done over the net.

So you’re saying Evolution Technology can take a two hour web session and turn it into twenty minutes, and make me feel glad about it, because it watches me and works to help me?

You got it.


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How Big Can the Web Get?

Yes, okay, I’ll admit it. I’m reading again. Yes, I’m once again distilling from disparate sources to generate one single idea which (I hope) will be of value. I’ve written previously about my habit of reading and researching and reading and researching and then just letting ideas come to the surface. This time I was reading about ecosystems. I actually read this information several months back. Today I’m cleaning off my desk and found the material again so reread it and my notes.

By the time this post is out, my post on Quorum Sensing may seem like old hat, yet the two go together. I promised in the Quorum Sensing post that I just knew there was a mathematical tie between the two and yep, by golly, my notes on ecosystem development seem to be it. Even more so since my friend Brad Berens commented on the post and I promised to get back to him on it.

I’d written a while back about attending a Boston KM Forum conference on dark blogs. One statement made at that conference is that blogs are going to peak out soon. I’m not so sure about that and have provided pro and con links at the end of this post.

My unsurety comes an ecosystem perspective on the web in general and the blogosphere in particular. If the question is “Will web use in general and blogs interaction in particular increase indefinitely?” then I think the answer has to do with three major factors;

  1. Access
  2. The number of people willing to go online at any one point in time
  3. The number of people who simply stop going online for some reason (and I don’t think this is a real factor due to societilization factors, meaning people are now being trained to seek expertise on the web rather than from a book or some other information source)

Consider item 1: Access is increasing every day. Technology is making the web accessible to the remotest areas imaginable.

Item 2: The nature of the web and blogging give them the ability to address different needs rapidly and compare this to…

Item 3: Needs which are no longer met or not longer need to be met.

The gift of the web is communication and the ability for groups and cultures to form and dissolve as needed, something I’ve written about as The Village. This translates in the above as the number of available resources for publication and the availability of inexpensive publishing forums. This is the “Gutenberg Press in your Pocket”.

So long as available resources for receiving published material exist and so long as there’s a competitive market — both in writing resources (the trusting the author factor) and publishing the written material — for the material communicated, the web, blogs, and who knows what will come after, will thrive.

Links for this post [[(we have no idea how many of these blogs are still around)]]:


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