Tag Archives: data

Visualization Observations from Election 2012

You have probably heard of big data, enterprise analytics, business intelligence, or just plain analytics––whichever term you prefer, they all refer to ways of sorting through the tons and tons of data at our fingertips. Today, there are an increasing number of tools out there to help us visualize complex, not-so-user-friendly information. Enter visualization.

Visualizations have been around for a while––from things like Major League Baseball’s iOS app for watching a baseball game on your mobile phone without streaming video to the a user’s device. At their core, these types of visualizations take complex events, such as sporting events or elections, and display the critical data elements in a structured means to tell a story to the viewer. In the baseball example, the visualization depicts each pitch and the subsequent events (hit, strike, run, out, etc).

The presidential election this past week was no exception to this visualization trend, but each of the major news networks took a different approach. The US presidential election is basically a game played to 270 electoral votes, but much like baseball, what happens with each pitch––or in the case of the election, when a major network predicts the winner of a particular state––is just as important as the score.

With this in mind, consider the following observations when you think about data visualization:

1. Updates matter.
Notifications of those updates matter even more when the updates are sporadic (and the game, or election, occurs over a long period of time).

2. Compact wins!
Good design, except for the four-digit time issue, makes NPR’s “Big Board” the clear winner in terms of clean, focused design. NPR gave up the map for a fixed, transit-style grid. Using a clean, fixed style, NPR conveyed all of the other specifics that each of the big networks attempted to show on their respective sites: battleground states, percentage of popular vote, electoral delegates, time the state was called, party who won the state, and percentage of districts reporting.

3. Remember the colors.
The bane of monitor-based displays has long been contrast and color and the litany of variables that accompany all the devices used to consume online content. Critical, primary data points––the status of each state’s electoral votes, for example––were difficult to see on many sites because of the color (and small size) of the graphic.

Did you watch the election online or with a secondary display nearby?

What was your favorite source?

Author: John Carew


Hope, Change, and Whining in the Mobile Arena

As we all keep heading back to the cloud-services buffet line to fill our plates with streaming music, document collaborations, and photo sharing, our glasses of data––once advertised as bottomless––are leaving us thirsty. Mobile devices––the smartphones and tablets of the world––make the cloud-service buffet line seem so much cooler, more powerful, and more useful, but what does the future hold? Three stories from the past few weeks help us read the tech tea leaves.

From execs going nuts on international flights to just poor long-term planning, the struggling Canadian former tech giant has had it rough. For a seemingly stagnant company that once paved the way with mobile email, calendars, and contact functionality from a mobile device (the BlackBerry), recent news of a well-received new device might be the fair-weather forecast RIM has been waiting for. Before you slam RIM and its loyal hoard of CrackBerry zombies, remember that the company was once innovative––that innovation in the marketplace can lead to better devices for us, the consumers. During the BlackBerry developers conference, alpha-stage BlackBerry 10 devices were distributed to developers to kick-start app development. Check out the video below:


Mobile Interactions: Change Your View
Change how you view your mobile customers (if you even know they exist). Custora, a mobile-commerce analytics start-up, posted an interesting infographic showing the different purchasing habits of mobile customers. From device stats to analysis of mobile versus non-mobile customers, the message is clear: Know your customers and study their habits based on their mobile identifiers. Those identifiers will lead you either to enhance their experience or to fine-tune your strategy.

Wireless Whining
Rumblings (think “wahhhhhhhhhh!”) from the mobile carriers and their Washington lobbyists about the future of our airwaves and the portions that wireless carriers claim they need in order to support our new and growing thirst for mobile data are creating a controversy. It’s a battle between developing new technology and the “easy way out,” snatching up more spectrum to protect revenues and control the marketplace. The New York Times reports that the now dead-in-the-water deal between AT&T and T-Mobile was purely about access to spectrum, or more of the radio frequencies that we use to pass voice and mobile data through our smartphones. All in all, technology seems to be a logical solution––one in which the use of spectrum-neutral techniques could make the spectrum-licensing and -dividing model obsolete––but it would require the big mobile carriers to reconfigure their networks.

Author: John Carew

I See Data Everywhere!

Data surrounds us. Our brains wrap them up nicely with words like “feelings” or “impulse” or “hunger,” but those inputs from our environment or our own bodies are, at the most basic level, pieces of data. For a long time I thought I was alone in my view of the world. I often described it as a cross between this image from Terminator

and the opening sequence to Person of Interest (except for the whole crime, terrorism, bad guy craziness).

Come to find out, there are others like me and in a recent story by the Wall Street Journal, H. James Wilson discusses in Employees, Measure Yourselves, how employers should encourage their workers to review data about their activities to better themselves and their performance in the workplace. From screen tracking technology, to heart rate monitors, to thought modeling tools, there are a growing number of auto-analytics devices and applications that allow people to track information about them and analyze the results for self-improvement.

We live in a world where the view from our eyes is in vectors, analysis and pieces of data from the thousands of systems with which we interact every day. Maybe that is why people love New York City, a city of 8 plus million individual human systems who interact with tens of thousands of independent systems from businesses to public transit to taxis to law enforcement. With these auto-analytics tools, individuals can answer questions like “am I more productive when I get more sleep” or “how much time do I spend online every day?” I can say from personal experience, measuring data like sleep hours, calorie intake, calorie burn and hours at work have measurable and predictable patterns. Without my own home grown analytics, those patterns would just have lived as hypothesis in my brain, but with years of data to prove the pattern, I can predict and compensate for the effects of various scenarios between those data points.

Here’s my challenge to you. Overcome your fear of big brother, whether big brother be your boss, employer, government or some nefarious cybercriminal and pick three data points to capture, analyze, strategize and implement. Take email response time for example. Tools like Xobni (for Microsoft Outlook) or Smartr (for Gmail) give you powerful analytics tools to see how long it takes you to respond to email, who is your most frequent contact or what time of day do you receive or send the most emails. Look at the results of email analysis and compare it to other factors like time away from your desk for meetings, travel, or time out of the office. Then look at your perceived weaknesses and see how email may be a factor and determine a short -term experiment to improve on a weakness.

At our fingertips are powerful auto-analytic tools, many of which are free or very inexpensive, that give you a world if insight into how we function as humans within the context of the complex systems of which we interact daily. Our ability to measure, analyze and improve will make us more efficient, self-aware and productive. So, go ahead, pick a few data points, find a tool to help you capture the data and analyze the results. See you on the other, more efficient and data rich side.

Author: John Carew

Don’t Cross That Data Line: How a Lack of Knowledge About Modern Business Technology Can Be a Death Sentence

From sorting spreadsheets to simple statistical analysis of a data set to basic knowledge of what occurs in the back-end functions of the average business “server,” a functional understanding of everyday technology systems is paramount in today’s world. Don’t get me wrong––expecting the average person involved in a complex business process to understand all aspects of that global process is inefficient. Regardless of where you stand regarding division of labor and the ideas of Adam Smith versus Karl Marx, specialization is part of today’s world and is, and will continue to be, a deciding factor in the expansion and penetration of mobile technology into our lives.

No, this is not a post on human resources, talent management, or anything related to job-placement skills. My goal is to pose a question to anyone who interacts with new technology, whether at home or in the workplace. My simple question: Are we ready for mobile? Mobile today means far more than “mobile” ten years ago––heck, even five years ago. Mobile today means access to documents––anywhere, anytime––access to applications that drive business processes and integration, with a wide array of devices. We have seen mobile technology expand our personal lives, but a functional understanding of what powers this technology tips businesses toward success or failure.

In any job, there is an existing process, defined as a set of procedures or steps that take something from one form to another. Each process has a set of inputs and outputs that feed into a sequential order, creating an increasingly larger system. Often, knowledge of the previous and next steps in the process is critical for someone to complete his or her given assignment efficiently.

All the business processes interact with other systems constantly. The buzzword du jour is “cloud,” which implies reliance on a robust and stable network as well as some “special sauce.” This sauce is knowledge of what powers the cloud, an understanding of what occurs behind the browser or touchscreen. Compared to the mechanical systems of the last century, where pulling a lever or turning a knob had an effect on a mechanical device, the black-box concept of digital systems today hinders a user’s ability to understand. These days, simple, practical knowledge of the back end separates the mice from the men tablets.

Why, damn it, why doesn’t it just work?

Hmm, let’s see. Storage of electronic assets is not intuitive to start. Day to day, we can let documents pile up in a drawer or inbox. If the need to retrieve a document or piece of information from a physical document arises, you use the efficient (sometimes inefficient) query  engine known as the human brain and its accompanying visual system to locate the physical document. This applies to the digital world, but the physical (eye-based) portion of the retrieval process is made far more difficult in an electronic environment given the limited viewing options. If the electronic document was poorly stored, lacking the proper references for searching, or was stored in a repository not possessing the right functions, the document is lost in the digital file cabinet. Tagged electronic resources may be common on many websites and familiar to everyday Internet users, but the implications of what that information means in the context of a larger system is often lost.

What needs to be known?

It is important to understand the business process and the rules associated with it as well as how the data points from this process are used within the larger global scale of the organization. Ultimately our modern technology makes us curators of information, whether pertinent to our personal or professional duties. The better we are at data stewardship, the better we can support the existing processes in all aspects of our lives. Being stewards means knowing about modern networking, the basics of what powers the Internet, document management skills, and what can be done with the data that are added to any given process.

Are you ready for this change? Are your team and company on the same page when it comes to your systems and data? Tell us what you think.

Author: John Carew

Rules of Mobile Mayhem: Things to Remember as You Plan a Mobile Presence

I recently came across a video of poet and storyteller Rives presenting his poem “If I Controlled the Internet” at TEDSalon 2006.

My, how things have changed in 5 years. 2006 was pre-iPhone, back when the likes of RIM were still on top and Apple was clambering for market share while expanding its retail presence. With the recent news of RIM’s planned layoffs to “reshape” into a company better fitted to handle the upcoming release of new BlackBerry handhelds, changes in the marketplace over the last 5 years have muddied the waters for organizations hoping to market their products or services.

Utterly Orange has previously covered the difficulties associated with mobile marketing or application development due to the complicated marketplace, and there are some lessons to be learned. Consider these concepts as your plan your mobile presence:

#1 Innovation Wins
RIM is dying, slowly losing market share point by point, and it has no one else to blame but itself. It provided a functional product with marginal innovation. RIM geared its product toward business use, ignoring consumer-side impulses.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg, or in this case, the smartphone or the mobile functions? Mobile functions cover a broad range of features, from mobile applications to mobile-friendly websites to carrier-side, location-aware services that tie in with SMS. We know that the analysts and cell carriers planned the growth of the mobile market, and the proof was in the ramp up to the bigger and faster mobile data connections we sort of have today, but was it the smartphone or the pipes that came first? Answer: iPhone. Yeah, yeah. We hear you––the iPhone isn’t the answer to every question, but user understanding and subsequent adoption is a tremendously large part of the success of a new product. Add some level of innovation to the mix, and you have a recipe for massive growth––or at least it has looked that way over the last 5 years with the iPhone and iPad. Now both devices were and are not perfect by any means. Both have critical features that are still missing, and some design and user interface choices give the edge to some of their competitors.

Twitter and Foursquare had no competitors before each started as a tiny start-up. A creative idea coupled with a powerful, functional mobile device helped expand the adoption of both applications. Regardless, the bar was raised with the release of iOS and its intuitive features. Innovation won and keeps winning as judged by Android’s taking top seat as the leading mobile operating system.
Keep innovation in mind as you consider the right mix of mobile functions for your marketing (and communications) efforts. Providing something new or innovative captures attention and stands out from the tumultuous sea of marketing attempts that users deal with every day via multiple mediums.

#2 Do It Right
Google “failed mobile marketing.” You will find hundreds of examples from the blogosphere, media, and trade journals of failures in mobile marketing. From the ever present QR that points to a company’s non-mobile-friendly homepage to “follow us” with the bird and blue F slapped below all new advertising and marketing collateral, failed use of new mobile functions is prevalent.

Do it right, meaning hire the right people or look at the leaders and users of these mobile functions inside your organization to help you get oriented. None of these mobile functions are inherently complicated. Once you begin to hone your ideas, you may want to bring in stronger firepower, but leverage your resources––whether they be inside or outside––to get the key people up to speed on what constitutes the successful use of these powerful mobile features and avoid what could be an #epicfail.

The disadvantage of waiting to enter the mobile arena this late is that so many have already created mobile functions that are totally awesome. Users know what to expect and can sniff out amateur efforts quickly. Missing the mark on the execution of a mobile effort can spell long-term negative effects for your brand.

#3 Follow the Data
Good news: the Internet gives you a lot of data about your customers. A well-set up website can give you insight into how your customers interact with your existing web presence. Dive deep into the areas of your analytic platform that provide details on mobile traffic, network properties, and browser capabilities. For example, mobile traffic can give you an idea of the percentage of users who access your website via mobile browsers.

Additionally, use existing contact points to determine how existing users interact with your web presence. Ask them their preferences. Remember, users with mobile devices are looking for an intuitive, easy-to-use mobile function that makes their lives easier or simplifies an existing process that they complete with your organization. If you are considering developing a mobile app and can’t decide between iOS, Android, BlackBerry, or some flavor of Windows for smartphones, spend some time in your analytic platform and look at the device types used. Follow your data to make an innovative mobile function and do it right.

One more thing. Take a risk. Twitter was a risk, as was Foursquare, but the risk was taken and now they both are successful products. The overhead required to make a mobile function will vary dramatically, and the recession doesn’t help when scouring for some extra cash, but it’s still the Wild West in many ways. The risk could be wildly successful and bring your product or company to the forefront of the market.

What is your first step (or next step) in expanding your company’s mobile presence? Let us know your thoughts or questions via a comment and join the conversation.

Author: John Carew