Posts from the ‘Analytics Premium’ Category
October 25, 2011
Anything that can be measured can be optimized, and sometimes that optimization can lead to competitive advantage in inefficient markets. That’s the lesson of the book and popular new movie Moneyball, about the Oakland A’s baseball team and its use of statistics to overcome the limitations of its budget. It’s a seductive proposition.
What if everything were run like that, though? What if measurement and optimization were the fundamental strategic approach brought to bear on all kinds of endeavors? That may be exactly what’s happening with the rise of what’s called The Internet of Things, the emerging network of web connected streets, buildings, sensors, objects and devices expected to dominate the Internet in coming decades. But the same approach is also being taken with regard to some of our most fundamental human activities: growing up, healing our bodies and spending time alone. Three examples in particular help shed some light on the good sides and the bad sides of a Web that would make all things measurable and subject to optimization.
By the time a child enters school, experts say there are about 1,000 basic words that they need to know as a foundation to maximize their reading comprehension and intellectual growth. Studies show that children from more marginal social-economic backgrounds enter school already in a vocabulary deficit relative to others.
In order to optimize the preparedness that children bring with them into school, a new class of software is becoming available to parents that combines educational play with analytics reports. New mobile apps aim to help children learn new skills and report their measured progress to parents behind the scenes.
Two recent entrants into this space are Stickery, which this month announced funding from Google Ventures, and Footsteps2Brilliance, an iPad app that has already reported substantial increase in reading comprehension by pre-schoolers.
Stickery is lead by a team with extensive backgrounds in gaming, but Footsteps2Brilliance is already performing pilot tests of its more staid software for the iPad and getting good results. One pilot test of the call-and-response, assisted reading iPad app with pre-schoolers reportedly increased reading comprehension scores from 58.5 percent to 76.4 percent.
Stickery aims to offer analytics to parents as well. The company isn’t ready to show off what it’s doing, but in a world full of games – the Stickery says the popularity of “babysitting apps” represents a huge missed opportunity.
Not everyone sees it like this, though. In a recent write-up of the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, in the heart of Silicon Valley but dedicated to avoiding technology’s influence over children, a contrary perspective was articulated vehemently.
“The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous,” Alan Eagle of Google’s Executive Communications team told the New York Times.
Critics of this kind of approach have also raised concerns regarding lost connection to nature, to unstructured free exploration and creativity and to the parts of life that cannot ever be measured but that warrant substantial investment for the good of a whole child and adult.
It’s hard to know how many of these critiques are really new, though, and how many of them are timeless, ideological and at risk of missing out on progress through tools. It would probably be just as big a mistake to reject all measured, technology driven education as it would be to presume that technology was sufficient for the whole of a person’s education.
Insurance actuaries were some of the first people put out of work by computers. Where money and well-being come together has always been a place where numbers people have sought to measure and optimize. Historically, there’s been an emphasis on mitigating risks. Today, preventative wellness programs are growing in popularity when it comes to minimizing health problems and insurance claims.
Where the rubber hits the road – in hospitals – numbers are playing an ever greater role as well.
Health care institutions are increasingly interested in adopting health care performance metric dashboards, industry watchers say.
In a recent article on HealthDataManagement.com, a survey of different institutions’ use of health data dashboards offered a broad look into the control room experience of modern hospitals and other health related institutions. It’s “a wave everybody is jumping on,” on interviewee said.
Doctors, nurses and administrators are widely adopting real-time data dashboards from companies like McKesson, CareFX and Tableau. These dashboards integrate streams of information and alerts from multiple different data sources, making the information easy to quickly visualize.
Who doesn’t love dashboards? Medical institutions use them to measure and optimize things like:
- How long each doctor’s patients are staying in the hospital and what percentage of them come back within 30 days.
- Which hospital office workers can get the most patients processed in through the door and with the most complete initial information. Also, which of them can get the most money out of patients on their way out the door. “Bill me,” is not a phrase hospitals like to hear because medical debts are so often ignored.
- Doctors report what medications they use in each procedure they perform, but those reports don’t always match up with a hospital’s inventory. Keeping an eye on both enables institutions to monitor for anomalous use of medications in order to maximize treatment efficacy and doctor accountability.
“Notice that none of those use studies focus on what health dashboards are supposed to focus on, health,” says enterprise technology journalist Dana Blankenhorn. “Only $$$.”
Indeed, optimization presumes a particular party’s interests are being optimized for and while some critics might see in the aforementioned children’s education app analytics something other than the best interest of children being served – the matter of measuring medical metrics seems even riskier for the interests of patients.
There’s no reason why accountability, efficiency and institutional self-awareness have to be bad things from a patients’ perspective though. To presume so seems superficial to me.
Solitude no More
What could be more archetypal a solitary action than curling up with a good book? Now that our books are backlit, of course, things are different.
New apps measure adult reading, too, now. Yesterday Alicia Eler wrote the first coverage of a new Betaworks company called Findings, which lets you import your Amazon Kindle annotations and share them in a stream with friends. Once the highlights of what you’ve read are captured in data form and published to the web, there’s a whole world of recommendations, popularity contests and more than can be performed.
The forthcoming startup Hypothes.is brings that kind of paradigm to the whole web and beyond. It’s team of Web-scale heavy hitters want to create a “peer review layer for the internet” complete with reputation scores and a rich set of feedback from readers about everything.
There’s no doubt that such measurements could deliver some very real value – but what about the solitary relationship between a reader and an author’s work? What about unaccountable, uncounted free and independent thought about the things we read? Reading has worked very well for a long time without being subject to monitoring, measurement and automatic recommendations.
Some people, many people, are likely to enjoy the value that a layer of quantification put over or beside their reading experience can offer.
None of these instances of the increasing measurement of life seem clearly and unconditionally good or bad. They have incredible potential but also seem to post some risk of alienation, of coldness, of dehumanization and of rendering our experiences less complete than we need them to be in order to be completely human ourselves.
Hopefully we can maximize the upside of this paradigm while guarding against its dangers.
October 19, 2011
Google Analytics is about to get a whole lot more visual, thanks to the launch of a new feature, Flow Visualizations.
The new feature was announced by Google SVP of ads Susan Wojcicki at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco. It will launch later today for all Google Analytics users.
Flow Visualizations is a dynamic way to view and experience your Google Analytics data. It utilizes the lens of a Sankey diagram, a specific type of flow diagram. Flow Visualizations allow sites to drill into user behavior based on location, browser, user type and many other variables.
The key to Flow Visualizations, though, is its ability to analyze how visitors are using a website. These visualizations allow website administrators to figure out where people are visiting, how many people stay on their site, how many people visit a site’s shopping cart and more.
Wojcicki said the inspiration for the new product actually came from a Sankey diagram from the 19th century, describing the marching movements of Napoleon and his army over the course of time.
Check out a photo from the Web 2.o Summit below:
October 4, 2011
After quietly testing in Brazil, Spanish-speaking Latin America, Spain, and Portugal, Google will roll out a new algorithm globally that gives more weight to landing page quality when it comes to AdWords Quality Score. This means ads with landing pages that Google deems to be most relevant to the query will be able to rank higher for lower cost-per-click bids.
“What we’ve seen is that there are ads available in the auction that are as good a quality as the top ads. But the landing pages — the merchant sites, the advertiser landing pages — are of much higher quality than the ads that we see at the top of our auction,” Jonathan Alferness, director of product management on Google’s ad quality team told me. This, says Alferness, means the user experience isn’t what it could be. Hence the change to give more weight to landing page quality. “In the end, we believe that this will result in better quality experience for the users.”
Landing page quality has long been a factor in Google AdWords, but more as a negative signal. If an advertiser’s landing page was particularly terrible or misleading, advertisers could have their ads rejected or their accounts suspended or revoked — depending on how bad the policy violation was. The new change will assign landing page quality a positive value, incentivizing advertisers to make sure the landing page’s keywords and content are closely aligned with the keywords for which they’re bidding. Ads with high landing page quality will get a “strong boost” upward in the auction, according to Alferness.
Alferness says Google will crawl the landing pages associated with every ad and make a determination as to its quality.
“What we always ask our advertisers to focus on is relevance — choose a landing page or site experience that is both relevant to the keywords that you’re targeting and also a good experience for end users,” said Alferness. “This is just continuing to sort of push on those best practices. I gives us the ability to really reward those advertisers that have been doing this, whose landing pages really are some of the best in our systems.”
The change will roll out in the next week or two. Advertisers may see some variations in ad position and keyword Quality Score at first, but things should settle down within a couple of weeks, according to Google.
September 30, 2011
Google has developed a paid version of its Analytics website usage monitoring service that offers better performance, more sophisticated features and broader technical support than the free product, the company said on Friday.
Analytics Premium is designed for sites with very heavy traffic that need “extra processing power” behind their analytics software so that they can collect more data, perform more complex analysis and generate more granular reports, Google said.
The paid version of Analytics will also feature advanced service offerings for things like custom implementations and around-the-clock technical support, the company said in a blog post. Google also offers service level agreements for Analytics Premium.
While developing Analytics Premium, Google worked with some of its biggest Analytics users, including Travelocity and Gucci. The service is available in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. for an undisclosed annual fee. Companies can sign up for it directly with Google or through Analytics resellers.
Google Analytics used to be a paid service back when it was called Urchin on Demand, but after Google acquired the company in 2005, it made it a free product.
Google’s decision to offer Urchin on Demand as a free product rocked the website analytics market at the time, since most vendors charged for their wares. Urchin on Demand, for example, cost US$199 per month.
Since acquiring Urchin Software, Google has continued to develop and sell an on-premise version of the software, which in its most recent version — Urchin 7 — costs $9995 in the U.S.
However, Google from the start has encouraged customers to use Analytics, whose software is hosted by Google in its data centers in a software-as-a-service cloud model.
It’s interesting to see Google come around after six years and reintroduce a paid version of the cloud-hosted product to the market for heavy-duty users who rely on Analytics to constantly evaluate the effectiveness of ad campaigns or the popularity of website content. The decision may in part reflect the increased importance websites play in businesses, and the need for companies to closely track usage to fine-tune marketing campaigns, e-commerce initiatives and content strategies.
Google said on Friday that it will continue to develop and enhance the free version of Analytics.