Archive for the ‘bad decisions’ tag
I was looking at my email subscription analytics this morning to see how the new site without a popup has been doing. The raw statistics don’t look so good:
If you are a purely data-driven company, this is where you hit the panic button. You declare it a failure, agree to “fail fast”, and try to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. So why am I not panicking?
Because there’s an invisible factor at work here:
That’s right – half the audience is on vacation. Literally half – I’ve sent two newsletters this week, one personal and one corporate, and both have had half the open rate as normal. Site traffic is down about 37% week over week. All of the major indicators suggest that it’s not the website that is performing badly, it’s the audience. The logical thing to do before making any changes is see what happens the week of July 9th, when everyone’s out of office messages says they’ll be back. Then and only then will I look at the data and see if things are still in bad shape or not.
The lesson here is straightforward: if you focus only on the data, you are liable to make some bad decisions. You have to inject a certain amount of common sense into your interactions with the machines or they’ll lead you astray, sometimes literally:
Common sense and an understanding of the people behind all of your analytics will help save you from some disastrous conclusions, not to mention avoiding kayaking across the Pacific Ocean.
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“Torture numbers, and they’ll confess to anything.” — writer Gregg Easterbrook
As we all know, there is an abundance of data for the digital advertising world. However, availability does not equate to usefulness. In fact, there are plenty of times when data are used poorly, which leads to bad decisions.
So you think you’re applying your metrics properly? You might need to think again. Here are five common ways that numbers are used to mismanage online ad campaigns.
Your career success is part ability, part luck, and part how you behave. No one does everything right every time. But the demands of the day, our own natures, and our environments can cultivate bad habits that ultimately limit personal success.
This piece isn’t about the “gimmes” of career limiting moves. Getting sloshed at the Christmas party and coming on to the president’s husband — I assume we don’t need to go through that stuff. This is about small bad decisions that become habits that ultimately define our reputations. Sometimes we choose bad behaviors that seem expedient in the moment but work against us over the long haul. Here are seven such harmful short-cuts, and how you can avoid their dangers.
Blogging is a freaking narcotic. Once you get the taste of an audience, you have to have it every day, preferably several times a day.
Yet, we all know where narcotics lead, when abused. To laziness, sloppiness, poor health, bad decisions and so on.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve recently kicked my blogging habit. I shuttered my music blog, my wine/beer blog, and more significantly, I stopped “blogging” on AdPulp on April 7, 2012.
By blogging I refer to the light- to medium-weight updates that often refer to a primary source. Clearly, there are other ways to conduct oneself online. No one is forcing me to aggregate or to reformulate the day’s ad news. Truth be told, no one is encouraging me either. I’ve always enjoyed producing content for this site, regardless. But now, with repeated use the narcotic has weakened.
I do see a path forward, one where I push the old blogging habit aside and focus instead on original reporting and essay writing. I still enjoy writing thoughtful pieces on MarCom’s most pressing topics, and I believe there’s a good reason to do so.
The thing is, there has to be a direct line from these so-called “thought leadership” pieces to a paid offering. And there is, on Bonehook.com. On Bonehook, there’s no marketplace confusion about who I am or why I’m sharing. There’s also no confusion about my priorities.
AdPulp has always been a side project, but I have not always treated it as such. Hanging up my blogging boots for a month has helped me to see the blog for the trees.
Of course, AdPulp isn’t done by any stretch. Shawn, Wade and Dan all continue to invest their time and efforts in the site, and I’m working behind the scenes to pull some AdPulp-branded eBooks from our archive, to recruit more voices to these pages and I remain active on AdPulp’s Facebook page (which is better suited to lightweight updates like featuring new work).
AdPulp is also different from a favorite campaign that one points to forevermore in a portfolio — this is a living, breathing media brand and it continues to evolve day by day. So, to be clear, I’m not walking away from AdPulp, I’m changing my daily routine.
Finally, I want to thank new and longtime readers for your interest. The great majority of you are silent, but I’m willing to entertain the possibility that your silence is a sign that you’re listening.
There are times when a social media campaign can go wild, damaging your online reputation. It can be due to miscommunication, bad decisions or just your message ending up with the wrong crowd. Although you’re able to work it around, traces of the mishap will be forever present on the Internet. No matter how good [...]
“We have trained, hired, and rewarded people to be cowboys. But it’s pit crews that we need,” said Atul Gawande — a surgeon and Harvard professor who writes for The New Yorker in his copious spare time — in a recent TED talk. He was talking about doctors, but what tech profession might fit that description as well? Yes, that’s right. You there, huddled over the IDEs on your MacBook Pros. Step forward, software developers.
Coding has always been seen as lone-ranger work; witness the opening scene in The Social Network. Despite managers’ dreams of programmers as fungible units, it’s nearly universally accepted that a great developer is ten times as productive as a mediocre one, and/or that a small team of the software equivalent of the Special Forces can code rings around an army of hundreds of grunts. The flip side is that one cowboy coder’s bad decisions can cripple you — maybe immediately, or maybe next year, when you suddenly discover that your organization has quietly racked up so much technical debt that it has become the software equivalent of Greece.
There are various ways to try to mitigate this risk. One of the more extreme calls for all development to be performed by pairs of programmers: two coders at one keyboard, at all times, with almost no exceptions. The idea (to oversimplify a bit) is that a second mind will sanity-check every bad idea and support every good one, so you — counterintuitively — wind up with higher per-programmer productivity. Legendary development shops like San Francisco’s Pivotal Labs and Toronto’s Xtreme Labs(1) have adopted a 100 percent pair programming mindset, with considerable success.
Great! Problem solved, right?
…Not so fast.
“Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption … What distinguished programmers at the top-performing companies wasn’t greater experience or better pay. It was how much privacy, personal workspace and freedom from interruption they enjoyed,” says a New York Times article castigating “the new groupthink.” It also quotes Steve Wozniak:
“Work alone… Not on a committee. Not on a team.”
Open-plan offices, in particular, seem an impressively terrible idea. “Open plan layouts create massive distraction, damaging productivity,” according to a recent analysis by the U.K.’s Channel 4. See also the related Hacker News commentary, which includes gems like “Most modern office layouts seem to be designed to screw with people’s fight or flight instincts all day,” and “I’m a quiet type, and I often need time alone to think and write code and documentation. The ‘rah rah’ social types railroaded us … I am becoming bitter and resentful.”
Solitude seems to be essential for creativity: but paired programmers have no on-the-job solitude, ever. Does that matter? After all, it’s “just programming,” right? It’s not an art form. It’s barely even a craft. It’s certainly not creative. Just ask anyone who isn’t very good at it.
Sorry. No. I’ve been writing code for twenty years, and I’ve had half-a-dozen novels published, and I can assure you that there are far more similarities between those two fields than most people realize. In fact, I use the same analogy for both: carpentry. All three are crafts wherein considerable mechanical skill is required before you can add creative flourishes — but that creativity is essential to the end quality of what you’re building.
I’m not saying programming ever rises to an art. There are no software equivalents of Atwood or Marquez or McCarthy out there. But there are many programmers who have done extraordinary work on their own: Marco Arment of Instapaper, Gabriel Weinberg of DuckDuckGo, Notch of Minecraft. Would they really have benefited from pair programming?
A recent Jonah Lehrer New Yorker piece reveals: “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.” Aha! Further proof that working alone is the answer, right? But it goes on to mention something more interesting and more subtle:
Pairs of subjects were shown a series of color slides in various shades of blue and asked to identify the colors. Sometimes one of the pair was actually a lab assistant instructed by Nemeth to provide a wrong answer. After a few minutes, the pairs were asked to free-associate about the colors they had seen. People who had been exposed to inaccurate descriptions came up with associations that were far more original.
Working alone is good for creativity — but being paired with someone who thinks differently from you can lead to more creativity yet. So should your takeaway here be that pairing is the answer after all?
No, no, hell no. The true answer is that there is no one answer; that what works best is a dynamic combination of solitary, pair, and group work, depending on the context, using your best judgement. Paired programming definitely has its place. (Betteridge’s Law strikes again!) In some cases that place may even be “much of most days.” But insisting on 100 percent pairing is mindless dogma, and like all mindless dogma, ultimately counterproductive.
My own preference is a development environment where every feature/module/story has two programmers assigned to it, one “primary” and one “secondary.” (Terminology shamelessly stolen from Homicide/The Wire.) Each developer is primary on one feature and secondary on another. They pair-program from time to time, especially in the beginning, but in general the primary does most of the work, while the secondary spends an hour or two each day sanity-checking the primary’s code and building bite-sized subsections.
Alas, I’ve only worked like this a couple of times in all my decades of development. Those have been the most productive projects I’ve ever worked on…but that’s an extremely small sample size. Further research, as they always say, is needed. In the interim, I’ll leave you with one last quote from that Hacker News discussion:
“Yes, communal areas for some type of work/communication, private areas for others. It’s staggeringly obvious that this meets everyone’s needs … but I’ve found very few places offer anything remotely similar.”
Image credit: Esti Alvarez, Flickr.
(1)Disclosure/disclaimer; I did a few months of contract work at Xtreme early last year.
I got to participate in the ‘Future of Search’ panel today at the Seattle Interactive Conference. Two subjects came up that I must expand on a bit:
This is my car. It is a Buick Regal Turbo. It is awesome:
OK, now that that’s done with.
What scares me about the future of search
I got to talk, briefly, about what it is in search’s future that scares me. There are three things, and they only scare me when taken together:
- Big, monstrous entities controlling the lion’s share of most traffic online, because the control search. Don’t tell me about social media. Search still drives transactions. Social will get there, but it ain’t there yet.
- Dumb people forcing those big monstrous entities to make bad decisions.
- Marketers get squished into goo.
Case in point: Google’s decision to limit access to search query data. Right now, it affects, what, 10% of search queries? 5%? So what’s the big deal?
Mobile. Mobile is the big deal. Android is now 50% of the market. Most Android users are signed into Google, all the time. So we’ll be cut off from enormous amounts of data. Data that we can use to make marketing more efficient. Data publishers can use to sell and target their own advertising.
This is just an example. But it’s really telling.
There’s no Big Evil (or Big Good)
Google doesn’t have to be Evil to end up really screwing things up. I suspect the whole search query privacy debacle started with Google trying to head off ridiculous regulation by the EU and other clueless folk.
And, for all their genius, Google doesn’t seem to make the most brilliant non-technical strategic decisions.
This also has the convenient side effect of providing Google a monopoly over data they collect from millions of searchers.
So, to review: Big companies control internet commerce. Dumb legislators make dumb laws. Big companies respond to dumb laws in dumb ways. Marketers get smushed into goo.
So yeah. I’m a little scared.
It’s not all bad
Search is fantastic. Search lets us do incredible stuff. I love it. But it’s like lots of other great inventions: It’s part blessing, part curse. Step carefully.
Hey look a SXSW post. No not really. But it does start there.
One of the panels I attended was the “Measuring Social Media – Let’s Get Serious,” session. At Voce we’ve been focusing on measurement as a core program component for a while so it’s been interesting to see the rest of the industry evolve. This evolution is occurring at the service level with a number of different tools available, the agency level and somewhat at the brand level.
During the measurement panel my new colleague at Porter Novelli, Israel Mirsky asked a rather pointed question about data integrity from Twitter. Namely who has the fire-hose of data. Too many services are only using the API, which only provides a sub-set of data, and calling it ‘Twitter’. It’s not a complete data-set. As Israel points out:
The major problem that has arisen is the crop of slick-interface social monitoring and analytics tools that use the API instead of the Firehose and represent themselves as though they are appropriate analysis tools for significant amounts of conversation. While okay for small businesses that don’t have much volume, for brands with medium to large amounts of conversation, the data provided by the API is incomplete because the API will only give away so much data for free and caps their access.
This is a major problem. Bad data = bad research = bad decisions = bad results and damaged relationships with stakeholders.
The other holy grail for many is cross-platform analytics, that is taking data from all the social media services and mashing them up to make sense of a larger picture. There is no shortage of data, but it is complete and can you trust it? Lastly the goal is to make sense of it all….externally and internally……more on that in a second.