Snowed Out

I was scheduled to hit the red-eye tonight, off to New York to see our good friends at HotJobs and attend the Search Engine Strategies conference. The airline called this afternoon and said the flight was cancelled due to the snow storm in NYC.

I see that Jeremy had an earlier flight. Nice. I booked too late to get a good flight…

It’s a shame, too, because I wanted to drop in on the Web Analytics cocktail hour that Eric Peterson was throwing. I just found out Eric’s cancelled his trip for weather reasons also! But the cocktail hour is still on, and WAA (Web Analytics Association) folks will be there too: Wednesday, March 2nd (6 PM, lobby bar at the Hilton).

Of course there’s also the Yahoo! 10-year anniversary gig on Tuesday.

Snowed Out

Web Analytics Association

For a long time I said “in the financial world there’s the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) but there’s no Web Accounting Standards Board (WASB).” As a consequence, no two web analytics packages ever give you the same numbers – in fact, numbers can change between versions of the same package. Whine as I might at the time, I wasn’t in any position to start such an organization.

(I recently found that quote online, in Spanish.)

In a sign that the web analytics market is reaching maturity, the Web Analytics Association launched this week. It’s not WASB, but in fact has the potential to be much more than a standards group. I’ve already joined — and volunteered for the standards committee.

Web Analytics Association

On surveys

Got mail from Stowe Boyd today, with whom I had the pleasure of working back in the early 80s. Today brings the news that he’s leaving the LinkedIn social network. No reason was given, but he did point to a survey he was conducting. He posted about his decision at Corante where he indicates he’s extracting himself from some social networking applications, although he doesn’t list which.

This post isn’t about Stowe’s decision; it’s about his survey. He admits it’s not scientific, but wow, there’s unscientific, and there’s biased. There were questions like

The social networking applications I have used are lacking
critical features and are therefore have not become essential to me.

(You can see the poll results including the questions and answers.)

Stowe’s no dummy; he knows what he’s doing. He also admits he has a bias. I just found it odd that he’d rig a survey to support the bias.

I took the survey, because it’s Stowe. But as a rule, I don’t take surveys. The reasoning is simple – most people don’t know how to correctly build a survey, or how to analyze it. They think that a few questions with an assortment of answers, and an ability to tabulate the answers, is sufficient. It’s not. It requires:

  • building single-concept questions, without bias
  • providing a specific set of answers that also do not indicate a bias (e.g. three different “yes” answers and one “no”)
  • a proper sampling methodology so you know that the survey is representative of the population you really want to understand
  • and finally actual analysis of the results – rather than simply regurgitating the tabulation – to extract meaning from the survey.

Here’s a survey from me to you:
Q: Don’t you hate surveys, since they cause you high blood pressure?

  • A1: Yes!
  • A2: Surveys just tell the pollsters what they want to hear
  • A3: My doctor would like me to be more active
  • A4: I think there should be less surveys and more leadership!
  • A5: I hadn’t realized my high blood pressure was due to surveys – thanks!
On surveys

Snap Judgments

As I post this, I’m listening to the podcast review of Blink over at Pop Goes The Culture. The review echos what a lot of the dissenters of Blink are saying – there’s nothing in the book that’s not common sense. However, they admit that Malcom Gladwell packages the ideas well. At his web site he specifically says he doesn’t use the term intuition. OK. Snap judgments, then.

(Meanwhile the podcast drones on, making the same point from every possible angle. Ah, for the early days of the punks, who made their point and got off stage. At the end of the podcast, they promise another “controversial” topic .. as opposed to thought-provoking, entertaining or informative I suppose.)

I liked The Tipping Point and even recommended it, although the concept of “tipping point” wasn’t a lot more than what one often refers to as “critical mass.” I haven’t read Blink so don’t have any opinion about it. But given what I’ve previously read from Mr. Gladwell (in the New Yorker, or at his web site), I suspect I’d like the book. I like his fresh approach to topics, even if it’s little more than chewing gum for the mind. Not every book needs to break new ground.

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to consider how we do make decisions, especially when it comes to business. Most people in business feel that they need mounds of data before making a big decision. If the data is inconclusive, perhaps we need a new model, a new viewpoint, or more data. But in many cases, the decision can’t be made with data alone, because there are too many variables, the data is unavailable, or the model is too difficult to produce. So we “explore”, perhaps with some visualizations. We’re good at pattern matching, and our brains are naturally drawn to repetition, symmetry, and contrast.

But sometimes, all the analysis in the word doesn’t provide a clear-cut answer. Sometimes we need to go with our gut. The trick is knowing when we need more data, and when we don’t.

Snap Judgments