Author Archives: williamwickey

Gotham Needs A Hero

“When our freedoms in the networked world come under attack, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is the first line of defense.” – EFF

Who is this super hero: this silent guardian… our dark knight?

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution reads “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In 21st century, there is an ongoing debate (or more accurately a tug-of-war or barroom brawl) about where the protections of the constitution end, as pertaining to our digital lives.

Founded in

1990 by  John Perry Barlow and Mitch Kapor, the EFF sets out to defend free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights, along with championing the public interest in every critical battle affecting digital rights. As an international non-profit digital rights advocacy and legal organization, The EFF “provides funds for legal defense in court, presents amici curiae briefs, defends individuals and new technologies from what it considers baseless or misdirected legal threats, works to expose government malfeasance, provides guidance to the government and courts, organizes political action and mass mailings, supports some new technologies which it believes preserve personal freedoms, maintains a database and web sites of related news and information, monitors and challenges potential legislation that it believes would infringe on personal liberties and fair use, and solicits a list of what it considers patent abuses with intentions to defeat those that it considers without merit.”

With every passing day, the question of digital rights becomes an increasingly important issue. In the past few months, instances of law enforcement using social media and social networks themselves censoring content, among other things, have brought attention to the still evolving concept digital rights.

Funded by donations he EFF has won a number of notable court cases against major players such as the FCC, internet service providers and entertainment companies in the name of defending the civil liberties of web users.

The EFF is also involved in a number of ongoing projects. Chilling Effects is a project that works with several law schools to index take-down requests on a variety of sites, in hopes of drawing attention to individuals and corporations who are using “intellectual property” and other laws to silence other online users. Additionally, the EFF has written a number of whitepapers “ reflecting the results of EFF’s clear thinking on issues at the cutting-edge of law and technology.”

The EFF are not the only champions of digital liberties out there, but they are certainly the heavyweights in the room. Other key players in the battle for digital rights include The Association for Progressive communications and events like the World Summit on The Information Society, a United Nations sponsored conference aiming to help bridge the digital divide.

Organizations such as the EFF will take an increasingly important role in shaping internet legislation as bills like SOPA and PIPA continue to appear before congress and in the news.

[Originally Posted at Big Data Really Gets Me]

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Put Down the Pan and Pick Up a Drill: Information Fracking in the Age of ‘Data Grande’

Ever since Al Gore invented the internet, gun-slinging entrepreneurs, dusty media giants and wagon trains of marketers have been panning the web for nuggets of consumer data. It’s still the Wild West out there but the California gold rush is over and the Texas oil boom is on. Waiting just below the trickling stream of keywords, likes, and basic demographics is a pressurized cavern of consumer data that Facebook’s Open Graph is threatening to blow sky-high.
Last September, at its annual f8 developer conference, Facebook announced that it would be opening itself up to data from other apps, like Spotify and Runkeeper. In the new Open Graph system, third-party applications are now able to pass information about what you were doing in their worlds–like what songs you were listening to or what workouts you had done–back to the social network, to be recorded on users’ profile pages and displayed to their friends – behaviors known as “actions.” The hope is that Actions published to user’s timelines will function as a discovery engine for that users extended network by helping them discover products, videos, articles, digital services, etc.
Thus far, Actions have been effective. Early success stories about Timeline app and Open Graph are impressive. The same goes for mobile. While the opportunities for third parties are great, the benefit to Facebook is even greater. By centralizing people’s online (and offline) behavior around the their platform, Facebook is creating an immense reserve of consumer data that will be an enormous asset to marketers of all ilk.
Not to be outdone, Google, Bing and Yahoo have announced a new initiative called Schema.org that will create and support a common set of schemas for structured data markup on web pages intended to be a rival to Open Graph.
Going blow for blow, the digital arms race is on. News has leaked from Facebook revealing that it will be releasing its new search engine in the very near future. All the big boys (along with patent trolls) are snatching up digital patents trying to get an edge on the competitors.
Will all this data flying around, and the pace of play accelerating, it’s tough to take a step back and ask the tough questions. What are the cultural implications of all openness? Who will regulate and monitor how companies use our data? What is all this data worth and who lays claim to it? 
Zukerberg is forced to walk a very fine line between ensuring that users have “complete control over everything [they] share,” and the privacy issues associated with Facebook’s business philosophy of frictionless sharing.
When sharing is automated, inevitably tidbits of sensitive personal information will make it into the public sphere. Law enforcement’s use of social networking sites in criminal prosecution has already been a contentious subject over the past several months. With the astonishing accuracy of facial recognition software already being licensed to the likes of Microsoft and Facebook, very real questions about the extent of the 4 amendment’s protections need to be discussed.
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Digital rights advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are already very busy addressing civil liberties issues arising from the rapid advancements in telecommunications technology.
Even in the business world, not everyone is drinking the kool-aid. Pandora founder Tim Westergren recognizes that while the company has a strong relationship with Facebook, a significant portion of Pandora’s users are turned off by having their actions published to their Timeline. How can companies strike a balance between monitoring users in the name of improving service and privacy. For now, it’s unclear whether the larger privacy concerns are simply not a genuine deterrent social network users or whether things have progressed so quickly in the past few years that people just haven’t had the time think about it.
After that first taste of Texas tea, everything was destined to change: the economics of the industry, politics, education, and culture. Data is for 21st century information-based industries what petroleum was for the age of mechanization 100 years earlier. For now, advertising is the engine that powers Search and Social. Data is the fuel for that engine, and until we see significant resistance from the public, we can expect the online giants to drill deeper and deeper.

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It’s A Jungle Out There: AWS & The Age of Big Data

In the age of Big Data, Amazon is king of the jungle. Amazon.com is the mane; AWS is the tail.

Most people know Amazon.com as the world’s largest online retailer. However, Just as notable in the Big Data revolution as those little cardboard boxes that show up on your doorstep is Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Big Data refers to data sets that are too large to be processed and analyzed by traditional IT technologies. Whether your business just needs an email client, or involves processing millions of documents, the cloud makes it all possible affordable.

For start-ups, cash-flow is an issue. They need computing power, but those servers are pricy. Rather than begging investors for costly servers of their own, they can just rent the services they need from the cloud. If the company goes belly up, the investors don’t have to worry about setting up a yard sale to unload all that hardware. This makes it possible for more small companies to dare-to-be-great. Even for established companies, cloud computing lowers overhead and is often the most cost-efficient way to do business, period.

Another benefit of Amazon web servies is scalability. For example, what an app blows up over night? Remember in The Social Network when Zukerberg is really pissed at Eduardo for freezing Facebook’s bank accounts early on, threatening to interrupt service? [Jesse Eisenberg] was right to fear that interruption of service. In an age where the blink of an eye is too long for impatient web-users, it is not surprising that consumers have little patience for apps that don’t work right due to computing-related scalability issues. For example, in a previous post I lauded Draw Something for earning over 1 million downloads in its first ten days in the Android and Apple apps stores. However, right when I published this post, Draw Something was experiencing interruptions in service related to  exact types of scalability issues. The developers, OMGPOP, were able to overcome the majority of these problems in a matter of days. But, a number of people who read my post told me they tired to play, had a bad experience, and will probably never give Draw a second shot.

Amazon has a diverse portfolio of remote computing services. Amazon Simple Service Storage (S3) provides web service based storage. Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) allows for scalable virtual private servers. Amazon Elastic MapReduce allows businesses, researchers, data analysts, and developers to easily and cheaply process vast amounts of data. And the list goes on.

These days, Amazon is not the only name in the game when it comes to remote-computing. Nonetheless, Amazon got the ball rolling for a host of other companies and continues to play a major role in the industry. Amazon S3 has grown from storing  2.6 billion objects in 2006 to 762 billion in 2011.

AWS and similar servies have made it possible for game-changing internet start-ups to think big. Cloud computing servies are the fertilizer that make Big Data possible.

[Originally Posted at Big Data (Really Gets Me)]

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There’s Nothing Causal About Smartphone Gaming Addiction

No, this isn’t a wildlife print by John James Audubon. It’s just a bird that I drew this morning on my smartphone.

If you guys haven’t downloaded Draw Something yet, get on it. First of all, this brilliantly simple turn-based pictionary game will provide you with hours and hours of fun (outside of class, of course). Secondly, there are a number of elements contributing to this game’s success worth noting. And third, I want some more people to play with. (As you can see by my screenshot, I am playing with a random user because my 4 friends who play are taking too long in between turns.)

Draw Something was downloaded over a million times in the first 10 days it was released. As of now, the game is seeing 10 million new drawings every 24 hours. That is a lot of action.

This explosion of growth was made possible because Draw Something was released as a truly cross-platform app. Players can connect with friends via Facebook or Twitter, as well as invite people to play by email. Android and iOS phone/tablet users can play against one another. Also, Instagram has proven to be a surprise marketing engine because Draw users like to post screenshots of their pictures. (It is also worth noting that you are not required to connect with a social network to use the app, if agreeing to the Facebook permissions creeps you out) Because the game made a simultaneous splash on both major mobile platforms with options to connect with the two largest social networks, there was never any friction in the word-of-mouth machine. Some applications lose momentum when they roll out for the iphone and Android users must sit on their hands for another couple months while their version is in development, or vice versa.

The developers, OMGPOP, were smart to incorporate a variety of ways to monetize this app. The free version cashes in on banner advertising. Presumably these ads will have a much higher click-through-rate because they will leverage information collected from the user’s social network. Players can also buy virtual goods such as new colors, effects, and bombs for simplifying turns. This ability to collect additional revenue should allow the game to stay profitable longer by adding value for hardcore gamers without turning off more causal users. Interestingly, CEO Dan Porter reports that the largest source of revenue is upgrading to the $0.99 version of the game. The premium version is ad-free, with additional words, and a few extra gold coins to get you started. Overall, it is not all that different from Draw Free. In the end, it seems that the game is so addicting that users don’t think twice about shelling out the for the dollar upgrade. Right now, Draw Something is seeing 5-digit daily revenue.

Draw Something’s success is not unique. A post this week on the Facebook Developer’s blog highlights the success of casual arcade-style gaming. This is one of the oldest app categories on Facebook and continues to be a leader in growth. These games are especially beneficial to Facebook because of their high engagement factor. Users keep logging on to play, boosting page-views and subsequently increasing opportunities for users to see new advertising. In an effort to encourage developers to build upon these games’ success, Facebook points out a few strategies for success:

  • Bring friends into the game by promoting healthy competition
  • Allow people to brag about their accomplishments or highscores by posting leaderboards to timelines
  • Schedule weekly tournaments, giving users a specific reason to keep coming back
  • Promote collaborative competition and gifting by using frictionless requests

Good game mechanics are proving to be an essential quality for an app’s success, and Facebook is continually doing everything it can to create opportunities for developers to drive discovery and re-engament. Digging a little deeper into your favorite time-waster may reveal some great ideas for how companies can use applications to connect and stay connected with their most valuable constituents.

[Originally posted at Big Data (Really Gets Me)]

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metrics [ME-triks] -noun

metrics [ME-triks] -noun

  • the application of statistics and mathematical analysis to a field of study.
  • a combining form with the meaning “the science of measuring,” that specified by the initial element: biometricseconometrics.

It sounds like a science, but it is really an art.

Often times, when we are discussing metrics (or web analytics) we are talking about more than just numbers, raw measurement or statistics. Metrics involve the interpretation of of data.

Look at google analytics and you will see the type of data that most people think of when you say [web] “metrics:” Visits, Unique Visitors, Pageviews, Pages/Visit, Avg. Time on Site, Bounce Rate, New Visits, Location, Language, Network, Traffic Sources, Site Speed, Searches, Sales, etc.

This type of information can be helpful on its own, but it is largely one-dimensional. Raw statistics loose significance without context. Good metrics are defined in terms of strategy. What is our goal and what kind of specific statistics indicate success? A statistic like unique visits may be less important than net sales for a business like CustomInk.com that is a totally online operation. The opposite may be true if you are Coca-Cola and your website is more for branding purposes, not sales.

To add dimension to the numbers, metrics can also be constructed in the form of an equation or an aggregation of data. These analytics express valuable but subjective concepts such as loyalty, engagement, and virality. Take Facebook Insights relatively recent introduction of two new metrics: Weekly Total Reach and People Talking About This Total reach refers to the number of unique individuals who saw any content related to your page. People Talking About This combines all likes, posts, check-ins, mentions, etc.

These simplified metrics reflect data that Facebook considers important. However, it is always important to dig deeper in order avoid “measurement inversion.” This is when metrics seem to emphasize what organizations find immediately measurable — even if those are low value — and tend to ignore high value measurements simply because they seem harder to measure (whether they are or not). For example, while Facebook is more interested in measuing the overall “conversation” surrounding a given page, an individual business may be more interested in investigating a particular element, such as check-ins, if that metrics relates to an ongoing promotion.

Metrics are evolving quickly. Batch metrics (collected daily, hourly, etc.) were once the standard. Now, many companies demand real-time metrics, especially when it comes to social media. Advertising metrics that drive much of the value online are constantly being tweaked in an attempt to more accurately reflect the true worth of a given ad. Code metrics that calculate how efficient a program or script is running can get very complicated but are essential for optimizing web performance.

Today, there is a lot of talk about social media metrics. You can think of it as metrics 2.0 [or, even 3.0] . The key distinction between basic web analytics and metics in the social graph are relationships. How are things (both “individuals” and “objects”) related to one another ? These types of interrelationships can be conceptualized by sociograms and emphasize choices and preferences.

Social network analysis software (SNA software) facilitates both quantitative and qualitative analysis of social networks by describing features of a network, either through numerical or visual representation. We now have much more data than we know what to do with. Creatively identifying how to interpret the information is the tricky part. This is why we often see larger, more established internet companies buying up analytics start-ups who have an interesting twist on interpreting different types of data.

Here are a few services that measure the impact of social media metrics worth checking out:

There is no standard or perfect set of metrics for evaluating the effectiveness of social media, especially since the nature and functionality of these diverse mediums are constantly in flux. Though there will probably never be a one-size-fits-all approach to measuring social media, the selection of tools out there are improving everyday. For now, it still takes a human touch to choose which tools to use and how to interpret them.

Just remember, if you don’t measure it, you cannot optimize it.

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Netflix, I Have a Confession to Make…

Dear Netflix,

I have a confession to make.

I have a subscription to your streaming content. I watch History Channel documentaries on my laptop before I go to bed. Occasionally, I watch episodes of The Office on my Kindle Fire in between classes. Once in a while I will check out a “Critically-acclaimed Comedy” or a “Mind-bending Suspenseful Action & Adventure” on my roommate’s Blu-Ray player that is linked to my account.

Here’s the thing.

Browsing Netflix’s selection delivers a good user experience. The large scrolling cover display looks great and is reasonably easy to navigate. Moreover, I have rated 192 items and the “Suggestions for Me” category will consistently turn up interesting selections. Your algorithm pairing taste preferences with genres is definitely doing something right.

However, your streaming selection is limited. You know it and I know it. And while the selection is getting better all the time, I have to go into Netflix to discover things I am satisfied with watching, rather than find something I already want to watch.

For example, the other day I wanted to watch The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Upon searching, I learned that movie is DVD-only, so I had to settle for Dirty Harry. This happens all the time. I feel like a get my money’s worth in content, but more often than not, I end up scrolling through movies for 30 minutes before I find something that I am willing to settle on that is in Netflix’s limited streaming catalog.

Recently, I discovered a place on Netflix to find selections that almost always turn up Watch Instantly movies and TV shows that I am interested in watching: my Recently Watched list.

So here is my confession: I’m not the only one watching.

Before you get mad, it’s not like I have just been handing out my password. Every once in a while, I will log-in from a different location: my old roommate’s XBox 360, my buddy’s iPad, my girlfriend’s laptop, etc. These aren’t public devices so I am never making a point to clear the browser cache. My password ends up getting saved and they take the liberty of watching a movie here and there after I am long gone. There are about 8 people who regularly log into my account – many times simultaneously – and there has never been any kind of multiple log in error preventing this. Believe me, if I was unable to log in because someone else was already using my account, my password would get changed real quick.

But, since there has never been a problem with service, I am content to let these people keep using my account. Why? A: because they are my friends. If it’s not negatively affecting me, I don’t have an immediate reason to change my password once I find out they are logging in. And, B: I am interested in what they are watching.

They do the browsing for me, and I see what they ended up picking. None of these people rate movies, but I can see how much they watched. If they watch 4 minutes of The Listening Project, I assume that it’s not worth my time. If they watched all 164 minutes of Breaking the Maya Code, I want in. Every week there are new items in my queue, and while I do not have an interest in everything that is in there, a much higher percentage is relevent to me. Additionally, since all the picks are logged in as me, I have to play a fun little game guessing whether it was Caroline or Steven who watched Mrs. Doubtfire last night. All the guilty pleasures are recorded along with the all-time favorites. No actual vs. ideal self discrepancy here. Richard may say on Facebook that Patton is his favorite movie of all time, but I also know that he’s the one who knocked out the entire Wonder Years series in less than a week.

Being the new-media-savvy grad student that I am, I was just thinking about how Netflix needs to start leveraging Facebook’s new Open Graph technology to make watching a social activity, when this little guy popped up in my feed.

This looks like it was simply shared by Brad, but I hope that the rest of his activity is being used to make my picks better. Like I said, the algorithms you are using are good, but this is an opportunity to really dive deep. I’m not saying everyone’s activity should be public, or even available to all his or her Facebook friends, but I would like to see Netflix do what Spotify is doing with playlists. I can do without Spotify popping up in my news feed every 3 seconds, but I do like to go in and see published playlists. There are certain people whose opinion (and behavior) I put a premium on. Netflix should allow users to opt-in or out of sharing their 10 most recently watched items. That is information I [we] want.

(In light of this full confession and my invaluable insights and suggestions, please don’t cancel my account. I just started watching Parks and Recreation.)

Originally posted at Big Data (Really Gets Me)

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