Learning from Data…

One of the awesome yet potentially scary byproducts of us as a culture using technology and the Web especially as a medium for consuming media is that we generate TONS and TONS of data which gets fed back to massive central computers and is stored forever.

Think about all the different online tools that you use on an online basis.   I buy a book of Amazon.  There’s data there.  I review a restaurant on Yelp.  There’s data.  I do a Google search.  There LOTS and LOTS of data there.

Every time we do anything online we allow people to pick, probe, and analyze our beviors that would have never been otherwise possible.

When companies have more data, they can more effectively test against what technique reaches you more effectively.  Is layout #1 or layout #2 going to give me a higher conversion rate on my Web site?  This is really great.  No longer do we have to make our decisions based on hunches or poorly made assumptions.

Think about all the great things that Google Analytics (GA) has allowed us to do.  I launched a Web site for my church here in DC back in November.   GA has been so good to me.  As we look to phase 2, I now know which pages people like, which we need to double down on, and which we need to completely rethink.

But what about other mediums?

I was at Social Web Foo Camp last weekend.  In one of the sessions, we were talking about the future of the social book.  We got into talking about the Amazon Kindle.   I hadn’t thought about how, by turning the book into a digital medium, you’re making it possible to grab all kinds of attention and engagement data about how people read books.

If you were an author, how cool would it be if you could know how far your reader got in your book, how many times folks had to flip back pages, what words people looked up, or how long people were staying actively engaged with the book.  Technically, you could gather that data with the Kindle and I’d be shocked if they weren’t.  “Well… only 23% got all the way to page 400.”  Maybe, when you write the second edition of the book,  you need to beef up right around page 400 because most folks are getting lost.

Also… with more data, you’re able to give your users more customized and more personal experiences.   The obvious examples are things like Amazon or Pandora, which give me recommended items based on my previous transaction history.

A cool example that I hadn’t thought of is the Firefox plug-in Ambient News.  Some really smart guys at Mozilla were trying to solve the problem of how can we create an RSS reader for our users with out them having to go through the crude process of manually subscribing to an RSS feed.  They made a plug-in which looks at the data around which sites you go to (they call this the ambient layer) and automatically put together a page of news feeds setup just for you.  It’s just magically there with all of your favorite sites.

But, so… we’re getting all of this rich data and these rich experiences because of the rich data that we’re generating for it.  What do we give up in the process?

Are we going to get to a point that all these services offer us such rich benefits but you first have to sell them your life… sell them your soul?  That’s one of the message that I took away from the movie We Live in Public, which you should all see and I want to write about later.

What do you think?

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Why Are There New Web Apps Not Using OpenID or Facebook Connect?

I’ve been playing with a couple of new Web apps recently and much to my surprise, none of them offered OpenID or Facebook Connect as an option for signing in or creating an account. They all required me to setup a new username/password, enter all my information in, and setup a whole new set of friends.

Haven’t we talked about this issue enough? Can’t we all agree that in 2009 there is some level of expectation that new Web apps are going to offer up some type of single sign on solution?

This all got me thinking… I think there are a number of different expectations that we have for new Web apps in 2009 but I’ll save that for another blog post.

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Find me on Tumblr and Yelp

So, there are now two more social networks that you can find me on. I’ve been playing around with Yelp and Tumblr (both links to my profiles).

I’ve really been impressed with Yelp and the extent that they’ve been able to create an ecosystem where they can influence which restaurants and services that patrons go to. That’s pretty awesome. It puts the power in the hands of the consumer and forces the establishment to step up their game.

Tumblr also fascinates me. I know a lot of folks that use it as their full on blog. For me, its just a place to dump the random/interesting things that I find on the Web. Sometimes these are articles that I may want to blog about later and sometimes not. Tumblr just put out a iPhone app so I want to have some fun with that and document more of the randomness that is my life.

So yeah… do you guys use Yelp or Tumblr? Any new cool social networky type Web apps that I should be paying attention to?

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Let Me Take Your Web App With Me… A Post-FOWA Thought

After each Carsonified conference, I like to ask myself the question, what does the future hold?  In this case, what is the future of web apps? (Just like the name of the conference… FOWA)

Mozilla Labs’ Aza Raskin has a really good talk yesterday.  He demoed Mozilla’s project to create a command line for the Web,  Ubiquity.  The interesting part was how it made it easy to take the functionality of certain Web apps and use them right where they were needed instead of having to go back to the destination site.

Aza had some good examples.  With a few strokes of the keyboard, he could drop a Google Map or a Yelp listing into a Gmail message.   In the same amount of time he was able to translate a chunk of text on a Japanese Web site into English then Spanish and then French.

It really illustrated one tenant which I think is the future of Web apps that it’s no longer about building a great Web app.  It’s about building a great Web service or piece of functionality that I can take with me and use wherever I want to use it.

I meet sooooo many folks who have great ideas for Web apps and I’m sure they’ll all be very helpful.  I have to ask myself though… is it good/helpful enough that I’m going to integrate it into my life?  Am I going to create a tab open open in Firefox or Safari so that I can have easy access to it whenever I want?

I tell you… I don’t leave Google Translate open, even though it is useful but it seems to be more at home for me to be able to select text I want to translate on a Web site and have it just be translated in-line.  It’s make taking this service and using where I want it to be.

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Sunlight Foundation Launches Apps for America

The cool folks at the Sunlight Foundation have launched their annual development contest Apps for America.  Basically, you create something cool with one of their APIs and you’re in the running to win a pretty substantial prize.  Check it out.  The deadline is March 31st.

FortiusOne’s Andrew Turner Presenting at the Refresh DC January Meetup on “The How of Geo”

FortiusOne’s CTO Andrew Turner  will be presenting at the Refresh DC January Meetup on “The How of Geo.

Bring in the new year with a new take on an old practice. With great mapping APIs available to anyone for free today, mapping content has become something almost any designer or developer can do. Learn the how and why of geocoding, and how to design effective mapping interfaces for your web applications.

Andrew Turner is the CTO of FortiusOne, where he is guiding GeoCommons, developing geospatial-standards and building tools to make it easy for people to create dynamic, customized maps.

It’s on January 15th at 7pm in Arlington, VA at Strategic Analysis and it’s free.  It should be a great one.  I’m definitely going to be there.  Will you be there?

Thummit Makes Mobile Reviews Easy

I have tried just about every user-generated review site (i.e. Yelp, Cork’d) there is and most suffer from the exact same problem.   They don’t capture my thoughts and feelings about the product they want me to review when I’m having them.

When I get home from a good restaurant, I usually want to take a nap.  I don’t want to have to sit down at a computer a remember the nuance of the wine that I drank and how creamy my rissotto was.

This is where Washington DC-based startup Thummit get’s it right. They’re a user-generated review site but they do a great job of using the mobile phone as a way to capture the users’ thoughts and feelings.

You can either send a text message to their SMS exchange number or you can use Twitter and say “@thummit”.  Thummit can capture your twitter data.

The fact that it can grab Twitter I think is really smart.  So, instead of me having to do something wholly new and different just for Thummit, like I have to do with Yelp, it uses my existing behavior.  I would have tweeted regardless about whether or not I liked the restaurant.  Why not send that data to Thummit and allow it to serve it in aggregate with others reviews?

Of course, other user-generated review sites are getting into the mobile game.  The guys behind Living Social (also based in Washington, DC) have recently launched an iPhone app, which makes their app infinitely more useful.  I like to try new beers and so when I’m at the bar I find myself consistently going to my iPhone to log the beer using their Brew Social.

Right now Thummit is in private beta.  If you’re interested in trying it out, I’ll ask my friends the founders and maybe they’ll give me some invites.  Let me know.

Apps Start Rolling in for the Apps for Democracy Innovation Challenge

With just a few days left, the applications for Peter Corbett and the District of Columbia’s Apps for Democracy Innovation Challenge are starting to roll in.

There are already three apps up on the site that take the Districts public data and reuses and mashes it up to do something really cool.  I hear that more (15 so far) will be available on the site soon.

My favorite thus far is done by my buddy Shaun Farrell.  It’s called Park It DC.  It takes DC’s parking meter data and tells you when and where the meters cost and when they’re free.  It also grabs data about where there are a lot of automotive crimes and where there are specific zones for residential parking only.  I can imagine that, if I had a car, this app would be a major part of my life.  The one thing it needs is a iPhone app or a widget.

What’s your favorite app?  Make sure that you go on the site and vote.

Gary Vaynerchuk at Mashable’s Motivational Meetup

Last week I had the pleasure of attending Mashable’s Motivational Meetup in New York City with Gary Vaynerchuk.

The folks who ran the venue, The Volstead, were stupid and wouldn’t turn down the music so that Gary could give the motivational talk that Mashable had planned on so they took the talk outside.  From a soapbox, Gary talked for half an hour and rocked it.  BTW – I’m kind of glad they did it outside.  It made it that much more awesome.

Check out the video of the talk.  (I’d post it here but WordPress.com doesn’t allow me to embed Viddler videos. 😦 )

Probably the highlight is when he talked about how you need to treat your customers/users/community as if they’re guests in your house, which I think is 100% right on and is something that I strive to do everyday as a community manager.

Here’s Mashable’s summary:

1. “Hustle” – improvise, be resourceful, do whatever it takes to care for your community. Tough times require creative solutions.

2. “Next 24 months are the biggest opportunity for social media” – social media is mature. “It’s a baby. But it’s mature. It’s a baby with a mustache.”

3. “Large companies will cut social media because they don’t understand it” – the longer the big players stay away from new web technologies, the greater the opportunity for new entrants.

4. “The new barrier to building a brand is your time, not your pocketbook” – nobody can stop you from starting a global media brand from your house; all you need is time.

5. “Telling main street about Twitter is a waste of time” – keep it quiet; knowledge of new web technologies is your competitive advantage.

6. “Take Your Money” – go to Google, type in the keywords in your space. Look at the ads next to the results: these are people who pay to market in your niche. Call them. Convince them to spend those dollars on you instead.

7. “Anything that gets eyeballs is monetizable” – 2500 unique visitors a day should be enough to live on.