Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation Now Available on Amazon

First, we appreciate everyone’s patience while we got this volume out.
And now, from Holly Buchanan‘s Foreword to the book…

Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and ExpectationAfter inhaling Reading Virtual Minds Volume I I was like an antsy 3-year old waiting for Reading Virtual Minds Volume II. It did not disappoint.
I love the way Joseph Carrabis thinks. He has a unique ability to share broad rich theory with actionable specifics. Unlike many technical writers, he has a unique voice that is both approachable and humorous. It makes for an enjoyable read.
But what’s the main reason why you should read Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experiences and Expectations? Because where most companies and designers fail is on the expectation front.

Humans are designed as expectation engines.

This is, perhaps, the most important sentence in this book. One of the main points Joseph makes in this volume is this – Understand your audiences’ whys and you’ll design near perfect whats.
Design failures come from getting the whys wrong. That can lead to failures on the experience side, but also on the expectation side. And that can be the bigger problem.

Expectation is a top-down process. Higher-level information informs lower-level processing. Experience is a bottom-up process. Sensory information goes into higher-level processing for evaluation. Humans are designed as expectation engines. Topdown connections out number bottom-up connections by about 10:1.

Why is this so important?

In language, more than anywhere else, we see or hear what we expect to hear, not necessarily what is said or written. Across all cultures and languages, neurophysiologists and psychologists estimate that what we experience is as much as 85% what we expect to experience, not necessarily what is real or ‘environmentally available’.


When people expect A and get B they go through a few moments of fugue. External reality is not synching up with internal reality and the mind and brain will, if allowed, burn themselves out making the two mesh.

Get your consumer/visitor/user experience AND expectation right, get their why right, and you’ll be exponentially more successful.

Here are just a few of the goodies you’ll find in this book:

  • Privacy vs. value exchange and when to ask for what information. Joseph has some actionable specifics on this that will surprise you.
  • Why we design for false attractors rather than the real problem.
  • The importance of understanding convincer strategies. Convincer strategies are the internal processes people go through in order to convince themselves they should or should not do something.
  • Companies spend a lot of time trying to convince consumers to trust them. But what may be even more important is understanding how to let consumers you know you trust them. This book has ideas on how to show your customers/users/visitors, “I believe in you”.
  • How often our own experience influence our designs. Unless you’re able to throw all your experience out, and let the user’s experience in, get out of the usability and design business.
  • How to allow your visitors easy Anonymous-Expressive Identity and make them yours forever.
  • Regarding new material, design, interface, the importance of making sure your suggestions provide a clear path to the past (thus being risk averse while providing marketable innovation).

As always, Reading Virtual Minds provides specific actionable ideas. But it will also make you think and approach your work in a new way. And I think that’s the best reason to treat yourself to this book and the inner workings of NextStage and Joseph Carrabis.

(and we never argue with Holly Buchanan…)

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Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th edition

It’s with great pleasure and a little pride that we announce Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th EDITION.

Reading Virtual Minds V1: Science and History, 4th edThat “4th EDITION” part is important. We know lots of people are waiting for Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation and it’s next in the queue.

But until then…

Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th EDITION is about 100 pages longer than the previous editions and about 10$US cheaper. Why? Because Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation is next in the queue.

Some Notes About This Book

I’m actually writing Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation right now. In the process of doing that, we realized we needed to add an index to this book. We also wanted to make a full color ebook version available to NextStage Members (it’s a download on the Member welcome page. And if you’re not already a member, what are you waiting for?)

In the process of making a full color version, we realized we’d misplaced some of the original slides and, of course, the charting software had changed since we originally published this volume (same information, different charting system). Also Susan and Jennifer “The Editress” Day wanted the images standardized as much as possible.

We included an Appendix B – Proofs (starting on page 187) for the curious and updated Appendix C – Further Readings (starting on page 236). We migrated a blog used for reference purposes so there may be more or less reference sources and modified some sections with more recent information.

So this edition has a few more pages and a few different pages. It may have an extra quote or two floating around.

You also need to know that Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History is a “Let’s explore the possibilities” book, not a “How to do it” book. As such, it deals with how NextStage did it (not to mention things that happened along the way). It does not explain how you can do it. This book’s purpose is to open a new territory to you and give you some basic tools for exploration.

There are no magic bullets, quick fixes, simple demonstrations, et cetera, that will turn you into jedis, gurus, kings, queens, samurai, rock stars, mavens, heroes, thought leaders, so on and so forth.

How to Do It starts with Volume II: Experience and Expectation and continues through future volumes in this series. We’ve included a Volume II: Experience and Expectation preview with a How to Do It example on page 302 so you can take a peek if that’s your interest.

That noted, I’m quite sure that you won’t get the full benefit of future volumes without reading this one because unless you’ve read this one you won’t understand the territory you’re exploring in those future volumes.

Reading Virtual Minds V1: Science and History, 4th edThat’s Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th EDITION. It’s so good and so good for you! Buy a copy or two today!

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The Unfulfilled Promise of Online Analytics, Part 3 – Determining the Human Cost

Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both. – James Madison

There was never suppose to be a part 3 to this arc (Ben Robison was correct in that). Part 1 established the challenge (and I note here that the extent of the response and the voices responding indicates that the defined challenge does exist and is recognized to exist) and Part 2 proposed some solution paths. That was suppose to be the end of it. I had fulfilled my promise to myself1 and nothing more (from my point of view) was required.

But many people contacted me asking for a Part 3. There were probably as many people asking for a Part 3 as I normally get total blog traffic. Obviously people felt or intuited that something was missing, something I was unaware of was left out.

But I never intended there to be a Part 3. What to cover? What would be its thematic center?

It was during one of these conversations that I remembered some of the First Principles (be prepared. “First Principles” will be echoed quite a bit in this post) in semiotics.2

According to semiotics, you must ask yourself three questions in a specific order to fully understand any situation3:

  1. What happened?
  2. What do I think happened?
  3. What happened to me?

More verbosely:

  1. Remove all emotionality, all belief, all you and detail what happened (think of quis, quid, quando, ubi, cur, quomodo – the six evidentiary questions applied to life).
  2. What do your personal beliefs, education, training, cultural origins, etc., add to what actually and unbiasedly happened?
  3. Finally, how did you respond — willingly or unwillingly, knowingly or unknowingly, with all of your history and experience — to what happened.

The power of this semioticism is that it forms an equation that is the basis of logical calculus, the calculus of consciousness4, modality engineering5 and a bunch of other fields. I use a simplified form of it in many of my presentations, A + B = C.6

Talking with one first reader, I realized that Part 1 was “What happened?” (the presentation of the research) and Part 2 was “What do I think happened?” (my interpretation of the research). What was left for part 37 was “What happened to me?”

And if you know anything about me, you know I intend to have fun finding out!

All Manner of People Tell Me All Manner of Things

Oliver's TravelsThe above is a line from Oliver's Travels (highly recommended viewing), something said by the Mr. Baxter character. Mr. Baxter is himself a mystery and — although his true nature is hinted at several times — it is not revealed until the last episode. There we are told about The Legend of Hakon and Magnus. In short, Mr. Baxter could be a good guy, a bad guy or the individual directing the good or bad guy's actions. His role entirely depends on what side you are on yourself, a true Rashomon scenario. I found myself in something similar to Mr. Baxter's situation as how people responded to my research, its publication and myself also depended greatly on what side people were on when they contacted me.

I was both dumbfounded and honored by the conversations Parts 1 and 2 generated. The number of people who picked up on or continued the thread on their own blogs (here (and alphabetically) Christopher Berry (and a note that Chris continues the conversation in A Response (The Unfulfilled Promise of Analytics 3) ), Alec Cochrane, Stephane Hamel, Kevin Hillstrom, Daniel Markus, Jim Sterne, Shelby Thayer and if I've forgotten someone, my apologies), twittered it onward, skyped and called me was…I could say unprecedented and remind me to tell you about a psychology convention in the early 1990s (nothing to do with NextStage, just me being me, stating what is now recognized as common knowledge yet way before others decided it was common. Talk about unprecedented results. I had to be escorted out under guard. For those of you who know Dr. Geertz, his comment upon learning this was “I'm not surprised you'd have to be escorted out by guards. You have that subtle way about you…”8).

But to note the joy means to recognize the sorrow (as was done in Reading Virtual Minds Vol. 1: Science and History Chapter VI, “The Long Road Home”). While the majority of people honored me and a good number of people appreciated that I had done some useful research and donated something worth pondering, there were a few (just a few, honestly) who damned me.

The damning per se I don't mind. It's part of the territory. It was the manner and the persons involved that truly surprised me.

I was accused of possibly destroying a marriage (Susanism: If you think this is about you, it's not. We know a lot more people than just you), maligning certain individuals (usually by people who maligned other individuals during the research. I guess I wasn't maligning the correct individuals in their view), not demonstrating the proper respect to industry notables (same parenthetical comment as previous and you guessed it, another NextStage Principle), that I better post an apology to these same industry notables (two people wrote apologies in my name and strongly suggested that I publish them), …


Who gave me such power and authority to make or break people's lives? Certainly I didn't give it to myself, nor did I ask others to give it to me. And if anybody did give it to me without my knowing I gladly give it back. As I've said and written many times, I do research. When new data makes itself available and as required, I update my research. But until such new data comes in, the research stands.

What I really want to know is if, when the results of research are discomforting, the industry's standard and usual procedure is

  • to change either the research or results so that people feel warm and fuzzy — hence have no impetus to act (according to one person at yesterday's NH WAW, “Don't measure what you can't change”. An interesting statement that I disagree with. Doing so means to throw out meteorology, astronomy, … much of what has been historically measured without any change-ability allowed us to create the technologies that would produce change in previously unchangeable systems)
  • or let the discomfiting research stand — so that the challenge can be recognized and either action can be either taken or the challenge go ignored.

Seems to be the “change either the research or results” is the standard (or at least done when required) because while few asked that I rewrite research or results so that certain individuals appeared more favorably, the ones who did ask sure were some high-ranking industry folks.

Heaven forbid these folks wanting different results published or do complimentary research that either validated or invalidated my results.

Wait a second. What am I thinking? Obviously it would be impossible for them to do research that validates mine.9

Of course, publishing research would also mean publishing their methodologies, models, analytic methods, … and the reasons that ain't gonna happen will be covered later in this post.

And if that is the standard and usual procedure — at least among those in the high ranks — then

  • congratulations to all the companies hiring high ranking consultants to make them feel good rather than solve real problems and
  • be prepared for those coming up through the ranks to learn this lesson when it is taught them.

I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!For the record, not much upsets me (ask Susan for a more honest opinion of that). The sheer stupidity of arguments that resort to emotionalism or are nothing more than attempts to protect personalities and positions, though… Them they do offend me (can't wait to learn how our Sentiment Analysis tool reports this). And more about stupidity later in this post (Let me know if you recognize Joseph's “I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore” persona).

When the Stories Meet the Numbers (Statistics, Probability and Logic)

I originally surveyed about sixty people for Part 1. That number grew to about one hundred in Part 2 due to responses to Part 1. Currently I've had conversations (I'm counting phone calls, Skype chats and calls, email exchanges and face-to-face discussions at meetings I've attended as “conversations”) with a few hundred people about those posts.

I noticed something interesting (to me) about the conversations I was having. Lots of people made statements about statistics, probability and logic but were using these terms and their kin in ways that were unfamiliar to me. Especially when I started asking people what their confidence levels were regarding their reporting results.

I'll offer that search analysts (I'm including SEO and SEM in “search analysts”) seem to have things much easier than web analysts do. “We were getting ten visits a day, changed our search terms/buy/imaging/engines/… and now we're getting twenty visits per day.” Granted, that's a simplification and it's the heart of search analytics — improving first the volume and second the quality of traffic to a site. Assuming {conversions::traffic-count} has standard variance, search analytics produces or it doesn't and it's obvious either way.

Web analytics, though… “The Official WAA Definition of Web Analytics” is

Web Analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of Internet data for the purposes of understanding and optimizing Web usage.

The analytics organization I see most often cited, SEMPO, doesn't even attempt to define (“SEMPO is not a standards body…”) or police (“…or a policing organization.“) itself. It does offer search courses but the goals of the SEMPO courses and the WAA recognized courses are greatly different (an opinion, that, based on reading their syllabi as someone having taught a variety of courses in a variety of disciplines at various educational levels in various educational settings).

There are twenty-one words in the official WAA definition and a philologist will tell you that at least ten require further definition.

Definitions that require definitions worry me. Semiotics and communication theory dictate that the first communication must be instructions on how to build a receiver. Therefore any stated definition that requires further definition is not providing instructions on how to be understood (no receiver can be built because there is no common signal, sign or symbol upon which to construct a receiver. If you've ever read my attempts at French, you know exactly what I mean10).

One of the statements made during the research for this arc was “[online] Analysts need to share the error margins, not the final analysis, of their tools.” It expressed a sentiment shared if not directly stated by a majority of respondents and it truly surprised me. It states as a working model that any final analysis is going to be flawed regardless of tools used therefore standardize on the error margins of the tools rather than the outputs of the tools.

So…decisions should be made based on the least amount of error in a calculation, not what is being calculated (does the math we're using make sense in this situation?), the inputs (basic fact checking; can we validate and verify the inputs?) or the outcome (does the result seem reasonable considering the inputs we gave it and the math we used?)?

A kind of “That calculation says we're going to be screwed 100% but the error margin is only 3% while that other calculation says we're only going to be screwed 22% but the error margin is 10%.

Let's go with the first calculation. Lots less chances of getting it wrong there!”, ain't it?

More seriously, this is a fairly sophisticated mathematical view. Similar tools have similar mathematical signatures when used in similar ways. When a tool has an output of y with fixed input x in one run and y+n with that same fixed input x in another run but a consistent error margin in both runs, standardizing on the error margin e is a fairly good idea. It indicates there's more going on in the noise than you might think.11

Of course, this means you better start investigating that noise darn quick.

My understanding of “statistics, probability and logic” was often at odds with what people were saying when they used those words. The differences were so profound (in some cases) that I asked follow up questions to determine where my misunderstandings were placed.

Serendipity doing it's usual job in my life, over this fall-winter cycle I took on the task of relearning statistics12, partly so I could understand how online analysts were using statistics-based terms. As noted above, the differences between what I understood and how terms were being used and applied was so different that I questioned my understanding of the field and its applications.

And to whither I wander, I offer a philologic-linguistic evidentiary trail for all who will follow. For those who just want to get where I'm going, click here.

Web Analytics is Hard

Of course it is. Anything that has no standards, no base lines, no consistent and accurate methods for comparisons is going to be hard because all milestones, targets and such will have to be arbitrarily set, will have no real meaning in an ongoing, “a = b” kind of way, and therefore Person A's results are actually just as valid as Person B's results because both are really only opinion and the HiPPOs rule the riverbank…

…until a common standard can be decided upon.

Web Analytics is easy

Of course it is. Anything that applies principled logic, consistent definitions, repeatable methodologies that provide consistent results, … is going to be.

Online Analytics Is Whatever Someone Needs It to Be

Ah…of course it is.

And this is the truest statement of the three for several reasons. Consider the statement “(something) is Hard“.

It doesn't matter what that “(something)” is, it can be driving a car, riding a bike, watching TV, playing the oboe, composing poetry, doing online analytics, … . What that “(something)” is is immaterial because the human psyche, when colloquial AmerEnglish is used, assigns greater cognitive resources to understanding “Hard” than it assigns to “Web Analytics”, and this resource allocation has nothing to do with whether or not “Web Analytics” is easier to understand than “Hard”, it has to do with what are called Preparation Sets13. The non-conscious essentially goes into overdrive determining how hard “Hard” is. It immediately throws out things like “iron”, “stone” and “rock” because the sensory systems don't match (iron, stone and rock involve touch-based sensory systems, transitive expressions such as “(something) is hard” don't) and starts evaluating the most difficult {C,B/e,M}14 tasks in memory — most recent to most distant past — to determine if the individual using the term “Hard” is qualified to use the term as a surrogate for the person being told “(something) is Hard” (ie, our non-conscious starts asking “Do they mean what I think they mean when they say 'Hard'?”, “Do they know what 'Hard' is?”, “What do they think 'Hard' means, anyway?”, “Do they mean what I mean when I say 'Hard'?” and so on).15

What I will offer is what I've offered before; any discipline that defines success “on the fly” isn't a discipline at all (at least it's not a discipline as as I understand “discipline”). Lacking evidentiary trails, definitions and numeric discipline, comparisons of outputs and outcomes degenerates to “I like this one better” regardless of reporting frame.

Teach Your Children Well

Where statements like “(something) is Hard” and “(something) is Easy” really make themselves known is when teaching occurs.

Let me give you an example. You have a fear of (pick something. Let's go with spiders because I love them and most people don't (Only click on this link if you love spiders)). Phobias are learned behaviors. This means someone taught you to be afraid of spiders. It's doubtful someone set out some kind of educational curriculum with the goal of teaching you to fear spiders (barring Manchurian Candidate scenarios). It's much more likely that when you were a child, someone demonstrated their fear of spiders to you. Probably either repeatedly or very dynamically, so you learned either osmotically or via imprinting. Children demonstrate their parents' behaviors in hysteresis patterns. This means that if you measured a parent's level of arachniphobia and assigned it a value of 10, chances are the child would demonstrate their arachniphobia at a level of 100 or so in a few years' time. Children who learn their parents' fears and anxieties do so without understanding any logical basis for those fears, only the demonstration of them. When there is no logic to temper the emotional content, hysteria results.

However, if a parent demonstrates a fear response and the ability to control it, to explain to the child that fear response's origin, etc., most often the child learns caution and not fear (not to mention that the parent usually learns to control their fear). The difference can be thought of as the difference between teaching a child to “Be careful” versus hysterically screaming “EEEEK!”

What's so fascinating about this is that it's also how we pass on our core, personality and identity beliefs whether we mean to or not (I cover this in detail in Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History). We can be teaching physics, soccer, piano, bread-baking, … It doesn't matter because all these activities will be vectors for our core, identity and personal beliefs and behaviors. If we are joyful people then we will teach others to be joyful and the vector for that lesson will be physics, soccer, piano, bread-baking, … And if we are miserable people? Then we will teach others to be miserable and to be so especially when they do physics, play soccer, the piano, bake bread, …

Thus if any teaching/training occurs intentionally or otherwise, the individual doing the training/teaching is going to de facto teach their internal philosophies and beliefs — both business and personal — as well as their methods and practices to their students. This can't be helped. It's how humans function. If the philosophy and belief is that things are hard, then that philosophy and belief will be taught de facto to the students. Likewise for the philosophy and belief that something is easy. There will be no choice.16

The point is we protect others from what we fear. Humans are born with precious few fears hard-wired into us (heights and loud noises are the two most cited. Heights because we're no longer well adapted to an arboreal existence and loud noises because predators tend to make them when they attack).

So the statement “(something) is hard” either means we fear “(something)” or we wish to protect others from having the difficulties we have when we do “(something)”, and if difficulties existed then the non-conscious mind is going to place a fear response around whatever “(something)” is to make sure we don't put ourselves into unnecessary difficulties yet again.

The statement “(something) is easy” generates the polarity of the above and I, dear reader, I am the neuro- and philo-linguist's nightmare because my training is simply that “(something) is”. My training is that both whatever exists and whatever state it exists in are mind of the observer17 dependent. Thus things simply are and our perceptions, experience and decisions make them hard, soft, easy, whatever, to us individually.

It's always all about you, isn't it?More colloquially, whatever your perceptions of the world are, it's all you and precious little of anything else (a favorite quote along these lines is “What if life is fair and we get exactly what we deserve?” Ouch!).

The Trail Leads Here

There are lots of errors I can understand. A lack of knowledge, of mathematical rigor, of logic training, of problem solving skills, … These and a host of others I can appreciate. Especially in those junior to any given discipline.

But unprovable math, a lack of basic fact checking, outputs that have no meaning based on what's come before and (let's not forget) emotionalism? This really blew me away. Math can be taught, junior people who don't fact check can be trained, making sure units match can be taught and comes with experience, … but emotionalism?

I'll accept any of the above in junior players with the caveat that the first to go has got to be emotionalism.

But senior people failing any of these before offering something for publication? Then defending this lack of rigor with an emotional outburst? And when it happens more than once?

Talk about abandoning First Principles!

We don't need no stinking badgesFirst Principles? We don't need no stinking First Principles!

Challenge logic, challenge research, challenge findings, sure. Challenge a person if they challenge you, sometimes maybe. I'll tolerate a lot, folks (ask Susan for confirmation), and I have a real challenge with such as these — Arguing emotionally and telling me it's logic, arguments based on no facts at all… I'll accept, entertain and work with ignorance, arrogance, discomfiture, anxiety, joy, love, appreciation, anger, … quite a wide thrall of human response.

But arguments such as these are, in my opinion, stupid.

There, I typed it.

Yet because such arguments were presented as such I must recognize that in some camps doing web analytics means to heck with fact-checking, logic, … That it's acceptable to ignore truth and common practice to base outcomes on what one needs them to be. I mean, when someone with title and prestige does it, the overt statement is that others should, will or do do it, as well. Definitely people in the same company should or will do it. Whatever's lacking in the master's portfolio won't be found in the student's (in most cases).

Want to know why I stopped attending conferences? See the above.

Joseph, the Abominable Outsider

Joseph, The Abominable Outsider

Stephane Hamel applauded me (I think) when he referenced me as an industry “outsider” in his A nod to Joseph Carrabis: The unfulfilled promise of online analytics. Others used the term to applesauce me. (I was flattered by both, actually.)

I had been wondering if it was worth my writing a little bit on elementary logic, probability theory, problem solving or some such. A previous draft of this post contained an explanation of elementary statistics and problem solving as it might be applied to online analytics. Now I really had to question such an effort. If the notables don't know how to apply these things…

Where the stories meet the numbers, there Understanding dwells

The power of logic, knowing problem solving methods, basic statistics, probability and so on is that they provide basic disciplines that prevent or at least inhibit mistakes such as listed above. You have the tools and training to basically “…draw an XY axes on the paper, chart those numbers and the picture that results points you in the direction you need to go.” You can be emotional about your research and your findings and you can't defend your research emotionally. The research and findings are either valid or they ain't.18

As for drawing an XY axes, charting numbers and getting some direction…what can you do with such evidentiary information? There are lots of things you can do. Determine the relationships between the numbers and you can exploit their meanings.

But if the basics are beyond the industry greats

  • then explaining the differences between cross-sectional studies and longitudinal studies (cross-sectional studies involve measuring a single (x,y) pair, meaning x is fixed for all y. Longitudinal studies involve countably infinite (x,y) pairs. Longitudinal studies are greatly more expensive than their cross-sectional cousins and is why cross-sectional regression models are often used when longitudinal regression models are needed) won't do much good19,
  • nor will explaining the need for creating a “standard” site for calibration purposes,
  • models can only be standardized once methods themselves are analyzed and an accuracy “weighting” is determined (allowing all models to be compared to a “gold standard”, meaning comparing my results to your results actually has analytic meaning),
  • Figuring out where your normals are on your curveexplaining the meaning of and how to “normalize” samples is out (doing so allows you to see where the normals fall on your standard curve. You put your normals in the middle to lower part of the curve because a) this is where population densities are greatest and b) no naturally occuring line is going to be straight so you shoot for placing your normals on the straightest part of the curve to get some kind of linearity (that y = mx + b thing). Every naturally occuring phenomenon follows mathematical rules that produce curves. Between the two blue lines is where standards occur. Below the bottom blue is “below standard”, above the top blue is “out of standard”. Between the bottom blue and green line is the normal range. You calibrate your methods against the gold-standard normals and anything above is where the money lies),
  • 20

It takes more effort to reorder a partially ordered system than it does to create order in an unordered system (bonds, even when incorrect, have existing binding energy).

I completely understand why so many of NextStage's clients couldn't document the accuracy of the online analytics tools they were using at the time they contacted us for help. This lack of documentation was something I was very uncomfortable with. If there's no proven methodology for demonstrating a number's validity then you've essentially moved away from the gold standard and declared that the value of your dollar is based entirely on what others are going to value it at (pretty much determined by your political-military-industrial capabilities or in this case, those guarding the riverbank). Your numbers only have meaning so far as others are willing to accept them as valid and if lots of money is being paid for an opinion, that opinion is going to be gold regardless if it's based on invalid assumptions or documentable facts.

The online analytics field is partially ordered — it's been around long enough for a hierarchy to appear — so only those willing to expend the energy are going to attempt fixing it for the sake of getting it fixed rather than changing it to suit their own objectives.

And this is where

The detritus encounters the many winged whirling object

NSE was seeing so many erroneous tool results (my favorite example was the company that was getting 10k visitors/day and only 3 conversions/month. Their online analyst swore by the numbers) that it lead us to come up with a reliable y = x 2db that we could prove, repeat and document. It relied solely on First Principles. This led to our in-house analytics tools, which is why we're analytics tool agnostic. We really don't care what tools clients use. If we don't believe the numbers we'll use our own tools to determine them because we know and can validate how our tools work. As a result we now often use our tools to validate the accuracy of other tools.

I have no dog in this fight (both the “Web Analytics is…” and whether or not a promise existed and has gone unfulfilled fights because I'm a recognized industry outsider) and won't be dragged into it (I mean, would you really want me involved?). My agenda is making sure that those coming to NextStage for help either bring with them some mathematical rigor or allow NextStage to invoke it. There is little that can be done when a tool lacks internal consistency (given a consistent input it generates different outputs).

It really is that simple, folks. This is First Principles and they always work. Don't believe me? Ask Ockham. First Principles have to work. As long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, as long as there are stars up in the sky, as long as the recognized laws of reality are valid, …

And because mathematics is a universal language, the stars are in the sky, etc., etc., these rules have to apply to online analytics and the tools used therein.

Unless you're happy with high variability in results sets given a known and highly defined set of inputs.

Which is fine, if that's what your values are based on.

And I doubt it is, so be prepared for companies to use HiPPOs only for political purposes (“Our methods are valid because they were installed/given to us/updated/validated/… by HiPPO du jour“), not for accuracy purposes.

How fast are you going?I mean, people make a living out of these things, right? When someone talks about a regression curve and that a decision was made because the probabilities were such and so, does it matter if they know what they're talking about?

Or is being able to use a tool the same as understanding what the tool is doing?

And I know there are online analysts out there who take high variability and weave it into gold. Good for them (truly!). They have a skill I lack. And they're performing art, not science, and as someone who walks in both worlds I will share my opinion that science is lots easier than art. Science has rules. Art is governed by what the buying public is willing to spend and on whom.


That offered, HiPPOs du jour should be prepared for highly defined and validatable game-changing methods and technologies to un-du jour them because such methods and technologies will, given time and regardless of where they originate and how they emerge. In this, like stars shining in the sky, there is no option, no way out. The laws of evolutionary dynamics apply in everything from rainstorm puddles on the pavement to galactic clustering (I can demonstrate their validity in the online analytics world very quickly and easily; start with the first online analytics implementation at UoH in the early 1990s and follow the progression to today. Simple, clean and neat. I love it when things work. Don't you? Gives me confidence in what I think, do and say).

My suggestion (note the italics) is that the online community create an unbiased, product agnostic experimental group. All empirical sciences that I know of have experimental disciplines within them (physics has “experimental physics”, immunology has “experimental immunology”, …). NextStage is not part of this community so again, we have no dog in this fight. Let me offer NextStage as an example, though — we do regularly publish our experimental methods and their results in our own papers and in business-science journals and in scientific conference papers. This allows others to determine for themselves if our methods are valid and worthy. Granted, NextStage comes from a scientific paradigm and perhaps taking on some of science's disciplines would benefit the industry as a whole, or at least bring more confidence and comfort to those within it.

But what about the Third Semiotic Question?

Answering “What happened to me?” follows the trail of asking trusted others (my thanks to Susan, Charles, Barb, Mike, Warner, Lewis, Todd, Little-T and the Girls, M, Gladys and Dolph) many questions to bridge holes in my understandings.

All the ills referenced in parts 1 and 2 demonstrated themselves to their full — people who didn't like what I wrote triangulated. They contacted others whom they thought were socially closer to me or “might have an in” but heaven forbid they contact me directly. Others focused their frustration at me because (probably in their minds) I was something concrete and tangible, something they could point at, instead of something they felt powerless against; the industry as a whole. Still others because they consider me an industry leader (I'm not. I'm an outsider, remember? I can't lead an industry I'm not a part of. Or will Moses start telling Buddhists how to behave?). And (I'm told) I became the subject of klatch-talk on at least two continents (obviously, I need to start charging more for my time).

All of these things add up to determining the human cost of the unfulfilled promise of online analytics. As I quoted before, Coca-Cola Interactive Marketing Group Manager Tom Goodie said “Metrics are ridiculously political.” He was correct and not by half. The cost is high. It is highest amongst

  • those unsure of the validity of their methods, their measurements and their meanings who want to be accepted and acknowledged as doing valuable work yet are unable to concisely and consistently document what they're doing to the satisfaction of executives signing their checks
  • and those who are cashing those checks to buy new clothes.

Do I think online analytics industry will change because of my research and its publication?

See this tool? I must know what I'm doing because I use this tool.Did you read what I wrote about accountability in The Unfulfilled Promise of Online Analytics, Part 1? People are being paid without being accountable for what they're being paid to do. The sheer human inertia put forth to not change that model has got to be staggering, don't you think?

And I doubt anything I could do would bring such a change about. My work may contribute, it may be a drop in the bucket helping that bucket to fill and that's all.

The industry itself will change regardless (surprise!). As a WAWB colleague recently wrote, “For a field that's changing rapidly, based on rapidly changing technologies, I personally feel that holding any expectations for the future is a set up for disappointment. The expectation of change is the only realistic expectation I can hold today.” and I agree. Things will change. They always do. To promise anything else is to lie first to one's self then to others.

Final Thoughts

This is the end of the Unfulfilled Promise arc for me, folks. Please feel free to continue it on your own and give me a nod if you wish.

(my thanks to readers of Questions for my Readers who suggested this footnoting format over my usual <faux html> methods and to participants in the First NH WAW who, knowing nothing about this post, covered much the same topics during our lunch conversation)

1 – A constant promise to myself regarding my work — perform honest research, report results accurately and unbiasedly and (when possible) determine workable solutions to any challenges that presented themselves in either research or results.


2 – For those who don't know, much of ET is based on anthrolingualsemiotics — how humans communicate via signs. “Signs” means things like “No Parking”, true, and also means language, movement, symbols, art, music, … . According to Thomas Carlyle, it is through such things “that man consciously or unconsciously lives, works and has his being.” You can find more about semiotics in the following bibliography:

Aho, Alfred V. 2004 27 Feb Software and the Future of Programming Languages, .Science V 303 , I 5662 , DOI: 10.1126/science.1096169

Balter, Michael 2004 27 Feb Search for the Indo-Europeans, .Science V 303 , I 5662 , DOI: 10.1126/science.303.5662.1323

Balter, Michael 2004 27 Feb Why Anatolia?, .Science V 303 , I 5662 , DOI: 10.1126/science.303.5662.1324

Benson J.; Greaves W.; O'Donnell M.; Taglialatela J. 2002 Evidence for Symbolic Language Processing in a Bonobo (Pan paniscus), .Journal of Consciousness Studies V 9 , I 12

Bhattacharjee, Yudhijit 2004 27 Feb From Heofonum to Heavens, .Science V 303 , I 5662 , DOI: 10.1126/science.303.5662.1326

Carrabis, Joseph 2006 Chapter 4 “Anecdotes of Learning”, Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, V 1 , Northern Lights Publishing , Scotsburn, NS 978-0-9841403-0-5

Carrabis, Joseph 2006 Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, V 1 , Northern Lights Publishing , Scotsburn, NS

Chandler, Daniel 2007 Semiotics: The Basics, , Routledge 978-0415363754

Crain, Stephen; Thornton, Rosalind 1998 Investigations in Universal Grammar, , MIT Press 0-262-03250-3

Fitch, W. Tecumseh; Hauser, Marc D. 2004 16 Jan Computational Constraints on Syntactic Processing in a Nonhuman Primate, .Science V 303 , I 5656

Gergely, Gyorgy; Bekkering, Harold; Kiraly, Ildiko 2002 14 Feb Rational imitation in preverbal infants, .Nature V 415 , I 6873 , DOI:

Graddol, David 2004 27 Feb The Future of Language, .Science V 303 , I 5662 , DOI: 10.1126/science.1096546

Holden, Constance 2004 27 Feb The Origin of Speech, .Science V 303 , I 5662 , DOI: 10.1126/science.303.5662.1316

Montgomery, Scott 2004 27 Feb Of Towers, Walls, and Fields: Perspectives on Language in Science, .Science V 303 , I 5662 , DOI: 10.1126/science.1095204

Pennisi, Elizabeth 2004 27 Feb The First Language?, .Science V 303 , I 5662 , DOI: 10.1126/science.303.5662.1319

Pennisi, Elizabeth 2004 27 Feb Speaking in Tongues, .Science V 303 , I 5662 , DOI: 10.1126/science.303.5662.1321


3 – There is (in my opinion) no greater demonstration of this principle than in The Book of the Wounded Healers, a long forgotten book that I hope will become available again sometime soon.


4 – Aleksander, Igor; Dunmall, Barry 2003 Axioms and Tests for the Presence of Minimal Consciousness in Agents I: Preamble, .Journal of Consciousness Studies V 10 , I 4-5


5 – Carrabis, Joseph 2004, 2006, 2009 A Primer on Modality Engineering, 18 Pages, , Northern Lights Publishing , Scotsburn, NS

Carrabis, Joseph 2009 18 Aug I'm the Intersection of Four Statements, , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph 2009 8 Sep Addendum to “I'm the Intersection of Four Statements”, , BizMediaScience

Nabel, Gary J. 2009 2 Oct The Coordinates of Truth, .Science V 326 , I 5949


6 – The simplest things often have the most power. The semioticist's A + B = C demonstrates itself with three questions to form equations of meaning such as:

(what happened) + (what do I think happened) = (what happened to me)

(what happened to me) – (what do I think happened) = (what happened)

(what happened to me) – (what happened) = (what do I think happened)

Know any two and the last reveals itself to you.

But only if you're willing.


7 – Note to Jacques Warren: Un et un est troi. Ha!


8 – Note to Ben Robison: Nope, ET wouldn't detect the sarcasm. The string was too short. We're working on it.


9 – Note to Ben Robison: Still working on that sarcasm thing. We have what we think is a good go at it in the NS Sentiment Analysis tool we'll be making public either this week or next (still waiting for the interface and may decide to go without it just to learn what happens).


10 – As Jacques Warren, Stephane Hamel and Rene can tell you, my best French is laughable. My attempt at “My gosh, what a beautiful day” usually comes out as “Joli jour heureux je”. (C'est rire, n'est-ce pas?)


11 – Carrabis, Joseph 2007 10 Jan Standards and Noisy Data, Part 1, , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph 2007 11 Jan Standards and Noisy Data, Part 2, , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph 2007 12 Jan Standards and Noisy Data, Part 3, , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph 2007 14 Jan Standards and Noisy Data, Part 4, , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph 2007 27 Jan Standards and Noisy Data, Part 5, , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph 2007 28 Jan Standards and Noisy Data, Part 10, , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph 2007 28 Jan Standards and Noisy Data, Part 6, , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph 2007 28 Jan Standards and Noisy Data, Part 7, , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph 2007 28 Jan Standards and Noisy Data, Part 8, , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph 2007 28 Jan Where Noisy Data Meets Standards (The Noisy Data arc, Part 9), , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph 2007 29 Jan For Angie and Matt, and The Noisy Data Finale, , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph 2007 29 Jan Standards and Noisy Data, Part 11, , BizMediaScience


12 – Periodic relearnings are part of my training and makeup. I put myself through periodic re-educations because I question my knowledge, not because I question someone else's. My goal is to find the flaws in my understanding, not to pronounce someone else's in error. Periodic re-educations keep subject matter knowledge fresh within me, brings new understandings to old educations, increases wisdom, all sorts of good things. Admittedly, this has enabled me to recognize flaws in other people's reasonings. Two examples that the online community may be familiar with are Eric Peterson's engagement equation (flawed definitions and mathematical logic) and Stephane Hamel's WAMM (frame confusion).

To respond to some comments made on the (now dead) TheFutureOf blog, I had to study other people's work. One such work was Eric Peterson's engagement equation. Other people had contacted me about his equation with some questions about it's validity (for the record, I had no intention of looking at Eric's engagement equation until he mentioned it in response to something I'd written. Once he mentioned it, my belief was he'd “placed it in the game” so to speak, hence opened it up to inspection).

In any case, the result of my own and others' questioning was that I studied how that equation was derived (was the mathematical logic viable and consistent, were the variables defined and used consistently, …) and found it flawed. Eric asked if it would be possible for us to simply work together on the equation to remove some ambiguities and make it more generally applicable, thereby removing any questions of mathematical validity and provide business value.

The public response to my reworking of Eric's original equation both confused and concerned me. My reworking was nothing more than turning it into a multiple regression model with the b0 and e terms set to 0 and all bn assumed to 1 (they could be changed as needs dictated). This allowed people using the reworking to determine by simple variance which models/methods weren't valid in their business setting and ignore them. I kept thinking people would laugh at how simplistic my reworking was and the response was quite the opposite. It was at this point my concerns about basic mathematical knowledge among online analysts flared.

I read through Stephane Hamel's WAMM paper (also because others entered it into a discussion) and recognized that by adding some consistent variable definitions that tool would have a great deal of power across disciplines. I asked Stephane if he'd mind my tinkering and so the story goes.

The challenge with Eric Peterson's engagement equation and Stephane Hamel's WAMM is (in my current understanding) that there is no “standard”, itself a theme I'll return to in this post. As an example, my current work with WAWB involves applying some standard modeling techniques so a “normal” can be determined. This would allow Company A to measure itself against a normal rather than comparing itself to bunches of other companies (that might not be good exemplars based on differing business and market conditions) and determine upon which vector Company A should place its efforts to insure cost-efficient gains along all WAMM vectors. The first aspect (my opinion) would be organizational. Without people accepting recognized truth there is no truth (again, my opinion).

And each time I take on such a task I require myself to relearn the necessary disciplines so I can be confident that my understandings are as close to the original author's as possible.

My method for learning and re-learning anything is to go back to First Principles (as mentioned earlier in this post). Some people may have heard or seen me talk about learning theory and how it can be applied everywhere. That's a lot of what First Principles are about. Start with the most basic elements you can, understand them as completely as possible, build upon that. One thing this provides me is the ability and confidence to discuss my ideas openly, the freedom to ask questions honestly and truthfully, and to understand and accept conflicting views easily and graciously. Put another way, the more you know, the wider your field of acceptance and understanding, and the more fluid and dynamic you become in your ability to respond to others.

So I started relearning statistics by going back to First Principles, studying Gauss, Galton, Fisher and Wright, giving myself the time to understand how the discipline evolved, how the concepts of regression, regression to the mean, ANOVA, ANCOVA, trait analysis, path analysis, structural equations modeling, causal analysis, least squares analysis, …, came about, how they're applied to different sciences (agriculture, eugenics, medicine, …), how bias, efficiency, optimality, sufficiency, ancillarity, robustness, … came about and how they are solved.

I also learned that the advent of fast, inexpensive computing power tended to focus people's attentions to problems that could be solved via fast, inexpensive computing rather than problems that needed to be solved. This was (to me) a point of intersection with the Unfulfilled Promise posts; “gathered data that [we] knew how to gather rather than asking what data would be useful to gather and figuring out how to gather it.”

So I shifted my focus a bit. I decided to use online analytics as the groundwork for teaching myself statistics.


13 – Somebody remind me to publish The Augmented Man. It covers Preparation Sets, EEGSLs and all that stuff in detail.

And it's another darn good read. Phphttt!


14 – Carrabis, Joseph 2006 Chapter 2, “What The Reading Virtual Minds Series Is About”, Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, , Northern Lights Publishing , Scotsburn, NS 978-0-9841403-0-5

Carrabis, Joseph 2006 Chapter 4 section 2, “The Investors Heard the Music”, Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, V 1 , Northern Lights Publishing , Scotsburn, NS 978-0-9841403-0-5

Carrabis, Joseph 2006 10 Nov Mapping Personae to Outcomes,

Carrabis, Joseph 2007 23 Mar Websites: You've Only Got 3 Seconds, , ImediaConnections

Carrabis, Joseph 2007 11 May Make Sure Your Site Sells Lemonade, , iMediaConnections

Carrabis, Joseph 2007 29 Nov Adding sound to your brand website, , ImediaConnections

Carrabis, Joseph 2008/9 28 Jan/1 Jul From TheFutureOf (22 Jan 08): Starting the discussion: Attention, Engagement, Authority, Influence, , , The Analytics Ecology

Carrabis, Joseph 2008 26 Jun Responding to Christopher Berry's “A Vexing Problem, Part 4” Post, Part 3, , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph 2008 2 Jul Responding to Christopher Berry's “A Vexing Problem, Part 4” Post, Part 2, , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph 2008/9 11 Jul/3 Jul From TheFutureOf (10 Jul 08): Back into the fray, , The Analytics Ecology

Carrabis, Joseph 2008/9 18 Jul/7 Jul From TheFutureOf (16 Jul 08): Responses to Geertz, Papadakis and others, 5 Feb 08, , The Analytics Ecology

Carrabis, Joseph 2008/9 18 Jul/7 Jul From TheFutureOf (16 Jul 08): Responses to Papadakis 7 Feb 08, , The Analytics Ecology

Carrabis, Joseph 2008/9 29 Aug/9 Jul From TheFutureOf (28 Aug 08): Response to Jim Novos 12 Jul 08 9:40am comment, , The Analytics Ecology

Carrabis, Joseph 2008 1 Oct Do McCain, Biden, Palin and Obama Think the Way We Do? (Part 1), , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph 2008 6 Oct Do McCain, Biden, Palin and Obama Think the Way We Do? (Part 2), , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph 2008 30 Oct Me, Politics, Adam Zand's Really Big Shoe, How Obama's and McCain's sites have changed when we weren't looking, , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph 2008 31 Oct Governor Palin's (and everybody else's) Popularity, , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph 2008/9 10 Nov/15 Jul From TheFutureOf (7 Nov 08): Debbie Pascoe asked me to pontificate on What are we measuring when we measure engagement?, , The Analytics Ecology

Carrabis, Joseph 2009 A Demonstration of Professional Test-Taker Bias in Web-Based Panels and Applications, 20 Pages, , NextStage Evolution , Scotsburn, NS

Carrabis, Joseph 2009 Machine Detection of and Response to User Non-Conscious Thought Processes to Increase Usability, Experience and Satisfaction – Case Studies and Examples, . , Towards a Science of Consciousness: Hong Kong 2009, University of Arizona, Center for Consciousness Studies , Tucson, AZ

Carrabis, Joseph 2009 5 Jun Sentiment Analysis, Anyone? (Part 1), , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph 2009 12 Jun Canoeing with Stephane (Sentiment Analysis, Anyone? (Part 2)), , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph; 2007 30 Mar Technology and Buying Patterns, , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph; 2007 9 Apr Notes from UML's Strategic Management Class – Saroeung, 3 Seconds Applies to Video, too, , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph; 2007 16 May KBar's Findings: Political Correctness in the Guise of a Sandwich, Part 1, , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph; 2007 16 May KBar's Findings: Political Correctness in the Guise of a Sandwich, Part 2, , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph; 2007 16 May KBar's Findings: Political Correctness in the Guise of a Sandwich, Part 3, , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph; 2007 16 May KBar's Findings: Political Correctness in the Guise of a Sandwich, Part 4, , BizMediaScience

Carrabis, Joseph; 2007 Oct The Importance of Viral Marketing: Podcast and Text, ,

Carrabis, Joseph; 2007 9 Oct Is Social Media a Woman Thing?, ,

Carrabis, Joseph; Bratton, Susan; Evans, Dave; 2008 9 Jun Guest Blogger Joseph Carrabis Answers Dave Evans, CEO of Digital Voodoos Question About Male Executives Weilding Social Media Influence on Par with Female Executives, , PersonalLifeMedia

Carrabis, Joseph; Carrabis, Susan; 2009 Designing Information for Automatic Memorization (Branding), 35 Pages, , NextStage Evolution , Scotsburn, NS

Carrabis, Joseph; 2009 Frequency of Blog Posts is Best Determined by Audience Size and Psychological Distance from the Author, 25 Pages, , NextStage Evolution , Scotsburn, NS

Daw, Nathaniel D.; Dayan, Peter 2004 18 Jun Matchmaking, .Science V 304 , I 5678

Draaisma, Douwe 2001 8 Nov The tracks of thought, .Nature V 414 , I 6860 , DOI:

Ferster, David 2004 12 Mar Blocking Plasticity in the Visual Cortex, .Science V 303 , I 5664

Harold Pashler; Mark McDaniel; Doug Rohrer; Robert Bjork 2008 Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence, .Psychological Science in the Public Interest V 9 , I 3 1539-6053 %+ University of California, San Diego; Washington University in St. Louis; University of South Florida; University of California, Los Angeles

Hasson, Uri; Nir, Yuval; Levy, Ifat; Fuhrmann, Galit; Malach, Rafael 2004 12 Mar Intersubject Synchronization of Cortical Activity During Natural Vision, .Science V 303 , I 5664

Kozlowski, Steve W.J.; Ilgen, Daniel R. 2006 Dec Enhancing the Effectiveness of Work Groups and Teams, .Psychological Science in the Public Interest V 7 , I 3 , DOI:

Matsumoto, Kenji; Suzuki, Wataru; Tanaka, Keiji 2003 11 Jul Neuronal Correlates of Goal-Based Motor Selection in the Prefrontal Cortex, .Science V 301 , I 5630

Ohbayashi, Machiko; Ohki, Kenichi; Miyashita, Yasushi 2003 11 Aug Conversion of Working Memory to Motor Sequence in the Monkey Premotor Cortex, .Science V 301 , I 5630

Otamendi, Rene Dechamps; Carrabis, Joseph; Carrabis, Susan 2009 Predicting Age & Gender Online, 8 Pages, , NextStage Analytics , Brussels, Belgium

Otamendi, Rene Dechamps; 2009 22 Oct NextStage Announcements at eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit Washington DC, , NextStage Analytics

Otamendi, Rene Dechamps; 2009 24 Nov NextStage Rich PersonaeTM classification, , NextStage Analytics

Paterson, S. J.; Brown, J. H.; Gsdl, M. K.; Johnson, M. H.; Karmiloff-Smith, A. 1999 17 Dec Cognitive Modularity and Genetic Disorders, .Science V 286 , I 5448

Pessoa, Luiz 2004 12 Mar Seeing the World in the Same Way, .Science V 303 , I 5664

Richmond, Barry J.; Liu, Zheng; Shidara, Munetaka 2003 11 Jul Predicting Future Rewards, .Science V 301 , I 5630

Sugrue, Leo P.; Corrado, Greg S.; Newsome, William T. 2004 18 June Matching Behavior and the Representation of Value in the Parietal Cortex, .Science V 304 , I 5678

Tang, Tony Z.; DeRubeis, Robert J.; Hollon, Steven D.; Amsterdam, Jay; Shelton, Richard; Schalet, Benjamin 2009 1 Dec Personality Change During Depression Treatment: A Placebo-Controlled Trial, .Arch Gen Psychiatry V 66 , I 12


15 – And before I get another flurry of emails that I'm attacking one person or another, no, I'm not. An almost identical process occurs when someone says “(something) is Easy”. I describe the “(something) is Hard” version because it's easier for people to understand. One of the wonders of AmerEnglish and American cultural training, that — it is easier to accept that something can be hard and harder to accept that something could be easy.

Human neural topography. Gotta love it.


16 – This understanding of what happens during teachings and trainings is why all NextStage trainings are done the way they are (see Eight Rules for Good Trainings (Rules 1-3) and Eight Rules for Good Trainings (Rules 4-8)) and could be why our trainings get the responses they do (see Comments from Previous Participants and Students).


17 – Bloom, Paul 2001 Precis of How Children Learn the Meanings of Words, .Behavioral and Brain Sciences V 24

Burnett, Stephanie; Blakemore, Sarah-Jayne 2009 6 Mar Functional connectivity during a social emotion task in adolescents and in adults, .European Journal of Neuroscience V 29 , I 6 , DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2009.06674.x

Frith, Chris D.; Frith, Uta 1999 26 Nov Interacting Minds–A Biological Basis, .Science V 286 , I 5445

Gallagher, Shaun 2001 The Practice of Mind (Theory, Simulation or Primary Interaction), .Journal of Consciousness Studies V 8 , I 5-7

Senju, Atsushi; Southgate, Victoria; White, Sarah; Frith, Uta 2009 14 Aug Mindblind Eyes: An Absence of Spontaneous Theory of Mind in Asperger Syndrome, .Science V 325 , I 5942

Tooby, J.; Cosmides, L. 1995 'Foreward' to S. Baron-Cohen, “MindBlindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind”, . , MIT Press , Cambridge, Mass.

Zimmer, Carl 2003 16 May How the Mind Reads Other Minds, .Science V 300 , I 5622


18 – I'll use myself as an example. I've often become emotional when talking about research and results. But (But!) regardless of my emotionalism, the work stands or doesn't. I can clarify, elucidate, explain, divulge, describe, … and in the end, the work stands or it doesn't.


19 – If your model is a linear variation (all regression analyses are linear in nature) then you have something like y = mx + b, y = b0 + b1x + e, … and every change in one unit of x will cause a one unit change in y. Using the above equations as examples we get the textbook definition of the regression coefficient (either m or b1 in the above); the effect that a one unit change in x has on y.


20 – I have experience working with large data sets. Some of you might know I worked for NASA in my younger years. I was responsible for downloading and analyzing satellite data. The downloads came every fifteen minutes and reported atmospheric phenomena the world over. My job was to catch the incongruous data and discard it. I got to a point where I could look at this hexidecimal data stream and determine weather conditions any where in the world before it got sent on for analysis.

Amazing that I got dates back then, isn't it?


Posted in , , , , ,

Learning to Use New Tools

NextStage: Predictive Intelligence, Persuasion Engineering, Interactive Analytics and Behavioral MetricsResearchers engaged in acts of discovery sometimes have to confront the truly strange and make sense of it. – Henry Gee

This post is near 8,000 words long (I've been working on it for about five months).

I've been following some of the internet chatter re NextStage's Evolution Technology (ET). I'm indebted to the likes of Jacques Warren, Christopher Berry, Michael Notte, all those folks twittering their hearts out and others that I've not encountered yet who've added their voice to the conversation about how ET works and such.

To that end, I'd like my first official The Analytics Ecology post to be about how humans learn to use new tools. It doesn't matter who makes the tools or what the tools do. What I offer is true for tools in general and tools in specific. I doubt everyone will be comfortable with what I write here, especially when I extend the discussion to learning how to use NextStage tools. I hope that readers recognize I write from my understanding and I'm perfectly happy to have that understanding change when new information is presented. I'll also be making use of Buckminster Fuller's “In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.” either literally or figuratively as I go along.

Tool Use Philosophy

Humans first learn to use specific tools to perform certain functions then they learn to use tool forms to perform those functions. This is why a crescent wrench sometimes gets used as a hammer. Hammers are usually the first tools humans learn to use because it meets one of the first needs we encountered on the evolutionary trail; it put strength over distance into our hands (anybody remember my “The history of technology is the study of placing the most power in the most hands economically” SNCR speech? This is where “technology economically in lots of hands” begins).

We could crack hard shells or each other's heads with a hammer. Very useful, indeed. The reason hammers magnify our strength over distance has to do with things like mass, torque, force and kinetic energy. Understanding how hammers worked came several million years after we started using them. Fortunately, understanding how tools worked wasn't important to our ability to get something done. Modern examples are cellphones. Few people understand how cellphones work (take some time to study up on it. It's fascinating) and not knowing how they work doesn't stop people from making calls.

While the concepts of mass, torque, force and kinetic energy took a long time to develop, understanding the hammer form — that a hammer was really just a weight at the end of a longish handle — took moments (truly, once used, it took moments to figure the “weight at the end of a longish handle” part).

That's what a hammer is, that's its form; a weight at the end of a longish handle.

crescent-wrench.jpgA crescent wrench also has that basic “weight at the end of a longish handle” form. Hammering is not a crescent wrench's best use but that “weight at the end of a longish handle” form is shared by hammers and crescent wrenches, so when you don't have a hammer you can just as easily crescent wrench that nail into place. It'll work just fine.

Form and Function

What follows has some fascinating implications about gender because people who use kitchen knives as screwdrivers, etc., are adept at recognizing form from function. This often occurs along gender lines.

What we're discussing here are the twin concepts of form and function as in “Does form follow function or does function follow form?”

Function following form is why crescent wrenches sometimes serve as hammers but hammers will never serve as crescent wrenches — they don't have the necessary form. However, the reason all hammers have the same basic shape is because form does follow function.

An excellent example of form following function is cutting tools. Everything from a knapped piece of flint to Luc Skywalker's light saber have the same form because there's only so many ways a cut can be made with a tool.

Humans are very good at function following form activities because our brains are constantly making comparisons between things. Function following form is why most people can see a Chevy, a Ford or a Maybach and know it's a car.

Form following function isn't something modern humans are particularly good at. Form following function is why few people can be cleaning nettles from their dog's fur and come up with VelcroTM. The funny thing is that our brains can be equally adept in either effort and were for much of our early life.

The reason most people are good at one and not the other as we grow older is because modern educational systems societalize rather than educate; their job is to create good citizens and good citizens follow their leaders. Educational systems don't get kudos for teaching students independent thought, they get kudos for keeping kids off the streets and out of jails. Aboriginal societies love form following function thinking because they are (usually) constantly improvising solutions in their environment.

I once taught high school math when I was in my early twenties. I was hired to teach the remedial math classes. My mandate was “If you can get them to add and subtract two numbers together without screwing up, that'll be fine.”

These kids were society's rejects. They'd pretty much been told they were all stupid, not qualified for any kind of happy life, would probably drop out of school before they'd graduate, and to smile when in police lineups.

After a week of crawling through the textbook I decided they couldn't be as hopeless as I and they were led to believe.

So I stopped using the preferred textbook and gave them radically different assignments, things like giving them the first part of a sentence and they had to come up with twenty different endings, language problems, logic problems, things like that.

At first there was no interest, then there was some, then there was a lot.

The real breakthrough came when one kid nervously handed in his twenty different endings homework and was walking slowly out of the room at the end of the day. I started reading what he'd written and darn near wet myself laughing. He came back hurriedly. “You think those're funny?”

“Oh, god, Kevin. I can't catch my breath I'm laughing so hard.”

And word spread (as we now say) virally. Kevin got Mr. C to laugh, the race was on. Kids not in my classes starting coming up to me to ask if they could solve some problems.

#1) I was giving them some self-worth
#2) I was teaching them to recognize how to solve problems, not just addition and subtraction but when to use either and how to know which would serve them better when.

At this point, in these remedial classes, I started introducing logical calculus problems.

And the students did wonderfully on them. Students who would be lucky if they could add and subtract.

One of my student's father was a plumber and he shared that he often helped his dad during the summers. He wanted to be a plumber, too, and wasn't sure if he could make it into trade school because he was such a poor student.

So I drew a house on the blackboard, told him where the sinks were, where the bathrooms were and asked him to plumb the house for me, explaining each joint along the way.

And he did. More to the point, he demonstrated a working knowledge of hydrodynamics that most grad engineering students didn't have.

Then I asked him to fill in the pressure values and necessary pipe dimensions along the paths he was laying out.

Then I showed him the equations that created the values he was coming up with intuitively. Then I drew another house with other plumbing requirements and asked him to use the equations to figure out how to plumb the house.

He was hesitant at first and I asked the class to help him.

And they did, and he did, and they plumbed the house.

Using college sophomore engineering calculus. Highschool sophomores and freshman who were told they'd never amount to anything because they were…remedial.

By the way, I was fired from that teaching position because I was neither using the preferred text nor following the designated curriculum.

There was definitely something remedial going on at that high school and it wasn't with the students, me thinks.

Being good at form following function requires people to understand the core what that is being done and this is where understanding things like mass, torque, force and kinetic energy becomes necessary. Form following function requires people to strip away everything that isn't the one thing that is necessary and determine how to do that one thing better, faster, cheaper, smarter.

For example, one would never (at least I wouldn't) use a pneumatic hammer as a traditional hammer. I mean you could and you'd have to hold it in just the right way because that hammer “weight at the end of a longish handle” thing isn't too obvious this time out.

Likewise, I don't know of too many people who would use a nail gun as a traditional hammer.

(I helped a friend put in a deck using a nail gun. I tell you, I ain't going back to using a traditional hammer for such things. I wouldn't use a nail gun to hang a picture and that involves knowing which tool to use when.)

But are you aware that the same core principle and the same core, simple, immutable goal is what's being achieved by the nail gun, the pneumatic hammer and a traditional hammer?

The core goal is to drive the nail.

A traditional hammer does that by swinging that weight through an arc. That weight, the swinging and the arc are what's doing the work. Physics calls them mass and torque and the hammer uses them to apply force via kinetic energy to the nail.

The core principle that achieves the core “driving the nail” goal is applying lots of force in the form of kinetic energy.

A pneumatic hammer does this with air pressure building up in a cylinder. The air pressure increases until some threshold is reached, at which point a weight is shot through the cylinder with great force (kinetic energy again) and the power of the increasing air pressure in the cylinder is used to drive the nail via explosive decompression. That's the first loud bang you hear when pneumatic hammers work. The first bang is the explosive decompression, the second bang is whatever the weight is hitting.

Nail guns use explosive charges to drive the weight that drives the nail. Same principle of expanding pressure in a closed cylinder driving a weight.

And the nail gun, the pneumatic hammer and the traditional hammer all use that same simple, core principle — applying lots of force in the form of kinetic energy — to get the job done — driving the nail.

But it takes someone understanding the core principle — the transfer of kinetic energy

  • from the hammer swung through an arc,
  • the explosive power of air pressure or
  • a discharge,

to a target — that allows for different kinds of hammers to be created that make driving nails easier, better, faster, cheaper, smarter.

Remember Marketing as a Science?

This brings us back to Why hasn't Marketing caught on as a “Science”?

One of science's goals is to create form from function, to create tools that describe actions, to apply mathematics to what's happening so that the rest of us can understand function from form. Chances are (and research with primates indicates) that very few of our ancestors “discovered” hammers but once the tribe saw one individual hammering away everybody was doing it. The same thing is true for knapped flint, crescent wrenches and light sabers.

I believe the same will be true for marketing as a science. Right now most people (at least the ones I interact with) don't know how to apply the required (important point, that, required) sciences to marketing. My belief is that most people in marketing haven't yet been able to grasp the core goals and core concepts necessary to turn marketing into a science.

And I'm willing to be proven incorrect in that.

Problem Solving Philosophy

I suggested at an SF eM conference that people would be using the types of tools NextStage produces in the near future, that such tools would become de rigeur. I also said quite clearly that it didn't really matter if people used NextStage tools or not, it was simply the case that such tools as NextStage produces would be required sooner rather than later.

I hope people remember my saying that. I was sitting on the edge of the stage at my last presentation of the conference when I did.

I also realize that using such tools is going to require people to perform paradigm shifts and that the earliest adopters (not counting the clients NextStage has had since 2001) are going to be those who can see nettles and think “Velcro!”, ie, form from function thinkers.

My training in form from function (abstract/symbolic) thinking and turning those musings into working tools began with Bill Dykstra when I was about seven years old. If you asked Bill what he did he would tell you he was a handyman and he was. I guess. Kind of. What he did was create tools for the company where he and my dad worked.

And my god, the tools he could make.

I remember Bill, my dad, the company mechanic and I were in the big maintenance garage on a Saturday morning. I picked up a brush used to scrape rust from trailer brakes, held it upside down and said, “Look, dad. A ray gun.” The mechanic said, “I think you've been watching too many Buck Rogers shows”, my dad laughed but Bill…Bill looked at the way I was holding the brush and asked, “You're right. What kind of ray gun is it?”

Bill asked my dad if he could borrow me every once in a while and, when we worked together, he would show me machines and ask me what they did. As I got older the questions turned into “What could they do?” and that led to “This is what we need done. How would you do it?”

He would often ask me “What is really happening here?” It was an invitation to wait, to think, to symbolize what was really needed versus what was being asked for. Bill had a phenomenal skill, the ability to see problems and eliminate everything to reveal the core problem in its purest form, to abstract that pure form from all the noise that blinded others to the solutions inherent in them. Once abstracted, he could mentally synthesize the elements (do we need a hammer or a wrench, a stone or a light saber?) needed to solve the pure problem. Once synthesized, he could create solutions in reality.

And they worked.

The form versus function concept also deals with Maslowian and Eliadeian tools, that is 1st and 2nd order tool use respectively.

Tools that are designed to do one thing well — a hammer — are Maslowian. They are first order tools. Interestingly enough, all Simple Tools are second order tools because they can do any number of things well and are usually recognizable parts of first order tools. I remember reading about a new simple tool in (I think it was) Popular Science when I was a kid. I can remember the design and especially remember wondering as a kid how it qualified as a simple tool. Too many moving parts, I thought.

I'm told that analytic types find my writing frustrating because I don't quickly get to the point, the “A=B”ness of it isn't obvious to them. One of the things demonstrated by this is an “If I can't touch it, it isn't real” metaphysic (a {C,B/e,M} kind of thing). More to the point, this metaphysic demonstrates a desire to use a tool rather than a desire to understand the problem sufficiently to determine if the immediate tool is the best for the task or if another form can be used that will solve the core problem easier, better, faster, cheaper, smarter. No offense to any analysts and what results from the former type of thinking is 1st order (Maslowian) tool use.


A difference between first and second order tool users is demonstrated by Ronald Cohen's “If you look at something closely that is thought to be well understood, you often find something new and exciting.” (demonstrating 2nd order thinking) and Carrabis' (my) Corollary, “If you look at something you've never encountered before, you often attempt to understand it with irrelevant ideas and fool yourself into thinking you understand it.” (demonstrating 1st order, Maslowian, if all you have is a hammer then everything must be a nail thinking and why I started this post with the Henry Gee quote)

(more about the differences between Maslowian and Eliadeian concepts will show up further in this post, so keep a'reading…)

Bill taught me to move from real-world problems to abstract to symbolic to synthesis and back to real-world solutions. He taught me that tools weren't solutions in themselves, they were ways to create solutions. Like Huntington, Bill had the ability to occupy and exploit the space between researchers and end-users. And like Huntington, Bill's ideas carried more influence than most people of his time could imagine.

The natural abstraction from tool use to tool creation involves those skills Bill Dykstra taught me, the ability to transcend from “what is it doing?” to “what needs to be done?” to move fluidly along the form-function axis.

Let's start applying this cultural paradigm shift, this tool use philosophy, to solve some problems hypothetically. Perhaps coming up with some hypothetical solutions will help us discover what kinds of tools we need to make those abstractions into reality.

Problem: Visitors aren't converting

<And deep thanks to Stephane Hamel for his contribution here>
Let's start with some traditional solution paths. Based on our training, we'd investigate the following:

Web Analyst

1) Conversion goal?
2) Price Point?
3) Incentives?
4) Perceived Value?
5) Risks?
6) Workflow/Process? (for interferences)
7) campaign?
8 ) traffic qualifications?


1) What are the visitor characteristics?
2) What's the campaign?
3) Is the traffic qualified?

In either case, a Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control (“SixSigma”) methodology would be used to determine solutions.

The traditional approach at this point wants to determine things like price point, incentives and so on. Fair enough. Do you answer from the business' or user's perspective?

Business perspective: Look at the market, the competition, do focus groups, costs & profitability to determine the price at which we should sell.

User perspective: Price is own perception of gained value & added benefit vs risk & cost (tangible or not). This pricepoint is specific to everyone…

Synthesis: If there was a way to determine the pricepoint based on user willingness to pay a specific amount, we could optimize profitability and satisfy users at the same time… as long as they don't share the price they paid for (a bit like airplane tickets where each site is priced virtually based on so many factors!)

The challenge lies in the ease for everyone to share the info about the price they paid for something. In the early 1900s every price was the result of a 1 on 1 discussion. The goal of the web is to return to that 1-1 discussion.

Possible solution:If the user perceived value is truly high, the price point might not be such a huge factor.

To sum up, there was initially “one-on-one” negotiation skills (last century), then large-scale pricing based on guts and “business management” best practices, now analytics is playing a bigger role.

Could the next step be going back to one-on-one based on behaviour and predictive analytics?

Good question, that.
</And deep thanks to Stephane Hamel for his contribution here>

The above is a wonderful demonstration of problem solving within an existing paradigm. Remember “An end-user tool should be extremely easy (ie, psychonomically intuitive or “requires no training” based on a given cultural paradigm) to use” from our End User Tool Laws?

Also, the solution path outlined above pretty much follows what most people can recognize as a logical process. The math involved is (in my opinion) elementary. There's nothing in the above that really requires more than a standard bachelor's/baccalaureate degree to understand and work through.

Further, the solution path above should be or would be intuitively obvious to most people regardless of what their bachelor's/baccalaureate degree was in. The roots of the process actually go back to the Renaissance, to when judicial astrology was turning into observational astronomy. If you know the history of statistics — and I believe traditional WA uses statistical methods a good deal — you know that the e in the basic

y0 – y1 = b0b1x1 + e

(the basic two sample t-test equation) comes from the error of margin originally so much an element of question in observational astronomy.

But the question here is “What happens when one has to use new tools that aren't based on their current cultural paradigm?” (this is the “cultural shift” part from the End User Tool Laws)

For example, nail guns and pneumatic hammers can only be used by people who've flushed toilets.

Flushed toilets? Yes, because flush toilets (usually) require plumbing, plumbing requires a knowledge of hydrodynamics (by that name or as “water pressure”), hydrodynamics requires a knowledge of PV=nRT (by that equation or as “when you put your thumb over the end of the hose the water squirts out faster”) and that, that PV=nRT thing, is what makes both nail guns and pneumatic hammers work as they do. The “P” in PV=nRT is “Pressure”, the “V” is “Volume” and what it basically means is that Pressure and Volume are in constant proportion to each other, and if remedial math high school students can understand this, so should you.

So when the nail gun fires or the pneumatic hammer hams, the sudden increase of Pressure in the small, cylinder (Volume) must cause an explosive release of force.

Bring a nail gun or pneumatic hammer to someone who's never experienced any kind of (relatively) modern technology and you have to be prepared to do lots of training to make sure they can use these new tools without hurting themselves or others.

So what about people who feel they need to understand before they can use the NextStage tool set? (and I think that's a fair request, by the way).

Do you want to know enough to make a cellphone call or do you want to know enough to make a cell phone?

I created the original version of the flash below back in Jun '02 for an academic presentation. The number of sciences involved in NS' ET hasn't grown since then. And I'll ask you to forgive the next question; How many of these sciences and fields of study are part of your present cultural paradigm, something you have enough knowledge of to be able to hold a conversation in?

There are currently elements from 120 sub-disciplines in Evolution Technology. We used 120 sub-disciplines because we borrowed a lesson from modern astronomy; use many lenses (radio, gamma, optic, infrared, ultraviolet, xray, …) to look at something because by so doing you'll have a better understanding of what's really out there. And for much the same reasons that the much more advanced Mayan calendar was never adopted by the Spanish and hence greater Europe, the cultural differences that created ET and WA will need effort and energy to bridge.

And I believe it would be both foolish and naive of me to think any one who wants to use the NextStage tool set to make a call wants to spend twenty or more years studying these various fields.

Therefore it's imperative that all new tools be extremely simple to use and provide immediately useful information to whomever wants to use them, and then that the useful information they provide lead the users (so inclined) to think of how to use the tool differently (ie, moving users from function from form to form from function.

Philosophy Change #1

NextStage tools don't really concern themselves with clickthroughs, bouncerates, such and so on. NextStage tools are much more concerned with why visitors clickthrough or not, why visitors bounce or not.

For example, this chart (our Purchase-ExchangeStop Report) utilizes concepts from social- and cognitive-psychology and personal mythologies studies to make determinations of which of eight factors — Imagination, Usage, Workability, Experience, Using, Need, Pleasure, Pain — are most important when someone is on a site and making a purchase decision. The red dot indicates how important each factor is (the higher the more important), the yellow indicates how well the site is answering the visitor's concern and the blue indicates how much of the visitor's own neural processes are involved in making the decision.

What we learn from this chart is that Experience, Using and Need are what's most on the visitor's mind when they're making their decision.

  • Experience – have they used this product/service or something similar before?
  • Using – are they using this product/service or something similar right now?
  • Need – do they recognize a problem this product/service addresses?

What's interesting is that while those elements are most in their mind, they don't weigh heavily in the actual decision process. The strongest decision factors are Imagination, Usage and Workability.

  • Imagination – can they imagine themselves using this product/service?
  • Usage – can they understand how this product/service is used to solve a known problem?
  • Workability – can they figure out how to make this product/service work in their current situation?

Why does this difference between visitors' internal states exist? Because (looking at the yellow bars on the chart) the site is emphasizing the latter elements even though the visitors are internally emphasizing the former elements.

So the end result from this chart is that if the site is redesigned to emphasize Experience, Using and Need — where the visitors are already putting the bulk of their neural effort — we'd make more sales.

Now there is a tool a NextStageologist would see and intuitively understand based on their cultural paradigm.

But not everybody is a NextStageologist nor do they want to be nor should they be.

So for the rest of the world we created The NextStage Gauge. Is your site in the red? Then you're in trouble. Yellow? Then you're okay and could use some work. Green? Don't do anything. Under the chart the NextStage Gauge lists one to three suggestions for improving your site. Simple as that. No need to know the sciences NextStage is based on, no need to get under the hood. Just drive the nail, make the call and flush the toilet.


The NextStage Gauge has been around and publicly available for a while. I mentioned it in For Angie and Matt, and The Noisy Data Finale on 29 Jan '07 and probably earlier.


Reading through people's comments about NextStage's tools, I see form confusion. People seem to be asking “Which end is the weight and which end is the handle?” or “How do I make a cut with this?” These questions arise because most people are good at function following form; they see a chart, recognize a visual representation of values and say “A hammer! I know how to use hammers. I've seen lots of hammers and I know how to crack skulls and nuts.” The fact that most people are better at function following form than form following function is why we take things like our Purchase-ExchangeStop report and turn it into The NextStage Gauge.

I mention all this because I believe that understanding NextStage's tools beyond a simple “dial a number, make a call” use require users to put aside their current concepts of tools. Currently what I'm witnessing is the Maslowian “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” and people who've read NextStage's Principles might remember that tools can be Maslowian or Eliadeian.

People interested in getting under the hood will need a different philosophical perspective to understand the information these reports are providing.

Now, for those who want to know hydrodynamics, why cell phones are call cellphones and not little, tiny phones and understand kinetic theory…

For the most part humans think before they act. This “thinking” can be conscious or non-conscious. Most often it's a mix of both. Information comes in, the non-conscious does lots of work, makes a decision about what actions to perform then alerts the conscious mind of its decision. Sometimes the conscious and non-conscious minds disagree. Usually the conscious mind rationalizes things until it agrees with the non-conscious and whatever the non-conscious told the conscious to do is what the human ends up doing.

Sometimes the conscious can discuss things with the non-conscious and the non-conscious will cede. Most people don't have the training to do this on a regular basis.

Sometimes the conscious will bully the non-conscious into shutting up. Do this often enough and the human begins to demonstrate psychotic behaviors.

So let's go with “the non-conscious usually tells the conscious what to do”, and also throw in that the non-conscious sends its instructions to the conscious long before (in neurosynaptic time) the conscious mind instructs the human to act. Technically, these non-conscious instructions are known as preparation sets. Everybody has them, everybody does them. People with lots of training (think Zen Masters and the like) know how to shut down their conscious minds/unify the conscious and non-conscious elements/stand on the bridge between the two worlds and not everybody has the time or patience to go through that kind of training.


Anyway, in a sense NextStage tools eavesdrop on that conversation people don't realize they're having with themselves. Nextstage tools focus on why people do things, not what they did, because knowing why empowers one to predict with great accuracy what people will do in the future.

So while I'm going to agree (more or less) with the solution path described earlier, I'm just going to note that it walks neither that marketing nor science bridge.

Why is that bridge important? Because it's at the heart (or mind, whatever) of both 1-1 marketing and cultural paradigm shifts. One-to-one marketing is relationship marketing and I'm probably using the term differently than others because I'm persnickety (and why marketing isn't considered one of the social sciences I'll never know). My training is that the first relationship you must market is between yourself and the person you're with.

The great thing is, a relationship exists whether you recognize it or not. The Christian New Testament has a passage “Whenever two or more are gathered together…” and whatever else is implied, what is recognized by social anthropologists is that both a social contract and relationship exists in that passage. How small can these relationships be? Have you ever talked to yourself, out loud or otherwise? Have you ever had a discussion with someone who wasn't there, perhaps telling off a co-worker while you're alone in your car driving home?

Then you know the magic number of persons required for a relationship to exist is two. Even when the relationship is with yourself, the magic number is two. There's you and — you guessed it — your non-conscious self.

By the way, those conversations where you tell off your co-worker after the fact? Those are minor examples of those psychotic episodes I mentioned earlier. It's when your non-conscious and conscious minds are working at reconciling each other. This is probably why, when I'm upset or bothered, I don't hold it in or keep it back. This is also probably why I so rarely get bothered or upset.

(Susan may tell you otherwise, of course)

And this first recognizable relationship, the one between you and yourself before you can have one with anybody else, including all those website visitors, target market or whatever, must be recognized and understood before cultural paradigm shifts can occur. Unless you're willing to sit down and ask yourself, “Why am I doing things this way again?” and “Is there a better way to do this than is immediately obvious to me?” — two very difficult questions for most Maslowian thinkers — then the game is pretty much lost before it begins.


These concepts are covered in agonizing detail in Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History


More to the point of my posts, unless you're willing to go through them and see where they take you, you're probably not a good candidate for deeper explorations of the NextStage tools other than the level to which you've explored cellphone technology. You can still be a client and still use them (much as you know how to use cellphones, hammers and flush toilets) and we're happy to have you as such, but using them to create other tools? Sorry, ain't gonna happen. And why should it? That's not what you do for a living. That's NextStage Evolution's job. We put in the towers so you can make the calls.

Achieving Your Goals versus Understanding the Principle

So the first philosophical change (and bringing this back to the web example above) is an important one to recognize — the visitor achieved some goal perfectly, cleanly and neatly. They explored, they entered into a relationship with you via the website, they had a conversation (either with themselves or someone physically close to them while they were navigating or with you as they drove home in the car). They performed some combination of conscious and non-conscious activities that caused the observed end result. Whatever their goal was when they arrived on the site, they achieved some goal when they left the site. Lots of times the goal achieved when they leave the site is a goal you — designer, owner, analyst — gave them.

Really, honestly and for true. No kidding, that.

And I'll bet dollars to donuts they achieved that exit goal exactly as you instructed them to via your design so on and et cetera.

That includes all those non-conversions, abandoned carts, whatever you want to call them.

Really, honestly and for true. No kidding, that, either.

Exactly as you instructed them to

Analyze the messaging of both a site as a whole and as individual pages (NextStage prefers the terms “presentations” and “experiences” because we concern ourselves with the user's experience of the information presented) and you can quickly learn if your home/landing page is getting the correct message across.

This one piece of information — that your site/page might be transmitting a less than optimal message — is one of those philosophical, cultural paradigm shift, change things.

Let me provide you with a more concrete example of this (and we already know from the above that Flash ain't my thing, right?).

Below are two flashes, one was created internally to provide a designer with a template to work from, the other was what the designer turned it into. We provided instructions to the designer with the template and the instructions were traditionally simple; See this? Copy it into your version of Flash. (we routinely provide rudimentary flashes for designers to professionalize. You can see one example that turned into a Signature system in Canada and Asia at BrainScienceConsulting).


Second (and this one has sound in it so you may want to adjust your volume now):

I will be among the first to state that the designer's version has higher production values (they used better tools, they knew how to use Flash, …). However, the production values are secondary to whether or not people respond in a desired fashion. The 100 or so people I showed both flashes to (and not telling them who created either) always preferred the template, not the designer's finished product.

Why? Because the template affected them in a recognizable way and they demonstrated that it was affecting them.

How did they demonstrate that the template was affecting them and the professional designer's wasn't? By repeatedly playing the template, not the professionally designed one, and the language they used to describe template versus the professional version (such as “I don't know, I just liked it more”, “Something about it works and the other doesn't”, “It moved me”, …).

Quite a revelation, that. A/B testing with not a lot of effort. Show them two flashes side by side and just watch what happens (a lot like what our tracking tool does). The one they repeatedly play is the one that's causing the conscious and non-conscious responses that are being signaled by the repeated play and verbal behaviors.

This is a demonstration of design based on design and design based on the sciences behind NextStage. As one of our first clients told his designer, “I personally think this web site looks like sh?t, and believe it or not, I don't care about that, nor do I care about any design theory. What I do care about is that everybody who visits this site thinks it looks like sh?t, too. The information I have tells me that it needs to have less of … and more of …. Either you make that happen, or I'll find someone who can. This isn't a showcase for your alleged talent, it's a business tool.”

It truly doesn't matter how professionally designed your site is, if it's not meeting the conscious and non-conscious needs of your audience, give it up and walk away. You're spending money for nothing.

Again, I'm not questioning the difference in production values, I question whether or not the higher production values without science behind them necessarily get the job done.

Going to the Core

Earlier we defined Problem: Visitors aren't converting and now perhaps we can offer that visitors are doing exactly what they're being instructed to do, therefore the problem state is actually a success state; if someone is being instructed not to convert and they don't convert then the instruction is successful, correct?

It may not be what you want — for that matter, it may not be what the visitors want — and its still successful.

This indicates we need a new understanding of “success”.

<Deep thanks to Susan for the aides provided herein>
A horse may respond to a aide inappropriately (you may signal a canter, it goes into a trot) and you don't shoot the horse. It successfully responded to your aide, simply not as you wanted it to.

Anybody familiar with equestrian training knows the first thing you do is make sure you're giving the horse the correct aide. You are? And the horse is still responding inappropriately?

You provide the aide more obviously, a little more oomph with your legs and back, for example. Did the horse respond appropriately this time?

Still no. Are you sure the horse knows the proper response to the aide? This is the crucial question and in equestrian training, it's actually called “questions and answers”. You're asking the horse a question and it's giving you an answer. Most horses, if they don't know the right answer, will start giving you every answer they know and hope they get the right one.

Now you have to stop everything you're doing because the horse is starting to go nuts providing answers. You — if you're a good equestrian — need to calm the horse down and teach it the right answer to that aide.

At this point good equestrians may also check for physical reasons causing the horse to answer inappropriately. Everything okay physically? And the horse still not responding appropriately?

Then it's time to train the horse how to respond to the aide. Or remind the horse if it does know the correct response and is just refusing to give it (remind me to tell you about my ride on The WidowMaker sometime). Much like a dog who knows how to “sit” and doesn't, you need to put your hand on its rump, clearly and firmly say “Sit” while pushing down and the dog learns or relearns the command.

With horses and visitors to websites, you give the aide in such a way that they must respond appropriately.

And did you notice how seamlessly I integrated websites and visitors into this discussion? What you learn from working with horses can be applied to marketing material 1-1 and loses nothing in the translation.

Understanding the principles of equestrian training and applying them to marketing is also an example of why I emphasize understanding the theory in order to create applications and is a hallmark of 2nd order, Eliadeian thinking. The ability to take knowledge, training, experience, etc., from one area and apply it to a completely different area is an example of 2nd order tool use.

Here's the rest of the equestrian training, the part most inexperienced riders don't like: nine times out of ten, when the horse answers inappropriately, it's the rider's fault. The rider isn't asking the question correctly.

The same is true with website visitors who don't convert. It's the website's fault, not the visitors. Visitors are responding correctly, the site's simply not giving them the correct aide.

And as with horses, so with website visitors; you can't fight a 1600# animal. You're going to lose. You can't fight the 97.6% of your website visitors who don't convert. You're going to lose.

And always end on a positive note. With horses as with visitors; the last thing you do when you're training a horse is end with something it knows how to do, thus providing a “success” based reward (at the end of the training), a success even if nothing else was successful. On a website, if you're going to pop anything up when they're closing down their browser or otherwise ending their session, let it be “Thanks for coming to our site. We hope to see you again soon”. No questionnaires, no forms, nothing else. You've let them know their time is valuable to you and placed a marker in their memory that will probably bring them back.
</Deep thanks to Susan for the aides provided herein>

Knowing what tool to use when, Knowing what core problem you're solving

I wouldn't use a nail gun to hang a picture on a wall and I won't use a traditional hammer to put in a deck. Similarly, NextStage tools are not good at traditional WA functions although we make use of traditional WA results in some of our calculations.

The fact that different traditional WA tools come up with different values for the same function has pretty much led us to create our own WA tools (we don't offer them to others) so that we'd always know how the values we're using in our calculations are coming about and can have high confidence in the accuracy therein (Note: not that the values are accurate, only that the values are accurate within the paradigm that generates them. This is true of all tools even though it is mentioned rarely by tool users and manufacturers).

And here we come to an interesting cultural datum; NextStage could not gain recognition until traditional WA and similar tools had run their course and entered decline. The reason is simple enough and well established in the philosophy of science; Challenging orthodoxy is difficult because most practitioners are educated and work within current paradigms and have little career incentive to examine unconventional ideas. The decline of WA and similar tools is forcing practitioners to examine unconventional tools, hence the flourish of interest in what we've been doing since 2001.

That decline is something I've been mentioning to people for years. Sorry, folks. Worldwide research I've recently done querying internationally recognized WA consultants regarding “the unfulfilled promise of web analytics” strongly indicates this decline is the case. The results of that research will show up in a future Analytics Ecology post.

So we're back to Problem: Visitors aren't converting. Stephane Hamel does an excellent job of detailing a traditional tool solution to the problem and I have high confidence that Stephane's method will produce useful results.

Let me take you through a very brief (I promise) alternative derivation of why visitors aren't converting:

A certain largish company had a mini-site that consisted of four pages; 1) Landing, 2) Funneling, 3) Completion Event (closure, transaction, the visitor gives you something you want) and 4) Thankyou. Traffic on 1) Landing and 2) Funneling was good and fairly even and died after page 3) Completion Event (note that the client didn't see anything odd about this).

What's happening?

ch-ch-ch-changes%201-small.jpg My first thought was to determine if the same visitor was sitting at the computer through the entire browsing session. Drops off such as shown here often occur because different if not conflicting {C,B/e,M}s are interacting with the same information. One of the reports we developed early on was a measure of how many different visitors were using the same computer. It originated early in the days of NextStage, back when it was quite common for there to be a single workstation that was used by several different people. A client wanted to know how many different people were browsing their site because such information was a good indication of how much revenue would result from contacting the group browsing.

ch-ch-ch-changes%202-small.jpgThat report showed that the number of real humans using the computer during these browsing sessions was 1:1 human:computer on 1) Landing and 2) Funneling pages of the sessions, was almost double on 3) Completion Event (what NextStage calls the “FailurePage” in some of our other reports because that's the page that is actually failing to complete the transaction.) and went pretty much back to 1:1 on the Thankyou page. Looking at the {C,B/e,M}s that showed up on the 3) Completion Event page and weren't present before and after I noted that the majority of them demonstrated female neurologies while the 1) Landing, 2) Funneling and 4) Thankyou pages were dominated by male neurologies.

So far and knowing nothing about the content of the pages, it's obvious that males ask someone else to look at the website on the 3) Completion Event page and these others demonstrate negative biasing female neurologies.

ch-ch-ch-changes%203-small.jpgThe suggestions were to add some positive biasing female design factors to the 2) Funneling through 4) Thankyou pages. Completions increased. And do remember, the client was happy with things as they were (8%). Getting them to just under 22% only involved a few design changes so the cost was minimal.

Numbers and numbers and numbers

Look carefully and you'll see that the number of “visitors” goes down on the 2)Funneling through 4) Thankyou pages once ET's suggestions are taken into account. This decrease is due to the influence of the positive-biasing female design factors driving away the predominately male neurologies. Note, however, that actual completions increase on the Thankyou page as the other, predominantly female {C,B/e,M}s brought into the browsing session are positively reinforced (ie, “Sure, dear-partner-o'-mine, let's get that”). By the way, biologic gender isn't a factor here, neurologic gender (are they thinking male or female thoughts?) is.

Knowing what tool to use when, Knowing what core problem you're solving (Part 2)

I offer that adding another tool to the traditional toolbox, something like either The NextStage Gauge or the Purchase-ExchangeStop Report, would provide something directly more actionable. This is touching on a neuro- and psycho-linguistic principle; If what you're doing isn't working, try something else. IE, if your traditional methods have maxed out their ROI potential, perhaps some new tools (ours or others) are in order.

Or you can be like a horse and try everything else in the hopes of getting something right.

But then you'd better hope your client is a good equestrian, which means they'll check to make sure there's nothing physically wrong with you — your saddle pinching your withers (just sounds painful, doesn't it?), your bit and everything else is fitted properly — before they say “…or I'll find someone who can. This isn't a showcase for your alleged talent, it's a business tool.”

Suggested Readings

Putting technology in its place

The possibility of impossible cultures

Setting standards

A tool, not a tyrant

Why I Am Not a Property Dualist

The economics of impatience

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From TheFutureOf (7 Nov 08): Debbie Pascoe asked me to pontificate on “What are we measuring when we measure 'engagement'?”

Debbie Pascoe emailed me a while back, asking “…when you talk about engagement and measuring it, what is it that should be measured? I dont mean the variables, etc to collect specific data points. Rather, it has to do with motivation. Someone comes to the site and we want to whether/know they are engagedengaged to do what? What are the variables measuring? How will we know if/ when weve answered the question?

Were not all the same, so my engagement is your time-waster. I dont know if Ive made the question clear enough for your response. If not, let me know and I can provide more clarity.

Whoa. Great question, Debbie. To answer with any attempt at clarity will take a bit of detail, so go get a coffee or whatever suits you, sit back, relax, take a deep breath and let's begin (and remember, I'm explaining based on the types of research NextStage does and may not be what you're asking about)…

Internal v External Objects

You're reading this blog post. This blog post is an external object to you. Perhaps it's on a screen or you've printed it out. This external object has certain properties that can be defined/recognized as system variables. These system variables are defined by the blog publishing system, your computer settings, which browser/reader you're using, … these things are obvious.

Historically not obvious (except to us at NextStage and people in related disciplines, anyway) is that system variables also include things like font size, color, images, placement, content, amount of content, positioning, …

All these system variables are variables of the external object. These variables can be measured independently by various devices and will all be the same ±2db.

As you interact with this blog post in whatever external form you've chosen, you start to create an internal representation of it. This internal representation is comprised of estimator variables. Some of these estimator variables include things like your attitude towards me (the author of this post), whether or not I use colors that you have personal biases to, whether or not I use colors that your demographic has biases to, your gender (sorry to say gender is not a binary issue, folks. Neurologically, humans are not “male or female”. We may favor one neurologic gender when considering an amalgam of all thoughts in a given time period or situation, and we switch back and forth, mix and match as needs and environment dictate), your emotional state when you read this, …

System variables and the external objects they represent are interesting, definitely. You want to know about engagement, though? You need to understand the estimator variables and the internal object, the conscious and non-conscious sum that becomes the internal representation of the external object you're interacting with.

and people wonder why, when asked, I tell people that NextStage researches “how people interact with information in their environment”

You are also quite correct when you write “…my engagement is your time-waster.

Consider all the possible estimator variables involved, the order they're in in a given calculation (arithmetic associativity and commutativity don't apply in neuromathematics because biases cascade rather than lineate. Humans don't respond to stimuli in fixed manners except in the massive aggregate. Even so, assuming a massed aggregate means you're only capturing what's allowed by your error margin. Allowing for estimator variables equates to decreasing your error margin to an infinitesimal, therefore your capture becomes infinite.

this is why I often talk about probability solids and solid probabilities and hyperspatial systems when describing the math NextStage uses in its models

Can we measure “engagement”?

So what we're left with is “Can we measure that someone is engaged?”

Yes, we can (remember, I'm talking about how NextStage defines “engagement” and our measurement methodologies, using our technology).

Then what are we measuring?

We're measuring the estimator variables to determine that a very specific neurologic process is active in the given individual (ditto the above).

What is that “very specific neurologic process”?

A focusing of attention such that non-conscious and conscious activities at least intersect if not momentarily synchronize (see Attention, Engagement and Trust: The Internet Trinity and Websites, Defining Attention on Websites & Blogs, Know Your Audience, and Reach It, Focusing Your Customer's Attention, Get the attention you're already paying for or Defining Engagement (Again? Oh, Lordy!) and Exploring the Holes in Flawed Logic. We also have some for-pay whitepapers defining these things, how we measure them, case studies, research, etc., if anybody's interested).

Note that nothing in the definitions thus far concerns itself with the system variables of the external object. We don't care about them right now.

Because we don't care about them right now, we don't have to worry about “…my engagement is your time-waster.” because we don't care what is engaging you, only that the neurologic processes of engagement are being demonstrated (see Modality-Specific Attention Under Imminent But Not Remote Threat of Shock: Evidence From Differential Prepulse Inhibition of Startle, Attention and awareness in stage magic: turning tricks into research, Social Decision-Making: Insights from Game Theory and Neuroscience, … There's 103 references in the NextStage library from sources such as Science, Nature, Neuroscience, Refereed Proceedings of the International Womens Conference, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, The Journal of Neuroscience, … have I lost anybody yet? And that was just a quick search. Knock yourself out and do a search for “attentional control” or “focused attention” (although there's a lot more trash around the latter)).

So it doesn't matter what's 'engaging' someone, only that they're demonstrating “engagement'?

Quite correct. What's engaging to you may not be engaging to me and vice versa (at least let's hope not, yes?). But (!!!) the way you and I demonstrate 'engagement' will be the same ±2db (so to speak). The fact that you and I and all humans demonstrate 'engagement' in some very specific ways (“Engagement is the demonstration of Attention via psychomotor activity that serves to focus an individual's Attention.“) is critical to the next part of this discussion.

You and I and just about everyone else can look at someone and tell whether they're “engaged” (focusing their attention) in what they're doing. We don't even have to see what they're doing in order to know if they're “engaged” in what they're doing. We can tell by the look on their face, their breathing, their lack of response to other external stimuli, …, that someone is focusing their attention to the exclusion of other stimuli. IE, the intersection of their non-conscious (breathing, the look on their face, etc) and conscious (what they're actually aware they're doing (and we'll need to come back to “aware” in a moment or two)) is occuring and pretty much without pause.

Here's an interesting (to me) aspect of engagement; if someone can tell you what they're doing when you ask them then their level of engagement is either very low or non-existent, meaning “they're not engaged”.

This means that if you ask someone what they're doing and they respond immediately — let's say they're looking at some websites and you say “What are you doing?” and they immediately respond “I'm looking up something” then they're not engaged in what they're doing because they were able to respond to a stimulus that wasn't part of the original external object – internal object pair (<ASIDE>this is one of the ways ET can determine if someone was on the phone, listening to music, watching tv, petting their dog, talking to someone else, etc., while browsing</ASIDE>).

However, if you ask someone a question and it takes them a moment or two to respond? Then they were engaged. Did they sigh before they responded? They were more engaged. Did they have to physically pull away from what they were doing? By golly they were engaged. Did you have to tap them or shout or something to get their attention (ask Susan about this)? Then my god were they engaged.

IE, if someone is aware of what they're doing then they're not engaged in what they're doing.

“Engagement” happens in the “now”, not over time, not in the future and not in the past

People can focus their attention on things not in their environment. They do so by bringing whatever isn't in their immediate external environment into their immedate mental environment. Top performance athletes do this when they mentally rehearse their game or event. Are they engaged? Definitely and they are engaged “right now”, they are focusing their present time attention on some future event, they aren't focusing their future attention on the future. If the latter were true, you could interrupt their musings in the present and they would respond immediately, then some time in the future and without stimulus they'd look up suddenly and ask, “What?”

The fact that engagement is very much a “now” phenomenon plays into the concept of motivation.

So “motivation” is important to engagement?

Ah, we're getting closer to the key, me thinks.

Yes, motivation is important because people must be motivated (in the process of creating an “internal-external congruency”. Motivation is demonstrated when the external environment is altered through the direct action of the individual in order to achieve some internally recognized goal or objective) to be engaged by what they're doing. Motivation is one of those things I reference when discussing the {C,B/e,M} matrix (see From TheFutureOf (22 Jan 08): Starting the discussion: Attention, Engagement, Authority, Influence, … and From TheFutureOf (16 Jul 08): Responses to Geertz, Papadakis and others, 5 Feb 08 for more on this). Understanding what motivates people — how much effort they are willing to demonstrate in order to externalize an internal goal or objective — is a part of knowing how to engage them, ie how to focus their attention where we want their attention focused.

Let me give you an example of motivation: I want to play guitar well enough to be able to sit down with musicians and keep up with them. To do that, I must practice playing guitar. I do, and will often go into our music room and just play for 5-10 minutes during the day besides my usual practice time.

The internal goal/objective is a certain level of musicianship. The external recognition of that goal/objective is playing with musicians and keeping up with them. The effort demonstrated is daily practice. Lots of people want to play guitar, few people want to practice daily. We colloquialize this with “They're not motivated enough” and what we're recognizing is that the internal goal/objective doesn't have sufficient value to warrant the effort involved (a Fair-Exchange concept if ever there was one).

Then we can motivate them to be engaged in what we want them to do? How?

People may have heard or read my description of what NextStage does as essentially creating an equation, A + B = C (see Troublesome Targets: Where Analytics and Audiences Meet). I normally describe this equation as “The visitor + the marketing material = the desired response.”

Now let's get a bit more technical. The “The visitor + the marketing material = the desired response” is another form of “(Estimator variables defining Internal Object) + (System Variables defining External Object) = (Are they engaged or not?)”.

This restating of the simple equation is important because it provides definable, executable solutions to questions such as “What background color increases attention to a branding image/message?” The “What background color increases attention to a branding image/message?” is a semantic variation of “(increases attention) + (background color) = (branding image/message)”.

Marketers, advertisers, whomever, knows they want “C”, increased branding of their product in the consumer's mind. They also know they have “B”, some background color palette. If “C” doesn't occur then “A”, increased attention, hasn't happened because the choice of “B” was an incorrect choice, ie “B” wasn't motivating visitors to demonstrate “A”, engagement.

To me (to me!!!) the value of measuring engagement as defined here is that the site owner knows now, almost immediately, if “B” is working in real time and will work or not pre-publication. Because we can measure “A” and we know “B”, we can tell how “B” needs to be changed in order to produce the desired “C”. The true richness of that “A + B = C” formulation is that it understands “A = Sifi(Sj(xj))”, etc., so that you can be near surgical in determining what exactly (and I do mean exactly) needs to be changed in order to produce the desired result “C”.

So to “Someone comes to the site and we want to whether/know they are engagedengaged to do what? What are the variables measuring? How will we know if/ when weve answered the question?”

A + B = C -> (they are engaged) + (the site) = (to do what?)

  • If you can describe what you want someone to do (“C”) and
  • You know what the demonstrations of engagement are for your selected audience (“A”) then
  • You can determine what the site (“B”) needs to be in order for “A” to happen such that “C” occurs.

What are the variables measuring? About 80 different psychomotor behaviors at present. More in the future, we hope.

How will we know if/when we've answered the question? Near immediately, depending on traffic volume, how well you've defined your target audience and things like that.

Pre-publication knowledge falls from the above by holding C and A constant, thus determining what modifications (if any) are required to B in order to create equality.

(pant pant pant)

The last thing Debbie wrote me was “I look forward to your pontification on this issue.”

Okay, Debbie. How'd I do?

From TheFutureOf (28 Aug 08): Response to Jim Novo's 12 Jul 08 9:40am comment

(sorry, folks. I don't have Jim's comment available)

I'm posting it here as I'm including some images and I need to post rather than comment in order for images to show up.)

Thanks, Jim. Good to be engaged.

Yes, I'm familiar with Recency. We use some variants of the standard concept in our blog research and tools. I'll agree that Recency is a pervasive human behavioral model. Do I think Recency is the best link between our worlds? That would take a few more discussions and I'm happy to learn if it is. Note that I'm qualifying my agreement because I think the devil might be in the details on this one (something I hinted at in my comment to your post.


As you point out, the Recency model is very simple and I definitely agree that one can do better. My understanding is that it's very useful as a general metric and its usefulness decreases as one digs down and explores why and how recency occurs. Some good papers on this are Customer value modelling: Synthesis and extension proposals (Journal of Targeting, Measurement and Analysis for Marketing, Volume 11, Number 2, 1 September 2002 , pp. 124-147(24)), How to develop new approaches to RFM segmentation (Journal of Targeting, Measurement and Analysis for Marketing, Volume 13, Number 1, 1 September 2004, pp. 50-60(11) and Metacognition and learning about primacy and recency effects in free recall: The utilization of intrinsic and extrinsic cues when making judgments of learning (Memory & Cognition, Volume 36, Number 2, March 2008, pp. 429-437(9)). The list is extremely extensive and I'm happy that a great deal of it either correlates, substantiates or validates NextStage's research. For example, I've talked at eMetrics and elsewhere about getting visitors to do things online simply by placing action items on pages in a way that makes volition near mandatory. Primacy and Recency Effects on Clicking Behavior (Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Volume 11, Number 2, January 2006, pp. 522-535(14)) is completely independent of NextStage research and does just that (I wrote about priming in my BizMediaScience blog along with related subjects).

For example, recency is highly age dependant with the strongest cues being in early adulthood (barring social impetus effects). This is great for people marketing to that demographic and the results shouldn't be thought as characteristic for other groups (see Temporal distribution of favourite books, movies, and records: Differential encoding and re-sampling (Memory, Volume 15, Number 7, October 2007, pp. 755-767(13)), Aging and contextual binding: Modeling recency and lag recency effects with the temporal context model (Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, Volume 13, Number 3, June 2006, pp. 439-445(7)) or Age-related differences in advertising: Recall and persuasion (Journal of Targeting, Measurement and Analysis for Marketing, Volume 13, Number 1, 1 September 2004 , pp. 7-20(14))). What I haven't seen in the literature so far is anyone using PCP methods to augment recency analysis (and I'm thrilled for someone to point this juncture out to me).


As far as a given model's simplicity being its greatest advocate for use…Have you seen From TheFutureOf (19 Aug 08): Response to Visitor Engagement Time for a reality check, specifically the part about not thinking that a simple metric is the best metric? In a lot of ways the quest for simple web metrics makes me think of the evolution of software itself. Originally not easy at all, then tools came along that made it easier and now it's a often a matter of point and click simplicity. But god forbid you attempt to get under the covers of the tool that's giving you that point and click simplicity! The post you offered at the end of your comment and the comments in that post indicate (to me) that simplicity wasn't a concern when developing those protocols (and I'm happy to be told otherwise).

I think this talks directly to your “…the pure simplicity of the model is tremendously appealing, especially when faced with the challenge of trying to get people to analyze anything at all.” The goal should be to provide simple to use metrics that demonstrate actionable results (and yes, part of that is understanding and developing metrics that aren't actionable at present or aren't financially successful (a nod to your honesty, Good Sir!)) because in the end (I believe) people don't care about what is being measured or how, they only want to to know how to get the effects they want.

I also recognize that I tend to resist Recency as a “primary screener” because I've seen the model fail more often than I've seen it succeed. This is probably due to NextStage making use of recency models to analyze how people process time (as noted in Responding to Christopher Berry's “A Vexing Problem, Part 4” Post, Part 2). People are “…are most strongly influenced by our most recent experiences…” so (in my world) recency is really indicating how much of a challenge a given population is having getting things into and out of memory in order to act upon them because people reference “recent” by markers their brains create in memory (you don't want me to include citations, do you? I already got flack once today from somebody looking over my shoulder at this and cracking up at the citations included thus far).

I learned that editors of an online I use to write for had an office pool based on how many links I'd include in my columns. It seems being able to document one's discovery path isn't as required as it use to be. Sigh.

This discussion interweaves with my Responding to Jim Novos 19 July 08 9:33am comment, I think, because one of our reports, Return Visitor Ratio, reports on how many visitors believe they'll be returning. The advanced version of the report includes a time calibration (similar to our Loyalty report) so perhaps I should share them in more detail.

Visitor Return Ratio, Loyalty, Credibility and Believability

NextStage Analytics Basic Visitor Return Ratio ReportThe figure on the right is one of our basic Visitor Return Ratio charts taken on 25 Aug 08. It indicates that about 78% of the people to this site will return (that's the black) and about 22% won't (that's the red). The little yellow dot on the left of the chart is an indication of how strongly the last visit is influencing the decision to return (basically not at all).

How come this success or failure of this visit isn't influencing the decision to return? Because the visitors are loyal and a single experience (unless extreme) isn't going to influence them that much (this hearkens to the definition of loyalty given in From TheFutureOf (19 Aug 08): Responding to Jim Novo’s 19 July 08 9:33am comment).

NextStage Analytics Loyalty ReportThe question then is “How loyal are visitors?” This is answered in the chart on the right. They are loyal and not outrageously so (the black bar is on the positive side of “0” and not a lot). The red dot on the “0” point indicates that although loyal, it won't take much for people to defect to a competitor. This is one way of recognizing when people are loyal due to something they believe or something they accept as credible.

Believability comes from a deeper place in the psyche than credibility. In a PersonalLifeMedia post to Moxie Insights SVP of Customer Insights, Diana Middleton I explained that believability and credibility work quite differently in human consciousness (and I'll include a link in the comments if the post hasn't gone live yet).

Credibility deals with facts and Believability deals with emotions and desires. Literally we're dealing with the differences between scientific thinking (Credibility) and anecdotal thinking (Believability). Again, this is something I wrote about in Responding to Christopher Berry's “A Vexing Problem, Part 4” Post, Part 1, My Easter Eggs Critiqued, Defining Engagement (Again? Oh, Lordy!) and Exploring the Holes in Flawed Logic and From TheFutureOf (16 Jul 08): Responses to Geertz, Papadakis and others, 5 Feb 08.

Credibility is easily measured; check references, check sources, interview/survey other individuals who participated or witnessed, etc. Litigation specialists and trial attorneys know the value of a credible witness (and “expert” witness) is (can you guess?) negligible. (This is something I mentioned during a dinner discussion arranged by Susan Bratton in Chicago and no, there is no link to it. Darn, huh?)

Loyalty due to belief is often demonstrated by that red dot on the Loyalty chart being way over to the right, well beyond the end of the black bar. What this particular chart is showing is that the majority of visitors find the information presented credible and not understandable (any guesses as to which site that chart is from?).

The true challenge comes when one wants to answer “When will a visitor return to a site?” People don't conceive of time as in hours or days or some such. At the DC eMetrics 07 I sat with two friends in the bar and put them through an exercise that demonstrated just how difficult it was for people to “think” of something much beyond 2-3 hours in the future or past, and that just thinking of doing something (actually thinking of doing it, not just saying “I'm going to do …”) much beyond a day in the future can exhaust most people's cognitive resources. This is because the majority of people surround themselves with a wall of “now-ness” and devote their attention to what's going on around them now (evolutionary installed neural wiring). This is why “planning for the future” is one of those wonderful things that so few people do truly well (I love Sir John Harvey-Jones' “Planning is an unnatural process; it is much more fun to do something. The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being proceeded by a period of worry and depression.”)

The best approximation we use at present is that we have lots of understanding of what the majority of people recognize as “now” so we can guess when they'll return. I always emphasize to clients that it's a) a guess and b) doesn't take into account the elements of everyday life that prevent people from doing something they planned to do but wasn't something critical to their survival. What we're really reporting is when visitors believe they'll return (note, not “hope”, “think” or even “plan”. These imply conscious processes and while they're reportable they're not truly useful. I can “plan” (cognitive) on doing something but the conscious act (behavior) won't take place in reality until I non-consciously believe I have a reason (motivation. Hint to readers; motivations stem from the most primitive desires, the earliest wiring, and are usually the strongest drivers to action. This is why law enforcement always looks for “motivations” for a crime) to do it, hence the importance of the {C,B/e,M} matrix).

Guestimating when someone will do something is based on determining their intender status. NextStage's solution to this was developed 3-4 years ago and is based on Husserlian Conceptual Mechanics. You can find references to either in any of Priming the Conversion Pump with Color, The First Sale is the Next Page: an NSE Marketing Paper or Empathy and consciousness.


Intender Status

Intender Status Chart ExampleSo anyway, this is what a typical Intender Status report looks like. What it's showing is that the majority of people coming to this site believe they'll return the same day (red bar), within the next 24 hours (green bar) or so far down the road they really can't comprehend it (the white bar, labeled “> 6 months). Automotive manufacturers, governments, vacation properties and such, basically any organization with long decision cycles tend to be interested in the blue (1-3 months) and white bars, everybody else is interested in the red, green and yellow (1-3 days).

I appreciate that many people may be looking at these charts and wondering “That's useful how?” First, please remember that NextStage came into being to prove the technology in our patent worked hence many charts are based on being able to predict, cause and propogate behavior. We're changing our focus at present (scary, huh?). Second, yes, these charts do quickly lead to suggestions and action paths for improving marketing results. Just takes a little training (surprise!).

Tying this kind of data to a Recency metric would be interesting, I think. It would probably point to a way of being able to cause someone to return to a site at a precalculated point in time (and I'm already thinking of looking into certain sociology fields as I'm sure the research has been done there). Do you happen to have some recency models from small to large data sets you (or anybody) can share with me?

I think and am not sure that we're back to trans-temporal reafference, something I first entered into the discussion in a comment to you in a previous post.

It's funny (to me, anyways). You mention that “…you can improve the probabilities by adding other information — past products purchased, number of customer service calls, etc. — but the primary screener is still the Recency effect.” I suppose (and this isn't meant as a criticism, only as my mind pulling stuff together) that Recency as you've defined it as an excellent “big hammer” metric. i'll recognize and honor that, in fact.

My studies, though…I've seen and NextStage has agonizing amounts of data on how different types of “noise” — social networks, fair-exchange, … god, the list is quite long — affect people's behaviors.

I think and am not sure that this discussion leads to a simpler way to deal with what you call “dis-engagement”, recognizing it sooner (or at least through a variety of measurements. I'm a strong believer in triangulating for accuracy. If you look at some of my math you'd see that I often dodecalate and have been known to go much higher to improve accuracy and surety) and alerting stakeholders of it.

'Recency with Modifier', Pain-Pleasure, Negative and “0” Acceptance

I would agree with your “…this 'Recency with Modifier' situation as quite similar to the Pain-Pleasure, Accepting-Rejecting model…” et al. I disagree that 'Marketing will have no effect on people with “negative acceptance”.'

I think one of the places marketing must focus its attention is on consumers with negative acceptance because the strength of an individual's or group's negative acceptance indicates how much they're willing to act upon it (word of mouth, networking, etc).

Let me start by making sure our definitions are similar. Rejection (negative acceptance) is not the opposite of acceptance. The opposite of rejection and acceptance is indifference. This is similar to “What is the opposite of love?” The opposite of love is apathy. Apathy is also the opposite of hate. Both love and hate can be very strong emotions that direct a wide breadth of our neural resources towards individuals, groups, social systems, clan affiliations, so on and so forth. The opposite of a strong emotion is a lack of emotion. The height that one can love will always be equaled by the depth one can hate (see Where You Should Stick Your Ad and Why).

Similarly, the height that one can accept something will always be equaled by the depth one can reject it. Marketing will have its toughest job with people who are at the “0” point. Something needs to happen to shake them from their indifference. Current and historical research indicates this is where social marketing methods truly shine. Also, these methods are so culturally specific as to allow near surgical precision in getting messages out (here the citation list is agonizingly long. Let me know if you're interested and I'll post a bibliography of others' and NextStage's research on BizMediaScience. Some quick reads would be the first section of Reading Virtual Minds, my posts on PersonalLifeMedia or my Social Network or Word of Mouth BizMediaScience archives).

“…acceptance is not static…”

You write “…acceptance is not static, it decays over time. And that is why the timing is so important, you have you have to get in front of decaying acceptance (dis-engagement) and act before the customer slides into negative acceptance. Otherwise, it often becomes too expensive from a Marketing perspective to reverse the acceptance. There is probably psych literature on this idea of 'resistance to reversing acceptance' though I am not aware of it. When I've seen this effect, it often looks physical to me, as in 'a body in motion tends to stay in motion'. This is why I often refer to 'Customer Momentum', and it manifests in the parabolic nature of the graphs in the examples I provided.

Well stated and well said. The reasons for rejection/negative acceptance are fairly well understood, easily recognized, so on and so forth. It does take some effort to turn rejection/negative acceptance into acceptance because the neural mechanism is more like a switch than a slide (your “too expensive” statement). Moving from the “0” point to either side is a slide in neuropathy and this is why it's a different problem to solve (and also why social marketing works so well in getting people's attention but not so well at keeping people's attention). The best description I can offer for the switch from rejection to acceptance is that marketers need to overcome a cognitive inertia in the prospects' minds (your “Customer Momentum” and I'm so flattered you used a term so similar to my own, momentum and inertia). This cognitive inertia/customer momentum occurs because people tend to think they have an “idea” of why they accept or reject something and most of the time acceptance and rejection are based on emotional, or “belief” constructs (and this gets us back to my discussions with Chris Berry (isn't it wonderful how inter-related all these things are? I love it). Marketing is powerless to turn a rejection into an acceptance unless it addresses the emotional cause of the rejection first (yes, you are correct, the literature is rich on this subject. Let me know if you want a research bibliography and I'll make one available on BizMediaScience).

Obviously we're in strong agreement although our language might differ. The one flag on the play I'll offer is to your “…acceptance is not static, it decays over time.” I believe I understand what you mean. My rephrasing would be “action based on acceptance decays over time.” I offer that because once something is “accepted” it tends to stay there unless there's lots of effort to dislodge it.

For example (and parents, tell your children to leave the room during the next paragraph), most of us never gave up an acceptance of “Santa Claus”. How we demonstrate (act on) that acceptance has changed, perhaps, and rarely the acceptance of the concept. We went from opening presents to giving them, from sitting on the elf's knee to being the elf. The spectrums involved require us to accept “Santa Claus” throughout, merely to act upon that acceptance differently (okay, kids back in the room).

Yes, strong agreement that these effects occur everywhere. They're part of human nature/psyche/wiring. If they didn't occur I'd be concerned. It would be evidence of pod people (here I write of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, not people with iPods and such… and is there much of a difference sometimes?)

Yes, again strong agreement with your “…the more control a customer has over the interactions, the smoother (and thus more predictable) the response functions are.” This goes directly to my SNCR presentations about the history of technology being a demonstration of placing power in people's hands. Love your examples, by the way, and especially the “Friction” comments. That will bear some investigating.

I did read your Many thanks for directing me there. I posted some thoughts there, as well. I'm seeing much overlap in what we do although not quite in how we do it; complimentary, corollary, congruence, … My two cents, anyway.

From TheFutureOf (16 Jul 08): Responses to Geertz, Papadakis and others, 5 Feb 08

Hello again,

I picked up the thread of this conversation at From TheFutureOf (10 Jul 08): Back into the fray and am planning on getting more involved in this blog again simply because some folks took the time to comment, therefore I owe them the honor of responding to their comments.

Yes, I know…I'm just like that. Anyway, here I'm picking things up at Dr. Geertz's February 5th, 2008 at 11:20 am comment (on TheFutureOf and sorry, I don't have a copy of it).


The Good Dr. Geertz, 5 Feb 08, 11:20am

Since Dr. Geertz published this comment he and I have had some rousing and wonderful phone and Skype conversations, one of which I extracted and published in My Easter Eggs Critiqued. Dr. Geertz was also kind enough to read through NextStage's patent (several times. Somebody buy that man a beer!) and lend his expertise to our internal discussions. It's wonderful when one finally learns the identity of one's advocates.

Dr. Geertz offers that I was suffering from some consternation in my remarks above. I thank him for the thought and suggest that I was biting my tongue until I knew we had the patent more than anything else.

And also and for the record, I do not object to anybody else's definition of engagement and their use of that definition as a description of some metric or tool they've developed, I only recognize that their definition is different from the one NextStage uses. I also believe that NextStage's definition is more realistic and calculable when it comes to determining future acts by a given (visitor) population across the broadest possible number of platforms throughout time.

Theo Papadakis, 5 Feb 08, 2:43pm


I read through your post on Avinash's blog a few times and applied both simplified logical calculus and Alexsander&Dunmel's Logical Calculus of Consciousness to it. I think there's a flaw in your original proposition. You write “If x is engaged with y, x is related to y.” This translates to something like “If y = f(x) then (x,y) are in some space S” which is true. Prior to that you write that what you're defining is a one way relationship and that's not valid. This inconsistency demonstrates itself later on in a logical analysis of the steps involved in the hypothetical demonstration you offer.

You write “two kinds of engagement with an object, positive and negative, by which I meant that someone can be engaged with an object.”

Hmm…I think I explained this in From TheFutureOf (10 Jul 08): Back into the fray, Online Engagement: What Exactly Is It?, Meet Online Engagement's Little Friend, Satisfaction and elsewhere. I'll also be following these up with The Money Is Where Engagement Meets Satisfaction Online

Engagement is the same because the same parts of the brain are active. You can be engaged by pain or pleasure. Your response to the pain or pleasure will (probably) be positive or negative and the parts of your brain telling you “Pay attention!” — those parts that dictate whether or not you're engaged — don't really care about your response, only that your attention is focused sufficiently such that the response can be effectively and adequately acted upon.

You then write “Engagement is not itself a psychological state but involves a mixture of rational beliefs and psychological states…”. I'll admit to having some challenges with this. I think my definitions of “psychological state”, “rational” and “beliefs” are inadequate to your use of those terms. Beliefs, for examples, stem from a part of the {C,B/e,M} matrix that doesn't rely on rationality.

I've written about the {C,B/e,M} matrix in several places such as Guest Blogger Joseph Carrabis Answers Dave Evans, CEO of Digital Voodoo's Question About Male Executives Wielding Social Media Influence on Par with Female Executives, Responding to Christopher Berry's Vexing Problem, Part 3 post, Responding to Christopher Berry's “A Vexing Problem, Part 4” Post, Part 2, From TheFutureOf (27 Feb 08): Now onto Eric's 'If I'm translating you correct, …' comment.

and several other places. I can also offer a bibliography of how the {C,B/e,M} is derived for those with an interest.

A simpler version of the {C,B/e,M} matrix is described in Reading Virtual Minds and deals with the different ego states of Core, Identity and Personality. Where ever they come from, beliefs may be informed by data but they are not bound to rational thinking. They are, as described in my exchanges with Christopher Berry, based on anecdotal thinking and subject to all the pitfalls inherent therein. You have a good primer on this material in Schacter and Scarry's Memory, Brain, and Belief

Likewise “rational” is not an adjective I'd use with “beliefs”. “Psychological states” I recognize as “a mental condition in which the qualities of a state are relatively constant even though the state itself may be dynamic”. Some worthy albeit diverse reads on this subject include Tomasello's The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition, Gazzaniga's Mind Matters: How the Mind&Brain Interact to Create Our Conscious Lives and Allison's Minds in Many Pieces (sorry, couldn't find those last two online).

You also write about the “degree of engagement” and tie your definition to “psychological investment/involvement”. I'm quite sure I don't understand the use of these terms in these contexts. This is not to indicate they are invalid, only that I don't understand them.

Lack of understanding, however, is much the central problem that needs to be addressed in these discussions. Any metric is meaningless unless the language of what is being measured is specific. It might make good business sense that some group has a proprietary definition but when that definition no longer applies the business suffers. It's probably better (opinion warning) that a common definition be used and that businesses work at being more accurate in providing a metric based on that common definition (just as a point, NextStage uses common definitions that anybody can use. It's our methods and technology that are proprietary, not our definitions).

If I understand your hypothesis correctly, you suggest that your definition of engagement can't be measured, only inferred. I don't think I'll argue that point, only question it's utility. Breaking down the logic I come up with

a) Hypothesize some phenomena
b) Define the phenomena such that it can't be measured using standard and readily accessible tools
c) Take measurements using standard and readily accessible tools
d) Develop a formula that takes the measurements from the above
e) Claim that what is measured, via the formula, is the phenomena.

There are some logic holes here (to me, anyway) and I won't go through them in detail. I will offer that there must be an unbroken chain of physical connection between how something is measured and what something is in order for that measurement — hence the resulting metric — to be valid.

I'm happy to continue this discussion if there's interest. I do want to point out that the lack of precision in both definition and logic will probably be impedimentory. Do also note that I don't recognize problems with “measuring degree of engagement” based on the definitions I use and the measurement methods applied (the three “real questions” in this thread's original post).

Eric Peterson, 5 Feb 08, 8:28pm

“Save asking every person who comes to a web site are you engaged? (which I would assert is A) impractical and B) just as imprecise as my calculation, if not more so!), how would you propose we ground truth engagement and test the hypothesis?”

I can't speak for Dr. Geertz and this is where that nap-of-the-earth flying thing comes in, I guess. I've often described Evolution Technology (ET) as doing exactly that, asking every person to a website “Are you …?” and then responding via whatever business rules are in place. Hence this is not impractical. Is it imprecise? That depends on how much precision you'd like. In more tests than I care to remember NextStage's ET averaged 83% accuracy predicting outcomes (what people would do, when they would do it, etc.).

Re “satisfaction”: Yes, agreed. This is something I mentioned during one session at eMetrics SF 08 and also in From TheFutureOf (10 Jul 08): Back into the fray and Meet Online Engagement's Little Friend, Satisfaction. I mentioned a future column post on this subject I'll share some highlights here.

Engagement and Satisfaction as an XY PlotFirst and for explanatory purposes, I'll shade in the figure in From TheFutureOf (10 Jul 08): Back into the fray so that it looks like the one on the right.

Those shaded areas actually do have meaning. People may have heard me mention that ET makes decisions and offers suggestions based on solid probabilities. The combination of those shaded areas (and their extensions) creates a bell shape. Imagine that bell filled with metal. Now you have a solid bell. Imagine every atom in that solid bell representing a probability that something will or won't occur, that a visitor will do this or that, will respond one way or another, will think this way or some other way. The accuracy of the prediction — the likelihood or probability that something will occur — is based on the atom's height within the bell and its distance from the bell's surface. Things closest to the center of the bell are more likely to occur than things at its edge.

Thus something midway up the edge of the bell is less likely to occur than something at the bottom of the bell but dead center.

Hey, this is my world. I've learned to live in it and I'm not claiming anybody else has to or should.

Click for larger imageWhat happens when you map those quadrants onto a standard Engagement chart is something like on the right. The money (if you will) is in the periodicity. The periodicity can depend on several things, most of which are business dependent. What the periodicity gives you (via linking to some standard (at least what I think are standard) web analytics values) is a near surgical ability to recreate optimal satisfaction-engagement periods at will.

Thus ends the 5 Feb 08 comments

Again, whoosh! At least I got a column out of this. Next time I'll start with Dr. Geertz's 6 Feb 08, 11:56am comment.

And thanks for everyone's patience.

From TheFutureOf (16 Jul 08): Responses to Papadakis 7 Feb 08

Hello again,

Only the good Mr. Papadakis commented on 7 Feb 08, hence this comment will be a reply to his (TheFutureOf) comment to From TheFutureOf (22 Jan 08): Starting the discussion: Attention, Engagement, Authority, Influence, … (sorry, folks. I didn't have the opportunity to save all the comments people made before TheFutureOf went away).

It would be an interesting challenge to convince me that “…a click is indicative of engagement.” I accept that you beleive that to be true, however.

Umm…I wasn't offering an analogy when I wrote “Person A nods in agreement every time person B makes a point. That nod (for most people) is a non-conscious psychomotor activity that demonstrates person As attention is focused on what person B is saying, hence person A is engaged.” In fact, I started that paragraph with “An example of engagement would be two people talking together as follows:” hence I was offering a scientifically documentable example of engagement. I can offer a fairly complete bibliography and would suggest Neural mechanisms mediating optimism bias, Social Decision-Making: Insights from Game Theory and Neuroscience, Bloom's work on early childhood word learning or just about anything on “attentional engagement”. If you look back on my original definitions for engagement and attention you'll see that I link attention and engagement pretty closely.

You write “…the act of reading involves not simply paying attention to what is being read but also a certain degree of consciousness.” I'm not able to agree with this. There are numerous examples of people (especially students) who are “reading” and not paying attention to what they're reading. For that matter, there are numerous examples of the same phenomenon involving executives (humor).

I wrote in an earlier comment that determining someone is engaged isn't much of a challenge, determining what is engaging them is more of a challenge. Therefore the example you posit is not necessarily a demonstration of engagement. For example, I currently have six browser windows open, am listening to the radio, reading your comment, have a number of science journals on my desk that I'm referencing to form my response to your comment, sipping some coffee, thinking about my upcoming vacation, determining which CDs to load into my mpg player, deciding if I need to purchase more cigars for my trip, thinking about a conference I'll be presenting at in Chicago in early Aug 08, waiting for my computer to finish some calculations so I can generate a report, thinking about calling a client to confirm a meeting, doing some back-and-forths in Gaelic, …

The question is, what events of all those listed above are engaging me? Where am I focusing my attention such that my attention level goes above the various threshold levels that determine things like basic organic functionality to non-concious to non-cognitive to conscious to higher conscious to focused cognitive activity?

Or perhaps I am unique in that I can click on a link without channeling any cognitive resources on it? I doubt I'm unique in that sense. There are lots of studies indicating this is fairly common.

You also write “…that click as a stronger indicator of engagement than a nod, because I believe that a click is a conscious act rather than simply non-conscious psychomotor activity.” My guess here is that I failed to explain these concepts clearly. Attentional engagement is non-conscious activity. If I've failed to convey this than my deep apologies.

Let us hypothesize that someone is intentionally typing something into a search engine, actively selecting some link from the results, clicking on that link and arrives at some landing page. If at this point their attention level increases such that their brain stops passing other information into awareness (especially survival-based information) then that individual is engaged with the inforamtion on that landing page. Are they aware they're engaged? No, they can't be. As soon as they're aware they're engaged then their attention isn't on the information on the page, it's on their engagement with the information on the page.

Another example might be someone reading a book and becoming so caught up with what they're reading that they ignore survival requirements such as eating. Anyone who's been so involved in a book that they forgot about dinner has experienced this. What's happening is engagement.

Also, it doesn't matter if someone is blindfolded or not. Again, it's not a matter of knowing someone is engaged, it's a matter of knowing what they're engaged with. Forgive me for quoting Reading Virtual Minds for an example. In Chapter 4, Anecdotes of Learning, page 2, “The Investors Heard the Music” I share an anecdote from early in NextStage's history.

Two investors called from the west coast wanting to know what made ET so special. I asked them to get on our site (very different from the one we have now) and navigate with me so I could describe what ET was doing (it was presenting information to them differently than it was to me because ET was sensing our different {C,B/e,M} matrices and presenting the same information in different best adoption and comprehension forms accordingly).

At one point ET started playing music on their computer but not mine. It did so because ET determined their attention was no longer focused on the website, that their attention was focused on some auditory stimulus therefore it was playing music that it determined would bring their attention back to the website.

In other words, ET recognized they were no longer engaged by the website, determined what it needed to do to get them re-engaged and was doing it.

The auditory stimulus was that they were paying attention to me talking to them on the phone. ET (at that time) didn't know what a phone was, only that they were engaged in some auditory phenomenon (listening to me) and not doing what ET wanted (them navigating and interacting with the site) hence it sent a compoundatory auditory stimulus designed to bring their focus of attention back to where ET wanted it (on the site).

I apologize for the long-winded explanation and I hope it demonstrates that it doesn't matter if someone's blindfolded or not. It matters knowing what's engaging them and, by extension, knowing how to get them engaged on what you want them engaged.

Again, I apologize if my earlier posts, comments and explanations were confusing on this matter.

From TheFutureOf (10 Jul 08): Back into the fray

Back into the fray

Proving that Serendipity is doing it's job, I've had in my mind that it's time to return to these thoughts and several people contacted me to find out if I was going to return to this blog.

Okay. Into the deep end first.

My time away has been due to busyness. Perhaps some readers have heard, NextStage Received its first patent on its Evolution Technology. For years we've been intentionally below the radar, now we seem to be becoming a recognizable object rapidly approaching from the far horizon. Now that we've left nap-of-the-earth flying I'm able to discuss things more openly, me thinks, hence some of my responses now and in the future.

Are the visitors happy?

One of the things I did while I was away was talk with a few people (about 100 so far) about what I'll call The Purpose of Web Analytics. I did this research because of something I wrote in this thread above, “…all these analytics are worthless unless they create happy, satisfied visitors, yes?”

I've talked with upper management in education, politics, at national telecoms, financial institutions, transportation, recreation, … a pretty diverse group. Most of them were involved in marketing products or services or some other form of gaining marketshare. None of them were web analysts or involved in web analytics except that they received reports and were expected to act upon them. None of them were particularly happy about being made accountable to a system that (they believed) wasn't measuring … and here's where the challenges really made themselves known.

What was being measured? Lots of money was being spent and lots of people were being told that the measurements mattered and as one fellow explained, for the amount of money they were spending they expected some consistency.

“What do you mean by consistency?” I asked.

He pretty much didn't know. He and those with him said lots of things and it could be distilled to a general dissatisfaction that there wasn't a single model that they could consistently use and derive actionable meaning from. The dissatisfaction grew geometrically when the discussion got into executives making decisions based on sales presentations rather than a given product's specific informational abilities.

At one point I leaned towards a speaker and quietly said, “Remember, Joseph friend,” and everybody laughed because the tension in the room was broken.

I reference these anecdotes because one of my original hopes for this platform was an increase in understanding and acceptance of some mutual goals regardless of discipline or tool platform.

In the end, doesn't it all come down to “…all these analytics are worthless unless they create happy, satisfied visitors…?”

If I can't act on it, it doesn't exist

The next item I wish to thread into this discussion comes from an online conversation I had with Critical Mass's Christopher Berry about why web analytics seems to be a harder sell in Canada than in the US. You can follow my side of the conversation in Canadian Based Business Differences — Responding to June Li, Christopher Berry and Jacques Warren, Responding to Christopher Berry's Vexing Problem, Part 3 post, The Language of Web Analytics – The Hard(er) Sell in Canada, Responding to Christopher Berry's “A Vexing Problem, Part 4” Post, Part 1, Responding to Christopher Berry's “A Vexing Problem, Part 4” Post, Part 2 and Communicating Science to Business and Vice Versa and links are provided to Christopher Berry's side on the conversation in those posts. I'll invite people to pay particular attention to Communicating Science to Business and Vice Versa because (and as Mr. Berry noted) the summation is what counts, “Business is different. Business (me thinks) tends to be more 'Tell me how to use this' hence most business proposals and reports start with Christopher Berry's nuggets then go into explanations.”

My research is convincing me that (what I recognize as traditional) web analytics is going to be losing its authoritative power in the coming years. I think web analytics (and yes, this does go back to my original hopes for this blog) will evolve (just as anything will if it is going to survive in a given changing environment). What will it do and look like? I have some ideas, of course. Just ideas at present, though. More things to research before putting down on paper (or in a blog) at present.

This does tie into my comment re Avinash Kaushik's “…we shouldn't use ill defined engagement metrics as a proxy for something solid like a sale.” I've been an oft-times unwilling father-confessor to businesses frustrated by ill-defined metrics of any kind and wanting something that is justifiable a) financially, b) scientifically, c) arithmetically (forget mathematically) and d) produces some kind of “do A, get B”, “this-equals-that” link between action and outcome.

The comment I love about this is “If I can't act on it then it doesn't exist”, ie, it's noise, a distraction at best and something best ignored. This was a wonderful statement used in a business practices discussion.

I'd really enjoy being involved in a web understandability/measurement/future usability discussion that has as its theme “If I can't act on it then it doesn't exist.”

“To measure and analyze on and offline behavior and then try to predict who to market to by figuring out what they think is not doable with one tool or one metric.”

I responded earlier to this comment. People who attended either the Toronto '08 or SF '08 eMetrics conferences are probably well aware by now that NextStage has patented a technology that can determine how someone is thinking through any programmable device. I won't go deeper into the topic here except to offer a comment I posted on Jim Novo's blog about the {C,B/e,M} matrix and its use in marketing and analytics.

Picking up where I left off with Jim Novo's comments in this thread…

I finally had an opportunity to read Jim Novo's Measuring Engagement and its related Framework for Engagement posts. I truly enjoy Jim's writing style and the points he makes.

I especially enjoy and appreciate his referencing Relationship Marketing because it places people center stage. Understand people and you can both understand and predict what they'll do. Watch only what people have done and you can only understand their actions in a specific historical context, you can only predict what they'll do when the confluence of events that led to their original actions repeats itself. Exactly (and don't hold your breath). Relationship marketing works at the question “…all these analytics are worthless unless they create happy, satisfied visitors, yes?”

Jim writes “The challenge with this model – and probably why it isn't more widely known – has been the data, it's a very analysis-intensive model…”. Yes. Agreed. If Jim (or others familiar with these concepts) is reading (or perhaps at the next conference we meet at), I think this is where being able to substitute cognitive heuristic models makes sense (see Liberation and Heuristics or Responding to Christopher Berry's “A Vexing Problem, Part 4” Post, Part 1. I've also written elsewhere that I often wonder why more businesses don't make use of cognitive heuristic models).

For example, I've recently been applying heuristic models to helping adult second language learners increase their language acquisition abilities. That's a traditionally very tough nut to crack and (so far, anyway) I've been able to isolate neural activity that tends to make adult language acquisition challenging. Example 2, using heuristic models in the above grew out of learning which heuristic models are used (non-consciously, of course) by which personality types in their decision making processes. This non-conscious heuristic model selection process is being integrated into NextStage's Rich Personae. These and some other areas of my studies are intensely data-rich models that can be reasonably simplified via cognitive heuristics.

Engagement-Satisfaction QuadrantsI also strongly like your concept of dis-engagement, although I tend to use a methodology that incorporates “satisfaction” into the scaling system (see Meet Online Engagement's Little Friend, Satisfaction. I shared that the complete form of this during a discussion at the SF '08 eMetrics. It looks something like the figure on the right.

Some definitions to help in understanding; the x-axis is Engagement and is a measure of the amount of pleasure or pain an activity is giving you. If something is giving you either pleasure or pain to any degree your attention is focused on it, hence you are engaged by it according to the definitions documented in Attention, Engagement and Trust: The Internet Trinity and Websites. The y-axis is Satisfaction and is a measure of acceptance and rejection of some internal state and/or external event.

I believe what you are referencing as “dis-engagement” is what we recognize as the slide from high acceptance to “0” acceptance. Note that this is not rejection (as rejection is an active negation of acceptance) it is a lack of acceptance. I appreciate that the difference might be subtle and I believe that difference is significant. Rejection — the active negation of acceptance — can be thought of as someone pushing something away. Zero-acceptance is the point where one can “take it or leave it” and the internal state and/or external event does not have any value assigned to it, hence doesn't register strongly in the mind/brain.

Mapping this figure to real world experience, you always want visitors/consumer/etc to be in the first quadrant (where the green curve is). People are both positively engaged (they like what's going on) and positively satisfied (they accept it gladly). Depending on what you're selling you may or may not want people in those other quadrants. The second quadrant (bottom yellow curve) indicates someone focusing on painful experiences or information, the fourth quadrant (top yellow curve) indicates someone who finds pleasure in painful experiences or information. The third quadrant (red curve) is where visitors/consumers/etc often end up and marketers/businesses don't want them to be — the former are actively psychologically and physically moving themselves away from a business/product/service.

I'll offer that the above is also a reasonable representation of your:
1. Define / Measure Engagement any way you want to, as appropriate for your business; whatever activity or combinations of activity you feel appropriate
2. Measure dis-Engagement the absence of Engagement, as in the visitor / customer stopped doing whatever it is you define as Engagement for your business model

I think where the image above (and the math behind it) adds real value is with your “3. Take some kind of Marketing or Service action to slow or reverse the dis-Engagement with dis-Engaging folks” because it provides enough information to know how, exactly, visitors/etc are “right now” interacting with your marketing information.

I also agree whole-heartedly with your statements about predicting “dis-engagement”, etc.. I would love to see the data you used in your example and apply it to the above. I'm willing to bet that satisfaction/acceptance was the real driver (and I won't get into the depths of group satisfaction/acceptance states here (really, Joseph? You're going to leave something out? Whatever for?)). I did get a kick out of your graph of email response rates falling over time. It was very similar to the results we found in our research on how to design an effective email newsletter. Bravo! I always love it when our findings match others'. Gives me hope we're doing something right.


For what it's worth, much of the rest of what you've written in your post is so close to what we learned in our email newsletter research that the overlap is astounding. Not surprising, I guess, as you're listing an email-based experiment. It would be interesting to learn what else the rules we discovered pertain to. Let me know if would like to explore this.

You also list an implication about sending different messages to different segments. Yes, agreed. I believe the above allows for much more targeted and action-driven messaging (based on much of what I've shared above).

Perhaps, in the end, we've derived nothing more than a simplified mathematical model (complete with suggestions for better outcomes) of Relationship Marketing?


Took me two days to put the above together folks. Sorry for the delay. More to follow. Soon.


From TheFutureOf (27 Feb 08): Now onto Eric's “If I'm translating you correct, …” comment.

Well…I'm not sure I'd agree that my nod is your click. Actually I'm quite sure I wouldn't agree. Consider the following example.

You're at an eMetrics Summit. You're talking with some folks mid-afternoon about what you'll all do for dinner after the last session. Everybody is nodding, agreeing with the plans. But things change, other people come and go, and when you finally count heads at the restaurant you discover some of the nodders aren't there and people who were never involved in the discussion are.

Your click is counting the people who show up at the restaurant. My nod is everybody talking, some showing up and others not. I chose to explore those nods because the degree, angle, direction, inflection, …, of the nods tells me long before people show up at the restaurant who will and won't show up. This is — I think — one of the fundamental differences between what we measure and analyze and what I understand of web analytics. One of the fallouts from understanding the nods (if you will) is that you can determine if someone is paying attention as I define it and thus engaged as I define it.

Going back to the conversation about dinner. Consider the person who's nodding while looking around the hotel lobby. Do you have their attention? Some and not all, and exactly how much depends on the individual's cognitive, behavioral/effective and motivational {C, B/e, M} matrix (Headlines That Attract Attention, Adding sound to your brand website (I touched on this one at the DC eMetrics '07 Summit), Intelligent Website Design: Expand Your Market (Page 2 of 5),'s Chris Bjorklund interviews viral marketing expert Joseph Carrabis, founder of NextStage Evolution, Part 5, KBar's Findings: Political Correctness in the Guise of a Sandwich, Finale, Notes from UML's Strategic Management Class – Saroeung, 3 Seconds Applies to Video, too, Technology and Buying Patterns) and any environmentally available information that more accurately targets and activates their {C, B/e, M} matrix. More to the point, are they engaged by you or with you?

Now that's an interesting question. Only to the point that whatever else their devoting their {C, B/e, M} resources to isn't activated by environmentally available information. This is a polite way of saying “No, they're not”.

Next up, Eric's “I guess the problem I have with that…”. Now I must prepare dinner…