The year of analytics

2018, the year of numbers

I have been talking about data and analytics for quite some time now. So much so that, I have shifted from doing development as a service (at 13 Llama Studio), to agency as a service (at 13 Llama Interactive). The reason behind this was to capitalise on my love for data analysis and build an organisation that works with data instead of opinions.

From Full Service to Data Analysis

One of the main things that I have been doing, is never say no to anything that lands on my work desk. This is a good thing, since you can pretty much get started as a service based business and do a variety of things.

This, however, is a bad thing since it takes you away from your chosen area of work. In my case, that’s analytics.

We started off as a Full Service Digital Agency and did everything under the sun. Websites, logos, app development … product development, incubation even. Whereas, it’s a fantastic way to keep busy, it did not sate my need to work with numbers.

Saying No

The year 2017 was the year of No. I have been steadfastly refusing to engage with anything which did not involve numbers. So much so that, the organisation that I had so loving built has become an empty shell, almost.

While, this lean attitude is good for companies where there is a lot of waste, taking this to near starvation levels also does not help. Unfortunately, I keep getting such insights only as hindsight :)

What 2017 did offer was a massive consolidation of business interests, which was a good sign. It also taught me the value of human engagement and how business engagements were closely related to the simple human interactions.

Focus on Measurements

I had been going on and on about measurements for some time. I realised that without getting into this completely in your system, you cannot really appreciate this thought. Here’s a quote from Swami Vivekananda –

Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life — think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success…

To fully understand and appreciate what this means, do go through this interpretation by Srinivas Venkatram.

It took me some time to fully get this, and for me that meant focusing on analytics. It did not really mean saying No to different engagements. It means applying my love for data and analysis in whichever engagement to drive value.

2018 for me, represents just this. A year where using measurements I would drive value. Be it in product development, be it in promotions.

Top 5 topics on the BFG this year

When 50% of your traffic comes from the top 10 posts, it’s time to take note of those posts. I took a look at how the blog has been progressing the last year or so, and here are the posts which have done the best.

Surprisingly, some of these posts are older than a year or two. Just goes to show that evergreen content still exists!

Thankfully, there are some posts in there which I have written this year.

  1. Connecting MySQL to Excel using ODBC Connector – Wrote this in 2013, and still going strong. I had faced problems connecting MySQL to Excel and had decided to document how this is done. Never thought that this post would account for 10% of the traffic on this blog every year since!
  2. Traffic due to Analytics spam – Over the past 2-3 years, I had started documenting wierd patterns in my Analytics. Started off as a thought experiment on how Bots can be used for Referral Spam. On further investigations, we also realized that the origin of these spam bots from Samara Oblast, and this tactic was also used in the U. S. Presidential campaigns.
  3. Gaming always works – I have slowed down on writing about this, but the amount of content that people search on how to get better at gaming is always high. Surprisingly, I did not write a single article on this topic the entire year. Over a period of time, I plan to phase this out … however, until then, there’s always a sliver of traffic via these old articles.
  4. The new martech tools is a hot space and I had covered a couple of these tools, right from upgrading Google Analytics script to using Data Studio and Google Optimize. Over the year, this is one area where I want to write a bit more … technical pieces even.
  5. From gaming to Game theory is one of the shifts in the blog, and I am loving exploring the intricacies of this in real life scenarios. Once again, the Google Search algorithm proves that if you are willing to work for it and write good, solid, original content, you can generate traffic. Of course, the age of this domain also helps!!

Using Intelligence reports in Google Analytics

It’s always a pleasure to use a product that keeps evolving. The possibility of discovering a new feature that’s been recently launched, and the happiness of seeing the applications of that new feature is what keeps me coming back to the product. Google Analytics is one such product for me. Slowly and steadily, they have evolved the product so as to give the free tier users a taste of what Google Analytics Premium (GAP) offers.

Intelligence reports have been around for quite some time now. However, what GA has done in the recent times, is give the user the ability to articulate their question in natural language, and use natural language parsing to understand the question and present meaningful answers back to the user.

Smart and Intelligent reports

Here’s an example of how these intelligent reports work. Suppose, I see a spike in traffic yesterday, and I want to know the reason why.

Normally, I would go to the Source/Medium report in the Acquisition section and see which of the sources have had an increase in traffic since yesterday. However, what intelligent reports does is this –

Intelligence Reports in Google Analytics

So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is this. If you are not comfortable with the analytics interface or are not savvy with using the right set of reports for fetching your data, then the intelligent reports are a rather user friendly way for getting access to perhaps the right data.

Notice, in my example, the segments that intelligent reports ended up reporting was a rather advanced segment (Organic traffic, Country-wise).

To reach there, I’d have to go through atleast two separate iterations. This was given to me rather quickly.

Cool, are there any disadvantages?

There is one huge disadvantage. The data given is prescriptive in nature.

You are relying on Google Analytics to give you the right data.

While, for most use cases, the data may not be that important, but for someone whose living runs on getting the right numbers, this may not be enough. It’s good enough to get you started in the right direction though.

Why do I still like it?

The nature of querying is also pretty great. Now, business teams can directly dive into Google Analytics instead of having to wait for an agency or an analyst to make sense of this data. That’s power to the people!

This means, a lot more people can now engage with analytics and take the right data driven steps for improvement.

Tying up loose ends

I consider most phases of my life (and of my career) as specific projects. Projects which have a certain outcome tied to them. Projects which need metrics to track and project closures which have targets to reach.

In this obsession to be objective about things, I got involved in a couple of projects which were of subjective nature.

What are subjective projects?

Subjective projects are those where the progress of that project is dependant on individual opinions and feelings. An example of such a topic could be Career.

Career fulfillment is a subjective thing. For some people a fulfilling career might be a one which involves loads of payment, for some it might involves getting respect from peers, others might look at impact. You get the drift?

It’s not even about individual feelings as well. As a person supporting a family, the subjectivity is made more complex by not only your belief of a fulfilling career, but also your immediate family’s.

Suddenly, that one question – What does your son do for a living? becomes real.

As a parent, I would love some bragging rights about my children’s achievements. That may or may not be aligned with what my children want to do. So, the moot question was how to go about objectively defining success for a subjective topic.

Numbers help

Some key measures of success do help. Let’s stick with the Career example –

  • My son makes a lakh a month
  • I manage a team of 6
  • My daughter has been working with GDFC Bank for over a decade
  • She got an 20% salary hike this year
  • My son runs his own company that employs 100 individuals
  • I wan’t to be able to take atleast 10 days off in a year to interesting destinations around the world

What’s the problem with this subjectivity?

And here’s my problem with this subjectivity thing. It freaking keeps changing the measure of success!

Sometimes it’s years of experience, sometimes it’s people employed, sometimes it’s cash in hand … and there is no clear metric you optimize things for.

The problem in this world, is where the team which decides the success of this subjectivity has not taken the pains of articulating What is Success.

When this is not articulated enough, you tend to optimize Career (in this example) on some parameters which might be an implicit rubric for you, but may not be understood by everyone else. Hence, the need to articulate.

Another example

Here’s one more example which works for most people.

What’s a good life mean for you?

Can you put down metrics on which if you measure your life, you will be able to answer this question?

If yes (and I haven’t done this yet), then are you doing anything which helps you increase those measues?

In life, or in our Career (my last example), we have these tiny niggling doubts at the back of our mind. These are the loose ends I am talking about.

Can we use metrics and measures to answer and squash these doubts. I think so, but to get there, we need to have a definition of what are our measures of success. I used to post my yearly resolutions for a couple of years on this blog, and then I stopped. Primarily, because of this subjective struggle. No one cared how many posts did I put up on the blog (not even me!), so how did it matter that I post one a week or more.

Measure for closure

So, what are good measures of success for the year 2017 for me? And what would the year 2018 be measured against. Well, that’s what I have a month to figure out!

PS – This is a thought experiment I am doing to see if I can indeed wield measurements and analytics for improvement. It’s a belief that I have long held close to my heart, now I am putting it to the test. Those who know me would know that I am fundamentally lazy and putting in these measurements as a life practice involves a certain discipline. That is my personal challenge.

मराठी भाषेची विस्मृती

हा लेख जेव्हा मी लिहायला बसलो तेव्हा विचार केला होता कि ईंग्रजीमधे लिहीन. पण जसे मी ह्या लेखाबद्दल विचार करायला लागलो तसतसे ठरवले कि इंग्रजी सोडून मराठी भाषेत हा लेख लिहीन. अशी प्रयत्नांची पराकाष्ठा मी पहिल्यांदा करतोय, त्या मुळे जर काही चूकभूल झाली तर माफी असावी असे अस्वीकरण घेऊन तुम्हा लोकांशी माझी हि नम्र विनंती आहे कि चुकांना कसे सुधारू हे लेखाच्या टिपण्यांतून कळवावे.

अजिंक्य परिवारात सद्ध्या दोन मस्तीखोर कार्टी आहेत. मोठीचे नाव आहे अनसूया आणि छोट्याचे नाव आहे मल्हार. दोघेही शाळेत जातात. मी विचार केला की त्यांना माझ्याच शाळेत म्हणजे पार्ले टिळक विद्यालय मध्ये भरती कारेन. देवाचा आशिर्वादानी आणि बरोबर “जॅक ” लावून त्यांची ऍडमिशन झाली. मी इंग्रजी माध्यमात शिकलो आहे, म्हणून विचार केला कि मुलांनाही इंग्रजी माध्यमात टाकावे. ते पण आय से एस सी बोर्ड मध्ये. जेव्हा आम्ही हा निर्णय घेतला तेव्हा मुलांच्या शिक्षणाचा विचार घेऊनच तो केला होता.

भाषा हि एक संपर्काचे माध्यम आहे. जर तुमच्याशी कोणीही त्या भाषेत संपर्क साधणार नाही, तर तुम्ही ती भाषा वापरणार नाही. हळू हळू, तुम्ही ती भाषा विसरायला लागणार.

सकाळी उठल्यापासून रात्री झोपण्यापर्यंत जी भाषा आपण वापरतो तीच आपली मातृभाषा, असे म्हणायला काहीच हरकत नाही. मग तर माझ्या मुलांची भाषा इंग्रजी आहे. त्यांना गप्प करायचे असेल तर मी त्यांना म्हणतो “मुलांनो आता मराठीचा तास!”

घरी आम्ही मराठी फार क्वचित वापरतो. अर्थात संध्याकाळी मराठी टीव्ही चालू असतो, पण तो तर आजी आणि आजोबांसाठी असतो. एक तर घरी भाषेचा वापर कमी, शाळेत पण फक्त मराठीचा तासात भाषेचा वापर होतो. बाकी सगळा वेळ मोबाईल आणि टीव्ही मध्ये जातो. ह्या दोन माध्यमामध्ये इंग्रजीचा वापर जास्त होतो.

मुद्दा हा, कि दिवसात मराठीचा वापर होताच नाही.

कारणीभूत कोण?

खरंतर हि माझीचं चूक आहे.

भाषेचा वापर कसा करावा हे जर दिसले नाही तर मग ती भाषा कशी वापरायची ते कसे कळणार? मान्य आहे कि मी काही मराठीचा पापड नाही. पण, प्रयत्न नाही केला तर आता जसा माकड आहे तसाच माकड राहीन. आणि जेव्हा माझी पोरं मराठी भाषेची चिरफाड करतील तेव्हा मी फक्त “हूप हूप ” करिन!

एक रामबाण उपाय

मराठीत जास्तीत जास्त संचार करून भाषेचा वापर वाढवा.

LinkedIn starts Career Advice and Mentorship services

As far as visiting Social Media sites is concerned, I have slowly veered off Facebook and Twitter and gravitated towards LinkedIn and Medium. One of the interesting features that I noticed LinkedIn launch, is its Career Advice services. I am attaching a screenshot of what I saw, this was a promoted post that I saw in my feed.

LinkedIn Career Advice

Curious to see where this rabbit hole leads to, I signed up for the service. Interestingly enough, the link led me to a place where I had to sign up as a mentor and choose the areas on which I could help others out.

This seems like a me-too of Clarity.fm and similar other services. What LinkedIn definitely has is the wide professional network (and thus the social credibility of the influencers). It’d be interesting to see how Microsoft and the LinkedIn team build this further.

One of the major problems in corporate India is the lack of coaches available in the middle management tiers. Perhaps, if played properly, LinkedIn can address this huge coaching and leadership gap.

Shiny tools don’t make a purpose

Recently, I bought a Fitbit. It’s a fantastic tool. Now, I can rave more about the features and go on and on. However, a friend and a colleague asked me an interesting question.

Has it changed you?
No, it did not.

Before I go on, I have to tell you that I am on the heavier side of the weighing scale. Those of you who know me personally would be surprised at the sudden interest in all things health. Yeah, I roll like that.

It’s not about the Fitbit

Like any other measurement tool, the Fitbit is doing a marvelous job at letting me know certain metrics that I need to care about.

They have even gamified the steps by putting in cute little badges and built in peer support (and also peer pressure) to keep me motivated. All this is good as it should be.

At the core of it, it’s a measurement tool. Just like any of the billion other tools we use in Analytics.

Targets and Measurements

On very similar lines, we as marketers or as businessmen often deploy shiny new tools because we think they will help us do more.

Unfortunately, like me in this case, how many of us forget on defining the purpose?

I implicitly assumed that the Fitbit would automatically by some magic give me the purpose of losing weight and leading a more healthy life. Without this purpose, here’s what would happen —

I will wear it to work, and dutifully report the steps taken and life would go on as usual. Some of the badges would come in as time goes by, and it would not really matter to me if I took 2000 steps a day (which is a walk in the park) or 10000 steps a day (I haven’t achieved this yet).

How would I change, if let’s say I choose to give myself a target of say, 10000 steps a day.

Without Purpose, there’s no Change

I would for one have to make time to walk those 10000 steps. I could try walking in the office or doing a much more rigorous transit than an Uber. However, I would have to commit to making the time for those steps.

Thus, this choice of making a change in my routine should be addressed. At the heart of it, the shiny new tool is not at the center. Yes, you have bought Google Analytics Premium and all of that is great … but that’s not really at the center.

At the center, is the purpose. Has this been defined? Has this been clarified and articulated so that the team knows about this?

A tool doesn’t give us Purpose

It does give us a sense of progress towards our purpose. A Measure of Success, if you will. The shiny new tool that we just acquired is useful, but only as long as we keep the purpose at the center.

As people who know how to use a tool, if we do not understand the purpose, the tool will end up regurgitating meaningless data.

TL;DR — When setting up measures, don’t keep the tool at the center. Keep the purpose at the center. The rest should follow.