Too Many Stop Signs

Stop SignSurfing the web today, we frequently encounter stop signs, those little indicators that we’ve finished with a page (long comment streams, generic recommendation units, the giant stack of ads, even the footer that’s usually ignored). They leave us little choice or incentive but to hit the back button and return to our point of discovery. Take a moment to think about your own consumption patterns. If you’re like me: you arrive, you consume…and you bounce.

A key reason for this behavior stems from how most websites are architected: as discrete article pages linked from a central hub/home page. Such article pages were originally envisioned as digital representations of their physical predecessor in magazines and newspapers. This kind of non-flowing, discontinuous pagination is also a remnant of past technological limitations (low bandwidth, coupled with memory limitations, encouraged publishers to design lightweight pages). And let us not forget, the page view driven ad model incentivizes publishers to maximize page volume, often at the expense of a streamlined user experience.  It is an interesting state of affairs that the digital publishers today are often as entrenched in their own outdated modus operandi as the “old media” they were once so eager to supplant.

As we’ve overcome these technical and informational architectural limitations, new forms of content consumption and discovery have emerged. They emphasize content streams that enable the user to flow from one piece of content to the next. The Facebook News Feed, Tumblr Dashboard, and Pinterest boards are excellent examples. These information dense feeds, tailored to the individual reader by leveraging implicit and explicit signals, are extremely effective for continuously engaging consumers and providing a discovery experience that encourages them to go forward not back.

It’s time for content sites to get out of the past and rearchitect their article pages to flow from one story to the next. Take a cue from sites like Facebook (users average 6.8 hours per month), Tumblr (1.5 hours per month), Pinterest (1.5 hours per month) and Quartz. Remove the end of post stop signs that tell consumers the show’s over. Program a continuous news feed for each user. Lead them down a path that helps them discover the amazing content you create and watch your engagement levels multiply.

Exaggerators, Liars and Why Actions Speak Louder than Words

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Let’s play a game.  Say the top five things you’re interested in out loud.  GO!

If you’re like me, and the vast majority of people I’ve tried this with over the years, your process went something like this:

  1. Draw a complete blank
  2. Repeat “Ummmmm” a few times
  3. Say some vague words like TV or internet.

Welcome to the wonderful world of explicit user data!  Explicit feedback comes in light servings and is corrupted by bashful and boastful self-reflection.  It’s a problem we dealt with extensively in the social context at MySpace, and the personalization space here at Gravity.  After reading about Netflix’ experience with explicit data, I thought it might be helpful to dive into some of the things we’ve learned over the years.

While there is infinite variation in the quality of explicitly collected data, problems tend to fall within four broad categories.  Let’s go through them.

Blank box syndrome

People are not great at coming up with data about themselves.  I am complex, how do I represent myself in a list?  It is not uncommon to watch users in testing completely freeze when presented with a blank “Describe yourself” field.  These sorts of open ended questions tend to produce data sets that are quite incomplete (I can only come up with two things off the top of my head) or overly vague (I say “sports” when all I really like is baseball).   How you collect explicit data is critical to final quality.  Help the user make quality responses.

*Note: Also beware of stale data when dealing with blank boxes.  At MySpace we found that you could pretty accurately peg the creation date of a profile by what movies were listed as favorites.  People tended to pull whatever was currently in theaters and never update that list again.

Peacocking

Peacocking, the introduction of spurious data as “decoration” to create an idealized public personae, is a byproduct of the socialization of the Internet.  As more of our interaction online is visible to our peers, there is a tendency to present the idealized self.  This is rampant with data users volunteer that they know will be public like social profiles.  I don’t like “The Notebook”, but putting it on my profile sure makes me look sensitive.

Self Censorship

This is the flip side of the coin from peacocking.  “Party in the USA” is a great song, but I probably won’t be sharing it (for an amazing example check out the last.fm list of songs most deleted from public scrobbles).  This also is primarily a problem when dealing with data that will be available to a user’s peer.  Where peacocking introduces false data, self censorship prevents what is often critical information from being made available.

The Aspirational Self

While peacocking is the intentional introduction of spurious data for public view, the aspirational self is trickier.  Even in entirely private venues, users will often provide data reflecting the person they want to be rather than who they really are.  As the Netflix guys put it to Wired: ” People rate movies like Schindler’s List high, as opposed to one of the silly comedies I watch, like Hot Tub Time Machine. If you give users recommendations that are all four- or five-star videos, that doesn’t mean they’ll actually want to watch that video on a Wednesday night after a long day at work. Viewing behavior is the most important data we have.”

So there you go.  Explicit data has to be carefully managed on both the collection and interpretation fronts or it can easily lead to incorrect conclusions and courses of action.

-Steve

Delicious Interest Graphs: Taco Bell and Whole Foods

Pop quiz: You’re driving home from work and suddenly overcome by hunger. Where do you stop for food?

If Taco Bell was the first thing to pop into your head, let us tell you a bit about yourself:

  • Consuming content in its myriad forms is a huge part of your day. The NFL, Netflix, Spotify and Reddit are your standard fare.
  • Personal finance is actually top of mind if you crave Doritos shell tacos. E*Trade, unemployment and Dow Jones are important topics to you.
  • You’re actually 77 percent more likely to be interested in venture capital than people who would have picked Whole Foods for a snack.

Speaking of Whole Foods, if that was your first thought:

  • You care about healthy living. You are especially interested in vegetarianism and veganism compared to the general population, and you’re 2.8 times more likely to check ingredients than your Taco Bell-choosing peers.
  • You are nearly five times more likely to be interested in alcohol than Taco Bell fans.
  • Playing sports is more your bag than watching sports, but if you are going to watch a game, it would most likely be Major League Baseball or hockey.

These insights, as well as tens of thousands of others associated with each audience, are available through Interest Graph analysis. Unlike the social graph (who you know) or retargeting (sites you’ve been to), the Interest Graph quantifies motivations (what you care about and how that is trending).  It is the digital representation of what drives the behavior of a single human or audiences of millions, and it’s going to change everything.

Consider our Taco Bell and Whole Foods fans. In this case, a minimal level of interest in a specific food retailer was used to define a set of users across the Gravity personalization network. A total of 150,000 Whole Foods fans and 70,000 Taco Bell aficionados met our selection criteria. Their individual Interest Graphs had previously been created for the purposes of personalization of content; every click on content or advertising within the network is analyzed semantically and augments the nodes and edge weights for the engaged user.

When analyzing audiences, the individual graphs are coalesced into a single graph reflecting the aggregated interests and attachment levels for the entire set. This allows for a holistic view of the audience which can then be compared against another audience or the general population of hundreds of millions of users. In this way, we are able to establish what defines an audience and what makes them special. The results are often quite surprising. Take a look at the infographic to see how these two almost mutually exclusive groups compare.

– Steve

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Gravity Toasts to Summer!

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Last Friday evening, Graviteers celebrated summer and the company’s recent successes by gathering at the penthouse of Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica. Even a few members from the New York office flew in to join the event, which included an open bar and music. With a spacious outdoor deck and beautiful views of the ocean and Santa Monica Mountains, the Shangri-La was the ideal venue for the party. As hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and conversation flowed, the festivities lasted well into the night. A celebratory toast by CEO Amit Kapur reminded everyone of why we’re so happy to be a part of a company as exciting as Gravity.

What Your Electric Car Says About You

As an American, I take a certain amount of pride in the high standard of living made possible via an economy built on liquified dinosaurs (sweet sweet fossil fuels).  There are some subversive elements in our society, however, that would like their grandchildren to have breathable air and non-poisonous water.  They have elected to drive electric cars.  While this post is not sponsored by the kind, almost Colonel Sanders-esque, big oil companies, I am sure they would appreciate our attempt to shine a light on these alternative energy deviants.  So let us consider the Prius, the Tesla Model S, and their devotees.

In this case, a minimal level of interest in a specific automobile model was used to define a set of users across the Gravity personalization network. A total of 900,000 Prius fans and 183,000 Tesla Model S aficionados met our selection criteria. Their individual Interest Graphs had previously been created for the purposes of personalization of content; every click on content or advertising within the network is analyzed semantically and augments the nodes and edge weights for the engaged user.

When analyzing audiences, the individual graphs are coalesced into a single graph reflecting the aggregated interests and attachment levels for the entire set. This allows for a holistic view of the audience which can then be compared against another audience or the general population of hundreds of millions of users. In this way, we are able to establish what defines an audience and what makes them special. The results are often quite surprising.

Let’s take a look at the Prius cohort highlights.

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The first data set is the overall Interest Graph on the left of the infographic.  It describes what folks interested in the Prius care most about.

  • They really like technology, with a strong emphasis on Apple, Facebook, Twitter, and Bioengineering.
  • Among their favorite media are The Atlantic and the New York Times.  They are closely following matters related to international security and right-wing politics (not necessarily because they agree with them).
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are keenly interested in Eco-friendly subject matters and Social Change.

The second data pivot highlights some of the areas of interest where Prius fans differ substantially from the global set of users.  Basically, it’s what makes Prius fans special compared to everyone else in the world.  The results are expressed as an over/under index compared to global set.  Some of the results are surprising (this is why we like data mining).  Compared with the global set, Prius fans are:

  • 1.2 times more likely to enjoy physical exercise
  • 2.5 times more likely to like Yoga
  • 1.3 times more likely to be interested in McDonald’s
  • 9.1 times more likely to dig Tyler Perry
  • 13.6 times more likely to love Apple
  • Slightly less likely to be interested NASCAR, Football, and Waffles (their Sundays must be so empty)
  • 6.3 times more likely to be concerned about Sustainability
  • Just as likely to enjoy Ninjas as everybody else

By the time we got the Prius data together we were in a full data mining extravaganza.  There was no way we could let the fun stop with just one infographic.  How about people who are interested in the Tesla Model S?  It’s another electric car.  How different could that audience be from the Prius  folks?

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Turns out that people interested in the Tesla Model S are materially different in their interests than the Prius crowd.  Let’s look at some of the highlights of  the Model S fans’ aggregated Interest Graph.

  • Environmentalism is not a substantial area of interest in the Tesla Model S Interest Graph.  This may indicate that Tesla interest is driven by the technological or aspirational aspects of the brand rather than it’s environmental benefits.  This is supported by the fact that, while the Tesla audience is 8.5 times more likely to be interested in fuel efficiency than the general population, Prius fans are 4x more likely to be interested than the Tesla folks (34x general population).
  • Business and finance were dominant categories of interest.  Interest rates, economics, the economy of Saudi Arabia, and bubbles, both real estate and economic, were high on the list.
  • They are thirsty.  Maker’s Mark, breweries, and Jim Beam are Tesla aficionado favorites.
  • They like things that go.  private transportation, Ferraris, and motorcycles were of high interest.
  • Their lifestyle interests are a mixed bag.  While family topped the category, Tesla fans do exhibit abnormally high levels of interest in cannabis, erotic dance, strip clubs, and Lululemon.  It is unclear from the data available whether the Model S/”big night out” relationship is causal or simply correlated.

On the left, you’ll see some of the traits that differentiate Tesla fans from the global set of users.  As with the Prius set, the results are expressed as an over/under index compared to global set.   Compared with the global set, Tesla fans are:

  • 2.5 times more likely to be wired on coffee
  • 90% more likely to be interested in social issues
  • 5.2 times more likely to be interested in cannabis
  • 4.1 times more likely to like magazines
  • 41.8 times more likely to be interested in SpaceX
  • 3.8 times more likely to like Evernote
  • 10.7 times more likely to dig Marissa Mayer
  • 96 times more likely to be concerned about traffic congestion

Let’s take it home with some Tesla versus Prius comparisons.

  • Prius fans are 28.1 times more likely to be interested in wearable computers than Tesla fans.
  • Prius fans are 3.3 times more likely to be interested in cannabis than the general population, but Tesla fans are 44% more likely than Prius folks to enjoy.
  • Prius fans are 1.62 times more likely to be interested in sustainable transportations than Tesla fans.
  • Tesla and Prius fans are both more than twice as likely to be into music than the general population.

I hope you enjoyed these audience analyses as much as we enjoyed doing them.  Let us know if you have ideas on data you’d like to see in the future.

All Techies! To the Roof!

TechMixer

To beat that mid-summer malaise, we fired up the grill and invited some tech-savvy friends from AEG over for a  successful rooftop mixer at Gravity Headquarters in sunny Santa Monica. The festivities began circa 6pm last Thursday and the party went on well into the evening as Gravity compatriots mixed drinks and conversation with their AEG friends. Everyone lounged on the expansive patio and enjoyed culinary creations grilled up by Gravity’s VP of Engineering, Richard Buckingham as the sun set. It was a reunion for some and a chance to make new friends in the tech circle for others. A great time was had by all.

Gravity NY represents at the 212 Beach Party

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(Niki Sheth, at right)

212 is New York’s leading organization for the digital advertising industry, comprised of a membership of over 5,000 digital media, marketing and advertising professionals. 212 threw its annual summer beach party at Beekman Beer Garden, South Street Seaport Thursday night with an attendance of over 1,000 digital media professionals, including publishers and agencies. It was sponsored by ComScore and Mobile Theory (to name a few). Our very own Niki Sheth, Sales Director (East) attended with her client from HBO making new summer memories.