I'm a partner in the advanced analytics group at Bain & Company, the global management consulting firm. My primary focus is on marketing analytics (bio). I've been writing here (views my own) about marketing, technology, e-business, and analytics since 2003 (blog name explained).

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5 posts categorized "Art"

March 12, 2012

#SXSW Trip Report Part 2: Being There

(See here for Part 1)

Here's one summary of the experience that's making the rounds:


Missing sxsw


I wasn't able to be there all that long, but my impression was different.  Men of all colors (especially if you count tattoos), and lots more women (many tattooed also, and extensively).   I had a chance to talk with Doc Searls (I'm a huge Cluetrain fan) briefly at the Digital Harvard reception at The Parish; he suggested (my words) the increased ratio of women is a good barometer for the evolution of the festival from narcissistic nerdiness toward more sensible substance.  Nonetheless, on the surface, it does remain a sweaty mosh pit of digital love and frenzied networking.  Picture Dumbo on spring break on 6th and San Jacinto.  With light sabers:


SXSW light sabers


Sight that will haunt my dreams for a while: VC-looking guy, blazer and dress shirt, in a pedicab piloted by skinny grungy student (?) Dude, learn Linux, and your next tip from The Man at SXSW might just be a term sheet.

So whom did I meet, and what did I learn:

I had a great time listening to PRX.org's John Barth.  The Public Radio Exchange aggregates independent content suitable for radio (think The Moth), adds valuable services like consistent content metadata and rights management, and then acts as a distribution hub for stations that want to use it.  We talked about how they're planning to analyze listenership patterns with that metadata and other stuff (maybe gleaning audience demographics via Quantcast) for shaping content and targeting listeners.  He related for example that stations seem to prefer either 1 hour programs they can use to fill standard-sized holes, or two- to seven- minute segments they can weave into pre-existing programs.  Documentary-style shows that weave music and informed commentary together are especially popular.  We explored whether production templates ("structured collaboration": think "Mad Libs" for digital media) might make sense.  Maybe later.

Paul Payack explained his Global Language Monitor service to me, and we explored its potential application as a complement if not a replacement for episodic brand trackers.  Think of it as a more sophisticated and source-ecumenical version of Google Insights for Search.

Kara Oehler's presentation on her Mapping Main Street project was great, and it made me want to try her Zeega.org service (a Harvard metaLAB project) as soon as it's available, to see how close I can get to replicating The Yellow Submarine for my son, with other family members spliced in for The Beatles.  Add it to my list of other cool projects I like, such as mrpicassohead.

Peter Boyce and Zach Hamed from Hack Harvard, nice to meet you. Here's a book that grew out of the class at MIT I mentioned -- maybe you guys could cobble together an O'Reilly deal out of your work!

Finally,  congrats to Perry Hewitt (here with Anne Cushing) and all her Harvard colleagues on a great evening!


Perry hewitt anne cushing



January 26, 2010

What's NYT.com Worth To You, Part II

OK, with the response curve for my survey tailing off, I'm calling it.  Here, dear readers, is what you said (click on the image to enlarge it):

Octavianworld nyt com paid content survey

(First, stats: with ~40 responses -- there are fewer points because of some duplicate answers -- you can be 95% sure that answers from the rest of the ~20M people that read the NYT online would be +/- 16% from what's here.)

90% of respondents would pay at least $1/month, and several would pay as much as $10/month. And, folks are ready to start paying after only ~2 articles a day.  Pretty interesting!  More latent value than I would have guessed.  At the same time, it's also interesting to note that no one went as high as the $14 / month Amazon wants to deliver the Times on the Kindle. (I wonder how many Kindle NYT subs are also paper subs getting the Kindle as a freebie tossed in?)

Only a very few online publishers aiming at "the general public" will be able to charge for content on the web as we have known it, or through other newer channels.  Aside from highly-focused publishers whose readers can charge subscriptions to expense accounts, the rest of the world will scrape by on pennies from AdSense et al

But, you say, what about the Apple Tablet (announcement tomorrow! details yesterday), and certain publishers' plans for it?  I see several issues:

  • First, there's the wrestling match to be had over who controls the customer relationship in Tabletmediaworld. 
  • Second, I expect the rich, chocolatey content (see also this description of what's going in R&D at the Times) planned for this platform and others like it to be more expensive to produce than what we see on the web today, both because a) a greater proportion of it will be interactive (must be, to be worth paying for), but also because b) producing for multiple proprietary platforms will also drive costs up (see for example today's good article in Ad Age by Josh Bernoff on the "Splinternet"). 
  • Third, driving content behind pay walls lowers traffic, and advertising dollars with it, raising the break-even point for subscription-based business models. 
  • Fourth, last time I checked, the economy isn't so great. 
The most creative argument I've seen "for" so far is that pushing today's print readers/ subscribers to tablets will save so much in printing costs that it's almost worth giving readers tablets (well, Kindles anyway) for free -- yet another edition of the razor-and-blade strategy, in "green" wrapping perhaps.

The future of paid content is in filtering information and increasing its utility.  Media firms that deliver superior filtering and utility at fair prices will survive and thrive.  Among its innovations in visual displays of information (which though creative, I'd guess have a limited monetization impact) is evidence that the Times agrees with this, at least in part (from the article on Times R&D linked to above):

When Bilton swipes his Times key card, the screen pulls up a personalized version of the paper, his interests highlighted. He clicks a button, opens the kiosk door, and inside I see an ordinary office printer, which releases a physical printout with just the articles he wants. As it prints, a second copy is sent to his phone.

The futuristic kiosk may be a plaything, but it captures the essence of R&D’s vision, in which the New York Times is less a newspaper and more an informative virus—hopping from host to host, personalizing itself to any environment.

Aside from my curiosity about the answers to the survey questions themselves, I had another reason for doing this survey.  All the articles I saw on the Times' announcement that it would start charging had the usual free-text commenting going.  Sprinkled through the comments were occasional suggestions from readers about what they might pay, but it was virtually impossible to take any sort of quantified pulse on this issue in this format.  Following "structured collaboration" principles, I took five minutes to throw up the survey to make it easy to contribute and consume answers.  Hopefully I've made it easier for readers to filter / process the Times' announcement, and made the analysis useful as well -- for example, feel free to stick the chart in your business plan for a subscription-based online content business ;-)  If anyone can point me to other, larger, more rigorous surveys on the topic, I'd be much obliged.

The broader utility of structuring the data capture this way is perhaps greatest to media firms themselves:  indirectly for ad and content targeting value, and perhaps because once you have lots of simple databases like this, it becomes possible to weave more complex queries across them, and out of these queries, some interesting, original editorial possibilities.

Briefly considered, then rejected for its avarice and stupidity: personalized pricing offers to subscribe to the NYT online based on how you respond to the survey :-)

Postscript: via my friend Thomas Macauley, NY (Long Island) Newsday is up to 35 paid online subs.

October 31, 2008

Art Meets Science In Online Retailing

Online retailing performance is under intense scrutiny this fall (Amazon's guidance is already down for Q4). How will others fare?  One way to unpack performance is by how well firms generate attract, engage, and convert shoppers, especially as compared with competitors.  

Displayed below (minus labels for now) is a visualization that does this.  Each bubble represents a firm whose online revenues in 2007 ranked in the top 100 of all online retailers, according to Internet Retailer's "Top 500 Guide" (2008 edition).  The size of each bubble is a relative indication of the number of monthly unique visitors to that firm's online retailing sites.  The horizontal dimension measures the ratio of the number of monthly visits to the number of monthly unique visitors -- the higher the ratio, the greater the presumed "engagement" with that retailer. The vertical dimension represents Internet Retailer's estimate of the conversion rate (orders/visits, as IR calculates things) across each firm's online retail properties.  I plotted the horizontal and vertical dimensions on a log-log basis, to help you see individual points a bit better.  I'm sure you can guess the identity of at least one data point.

ORAE copyright 2008 Force Five Partners LLC

The picture is a powerful one, as it allows you to do two important things in one glance.  First, it allows you to see what the primary challenge is for any given firm, relative to its competitors -- is it to better attract, engage, or convert customers?  Second, it allows you to calculate the value of an improvement -- knowing a firm's average order size, if we expand or move its bubble, we can estimate the total revenue impact.  (I know it doesn't look like it here, because we're showing pure-web, store-dominant, and catalog-dominant retailers all at once, but engagement and conversion are in fact somewhat correlated as you'd expect.)

If you're into fractals, you can imagine clicking on a bubble and seeing all of a particular firm's marketing campaigns displayed this way, then clicking on an individual campaign bubble to see how well different customer segments have been attracted, engaged, and converted too.  More creative types can view the display as an abstract expressionist symbol that there's hope in marketing (as in politics) that Mars (left-brained analytics) and Venus (right-brained creativity) can co-exist peacefully.  Fellow MITX judges reading this will rightly accuse me of being "so derivative". Jackson Pollock fans will just roll their eyes and say, "been there, done that":

Brea Pollock

Inquiries very welcome from potential clients interested in the analysis and its implications.  There are many interesting and useful variants to it as well.  I'm planning to do it again with newer data soon, and maybe even work in time (with motion) as a fourth dimension.

(Postscript: Jim Sterne's related post in MediaPost's "Online Metrics Insider")

April 24, 2007

Media as Software: A Conversation With Doug Turner

Kiki Mills at MITX introduced me recently to Doug Turner, whose past includes eight years as a member of the 3D graphics research team at Apple's Advanced Technology Group.  Doug and I met for breakfast and talked shop about digital media.  One of Doug's ideas, which I found particularly interesting, is (his words) the concept of "media as software".  Right now rich media streams are largely analog audio and video once they are "published".  (If you've composed or edited a digital video "project" and then converted it into its final form, you know what I mean.)  Doug describes this  as publishing digital media as platforms on which other people can add/edit their own stuff. 

Continue reading "Media as Software: A Conversation With Doug Turner" »

March 10, 2007


A couple of years ago I listened to this IT Conversations podcast of an interview with the Dutch artist Theo Jansen on the subject of his "Strandbeest" project.  Unseen it was fascinating enough, but the films of his creatures are truly (and you'll pardon the pun once you've seen them) mind-blowing.  What's particularly interesting to me is that this project is implemented as a collection of real physical artifacts, not simply computer simulations.  I find particularly romantic the notion of "releasing" herds of these creatures on the beaches of northern Europe, to roam freely until solar radiation eventually destroys their plastic-tube skeletons and ends their lives.

I'm posting now, and sort-of off topic vs. the usual subjects here, simply because I find myself telling folks about this over and over about it, but not always remembering the artist's name or the name of his creation.  So, sorry to webbier friends if this is an "echo" in your aggregators, but if you haven't seen it, it's a must.