November 10, 2009

Data is (are?) Beautiful

goldoil It’s usually my lovely wife who blogs about jewelry, and me who blogs about charts and data, but today the tables are turned – well, almost. Wieden+Kennedy London has come up with a range of designer necklaces which celebrate the beauty of data, under the name Plot.

The necklaces use charts of thirty years of various commodity prices (gold, silver, oil and lead) to form the motifs that are embedded within the resin pendants. They’re the brainchild of Lisa Prince, a strategist at Wieden+Kennedy who apparently got the idea while sitting in a meeting staring at PowerPoint charts.

So if you happen to have a data-geek woman in your life, and you’ve dismissed my previous nerdy gift idea as too fattening, one of these necklaces could be just what you’re looking for. Unfortunately Mrs. Thomas does not find charts quite as fascinating as I do, so my quest for the perfect Christmas gift continues (although I have been pointed in the direction of a nook).

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February 15, 2009

What do you get the data geek in your life for Valentine’s day?

This, as it turns out:

Chocolate pie chart

 

Ah, Mrs Thomas, you know me too well. The only problem with it is that it’s just too perfect to actually eat. As you’ll have no doubt already worked out just by looking at it, it’s made of 70% milk, 20% dark and 10% white chocolate. From the wonderful Mary & Matt.

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November 25, 2008

Ads in user-uploaded videos – new work from Stanford

Those smarty-smart smart people at Stanford (which gave us Sergey and Larry, Sun, and, ahem, Jerry) have developed some software to make it possible to insert dynamic images or videos inside the environment of another video. I’m not talking about pre-rolls, post-rolls or overlays here; the inserted images/movies (which could of course be ads) are rendered as if they appeared on the surfaces within the “host” movie. You’ll get the idea when you watch this video:

This is pretty clever stuff – akin to what our in-game advertising subsidiary, Massive, does in Xbox 360 games; except with Massive, the in-game geometry is already known, whereas this software figures it out. Now all they need to do is to make the regions clickable, and they’ve got a startup company, right there. Will be snapped up by YouTube before you even finish reading this sentence.

You can try the technology for yourself, called ZunaVision, here (sample videos and images are a bit lame, mind).

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November 03, 2008

Election night: Make sure you get home early

My old friend and co-émigré Bruce Nash has put together a great presentation about how tomorrow’s election will unfold, in terms of when the TV networks will call each of the states. From Bruce’s model, it looks like it’ll be all over bar the shouting by around 8pm Pacific – so if you’re on the West coast, best get in front of a TV set early if you don’t want to miss all the action. You can view the presentation below (jump to around 6:30 for the meat):

The only beef I have with Bruce’s predictions is that he models the poll-to-result swing (the difference between the final poll result and the actual result) for each state using the values from the 2004 election – and there are many reasons (new voter registrations, a different profile of voter turnout, the Bradley Effect) why the swing could be different this time around (to be fair, Bruce does acknowledge this).

But since Bruce’s model predicts that Iowa, Pennsylvania and Virginia will lock up for Obama pretty early on, leaving McCain with very few options, it’s hard to imagine that the outcome won’t be fairly clear by the time folks on the East Coast (and my three-year-old daughter) need to go to bed. In fact, it could even be the case that the result is pretty much known before the polls actually close on the West Coast. Kinda crazy, if you ask me ;-)

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October 09, 2008

Love numbers? Obsessed by the election? If so…

…you’ll love fivethirtyeight.com, which is one of the best blogs to emerge about the 2008 presidential election. The name comes from the number of delegate votes up for grabs in the election, and the site takes the daily feeds of national and statewide polls and synthesizes them to create a running set of predictions about the likely outcome of the election, which (as of today, 10/9/08) looks like this:

The site’s founder, Nate Silver, has been careful to try to build a model which takes into account the historical accuracy of the various polls that he draws from, as well as a number of other factors such as state demographics, to provide a view which is as likely to be accurate as anything you’ll encounter from the likes of Gallup or CNN.

I love the site because it’s a great demonstration of what can be done with a computer, some publicly available data, and a commitment to citizen journalism. And it seems I’m not the only one – having only started seven months ago, the site pulled in nearly 700,000 visits yesterday, and has earned Nate a certain degree of fame, culminating with an appearance this week on the Colbert Report:

And FiveThirtyEight.com has even garnered the praise of the folks at JunkCharts.com for the clarity of its charts – an achievement perhaps even more impressive than appearing on the Comedy Channel.

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June 03, 2008

Try out Silverlight Streaming, earn money

silverlight_logo_mix You may have heard of Silverlight, our Rich Internet Applications framework - and if you haven't, you're sure to hear more about it this summer, as it'll be used on the NBC site to stream Olympics videos. But you don't have to be NBC to take advantage of Silverlight video streaming - or know anything about Silverlight development.

Our friends over on the Windows Live Dev team have had a hosted Silverlight Streaming service up and running for a little while now. You can upload your own videos (in pretty much any format) and we'll transcode them into streaming format and give you a nice little snippet of HTML that you can include on your own website to embed your streamed video whereever you like. And the quality is waaaaay better than those other guys - even if the content might be of questionable quality.

Why I'm telling you about it now is that we're about to start a trial program where we insert ads into the video stream as overlays, and cut you in on the revenues. All you have to do is add a few keywords each time you upload a video and we'll insert some relevant (and appropriate) advertising into the stream (see an example here - scroll down the page a little). So if you've been struggling to monetize your video content with something like AdSense, now's your chance.

Sign up for Silverlight Streaming itself by clicking here - and if you want to sign up for the ads trial, click here. I'm afraid this trial is only open to US residents with a US Social Security number or tax ID right now; if you don't have one of these, we can't pay you, unfortunately.

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October 05, 2007

In praise of TVersity

tversitylogo Nothing to do with web analytics or online marketing, this, but I had to give a shout out to TVersity, which (together with my Windows Home Server box) has delivered on my long-cherished vision of being able to download TV from the Internet (strictly legally, you understand) to the server in my home office and play it via the Xbox that's connected to the TV in my living room.

One of the great unsung features of the Xbox is its ability to stream media files from any Windows-based PC running Windows Media Connect (now part of Windows Media Player 11). The only snag is that for video you can only play WMV files this way.  And we all know how much WMV-format video you can download (not much, if you need telling). TVersity fixes this by allowing you to stream DivX-encoded video through your Xbox; but it doesn't stop there: you can also stream live video (encoded in RSS feeds, even) from the Internet, as well as listen to Internet radio stations.

Why am I excited about this now? Because the new UK series of Strictly Come Dancing starts this weekend, and Mrs Thomas is a huge fan (don't mind it myself, come to that). We moved to the US last year in the middle of the last series, and in order to watch the rest of the series I had to set up a cumbersome system involving recording the show in the UK onto hard disk and downloading it laboriously onto a laptop here which we then plugged into the TV in our corporate apartment. This year will be so much easier. Ah, the relentless march of technology - what a wonderful thing.

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June 19, 2007

Hand-crafted data visualization

If you're a big brand advertiser and you need to get your high-up marketing execs excited about web analytics, what can you do?

Well, one thing you can do is pay someone to build you a really funky interface for your web analytics data:

image

Much in the vein of 3D Site Stats, this type of 'analytics' is designed more for entertainment/engagement than serious analytics. It's created by German agency Scholtz & Volkmer, and is up for an award at this year's Cannes Lions festival. It has some quite nice visual features (like highlighting a particular data line when you hover over the 'person' representing a part of the site or audience), but its best feature is only revealed when you press (and hold, for about 20 seconds) the D key on the keyboard. Heh.

Funnily enough, Webtrends hired Coke's former interactive marketing VP, Tim Kopp, as their VP of marketing in January. I wonder if Tim had anything to do with this project?

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December 11, 2006

Swivel - the YouTube of data?

Should have blogged about this last week, but other demands on my time prevailed.

There's an article on TechCrunch (brought to my attention by my colleague Justin) about the launch of Swivel, whose founders Dmitry Dimov and Brian Mulloy describe as the "YouTube of data". What they mean by this is that they've created a place where users can upload interesting data sets and then plot them against other data sets from other users to look for correlations, such as the interesting one below:

1170971

Unfortunately I don't have much particularly interesting data to upload (and the data that I do have that is interesting is confidential), so I wasn't able to try this with some of my own data. Apparently when the site launches, you will be able to upload data and keep it private - though I don't know how many people will be happy to trust their precious data to a relatively unknown third party (not to mention the legal aspects).

If Swivel can overcome this obstacle, however (and they need to - charging for private data is their main revenue source, apparently), then they could be onto something. They're building out significant data center capability to perform correlations behind the scenes and suggest data sets that you might want to compare. But it will be interesting to see whether the correlations they come up with are anything more than just of the 'happy coincidence' variety (for example, the rising plot of oil prices in the chart above could appear to correlate nicely with the usage of World of Warcraft, if you're careful to pick the right range, etc). So perhaps Swivel should have a little tutorial on how correlation does not imply causation on their home page.

The site's other challenge is the cleanliness of the data - even when trying to compare data that was date-based, the site choked several times (doubtless these are problems that the team is working out), but there is a larger issue of 'standardization' of axes or segments. Date is (relatively) easy - you can make some assumptions about the date range that a particular data point relates to - but other ranges/segments are harder, such as:

  • Country (problems with old vs new names, regions, etc)
  • Age (lots of data is grouped into age ranges, e.g. 16-24, 25-34, but these are not consistent)
  • Income (same problem as above, plus currency fluctuations thrown into the mix)

And that's just the axes/segments for humans - other entities like companies have their own characteristics which are not measured in a standard way, especially not internationally.

It'll be interesting to come back to Swivel in a few months when there's some more data in there (and when they have their private data service up and running). I wish them well.

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November 23, 2006

Break (or feed) the Technorati ranking crack habit

Like everyone else who runs a blog, checking my Technorati ranking has become a daily ritual. But one of the things Technorati doesn't do is give you a history of your site's rank. I'm not quite (not quite) sad enough to write the ranking values down and plot them myself over time, but now I don't even have to. Blotter offers a nifty little chart service which tracks your Technorati links and ranking over time:

So now you can see that my site is languishing in the 200,000s. So still a little way to go before I overtake Scott Adams; but better than the 1,000,000+ ranking I had only a few months ago! And, of course, if you want to see my ranking go up, you can always link to my site...

The chart builds over time - come back and look at this post in a month's time and you should see how my ranking is soaring skywards over that period. There's also a version on my About page.

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