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Using Live Data as Eye Candy

At some point, every user of data fantasizes about an over-the-top command center (it's not just me, right?). The emergence of the social media command center concept is creating an excuse to indulge that desire for a NORAD/NASA/DOT mission control, replete with a constellation of flat screens and constantly updating charts. If you're thinking of jumping in, you'll want to read Jeremiah's lengthy post on the topic. But what if your needs—and budget—are more modest? What if you're looking for one very nice overview for a public place?

If you go out into the world as a customer, it's hard to avoid televisions in public places. The trendy business equivalent is the live dashboard that shows how things are going, from web traffic to sales to the stock price to online chatter. We're past the days of a single-column TweetDeck in a conference session; these offer tweets, pictures, metrics and more. If you want a live picture for the reception desk, team area, conference room, or trade show booth, it's now easy to put together something worth looking at.

Here are a few I find interesting:

  • TwinglyLiveboard (Twingly)

    Liveboard is all about the tweets, combining live-updating metics with sample tweets. The top-level metrics (total tweets, unique users, retweets, etc.) are animated with an analog odometer effect that serve as a sort of pulse for the display. Its charts list the top tweeters and hashtags associated with the topic, and visualizations depict volume by day and hour.

    See the live demo, and be sure to click on the screen and move it around; there's another visual off the right side of the screen (or make it fit your screen by reducing the height of the window).

  • MultitudeMultitude (JamiQ)

    Multitude is a moving timeline of a Twitter search, illustrated with the images people attach to their tweets. JamiQ describes it as a wall, which would be a good use for it. The design is simple, clean, and not interactive, so it makes a reasonable backdrop or lobby display. The updates can move quickly, so it benefits from being shown on a wide screen.

    See the live demo.

  • TickrTickr

    Tickr combines the summary on the wall with the combined-source analytics dashboard, creating a live-updating view that can be tailored to different purposes. Load it up with sources of performance data—business, operations, or technical—and it's a constant reminder of how things are going. Point it at social media sources, and it's another candidate for the trade show display.

    The company's "try it" page includes links to multiple live examples using social media data. The site also has case studies that show the use of other data sources.

Buy, adapt, or build your own?
The wall-mounted dashboard plays a different role than the analyst's interactive view. Once configured, it's meant to run without user interaction, and a clean, no-controls interface design makes it look more like TV than computer software. As always, it pays to start with some thought to what you want to accomplish with the display (beyond scratching that desire to show off your data). Even eye candy should have a purpose.

Realistically, many dashboards might be configured for this kind of use. If you can configure the widgets on the screen, and if they update without user action, you have the raw ingredients for this kind of application. If you're using a social media analysis platform, you might be able to set up a live view of people talking about your company or event. The newer dashboards that combine social media data with other sources could be set up for this. Leftronic, for example, seems to specialize in big-screen, non-interactive display applications.

Is this something you're doing? Have you seen an unusual use of this type of display? Where do you want to see live data?

And, as always, who have I missed?


Text Analytics in the Cloud


politicsbig.jpgIf you're a software developer (I'm not), you might find it easy to throw together a new application. You can handle pulling in data, moving it around, and displaying results—the normal software stuff. If you're analyzing social media content, though, the core functions of text analytics might be something you'd rather not learn. There's an API for that.

These services—some free, most commercial—allow you to skip the R&D and plug text analytics into your system. In a market crowded with me-too platforms, it might be the step that gets you off the entry-level rung of the ladder.

There, that should be enough for another 300 social media analysis startups. :-)

More posts in the "Build or Buy?" series:

Visualization by Thomas Jenkins.

Analytics as a service: AaaS? Wouldn't want to hazard a pronunciation on that one.

Ugh. Yahoo is killing off Delicious, the social bookmarking service that I've used since 2005. This is inconvenient. I don't need to spend my time rebuilding stuff that already works.

First priority is saving all the bookmarks. Frank Gruber posted a list of backup options to cover the basics. At least I don't have to worry about losing the bookmarks entirely. The challenge here is to replace what Delicious does in my publishing workflow. Just saving links doesn't meet the requirement.

I don't have the answer for that, yet. So far, I'm collecting names of services that might work. Here's what I've seen mentioned:

Any other suggestions? I use Delicious to support dynamic content on multiple websites. Replacing it kind of matters to me.

I don't suppose anyone thought of offering Delicious Pro accounts. I do pay for some of the other services I'm using. Would revenue make a difference to Yahoo?

Update 12/17: Now Yahoo says they're selling Delicious, not shutting it down. That would be better.

Note to self: Figure out which other Yahoo properties I use. Migrate. Don't look back.

img_data.jpgToo much information. And increasingly, too many disparate sources of data, many with their own analytical tools. So it's interesting to see a new crop of startups offering tools that pull analytics data from multiple sources into a single dashboard for analysis and reporting.

This is one of those posts that started as a more detailed look at a few tools, but as I was looking around, more platforms kept popping up on the radar. So it's become a list, which is probably just as well. Some of these guys are semi-hidden in beta testing, so any detailed description is going to be out of date soon, anyway.

If you're spending too much time trying to corral performance data from multiple online sources, try these on for size:

(Also available as a Twitter list.)

Analytics mashup
What these platforms have in common is the ability to create charts and dashboards that combine data from web analytics and social media sources (Leftronic is different, because of its emphasis on large-screen dashboards for public view). So if you want to see the correlation of Twitter followers and website visitors, you can. If you want to track multiple accounts on one dashboard, you can. If you want to stir in data from your internal databases, some of them will let you do that, too.

What if
Remember the RSS tricks post from a couple of years ago, how you can assemble useful applications by using RSS inputs and outputs as a pipeline between services? With so many APIs going in and out these days, one of these dashboards could be the user interface for some interesting manipulations. For example:

What if you were to combine online sources (social media) and internal company data, run them through some text analytics, and pipe selected metrics out to one of these dashboards to mash them up with web analytics (which you've already linked to business performance). Would you find the elusive social KPI you've been looking for?

It's a list. I've missed somebody. Tell me, and I'll add them.

Social CRM's Reese's Cup Question

Let's say you're ready to get serious about responding to customer needs expressed in social media. You're answering questions and responding to complaints, and you want to move that capability into full production. Here's a question for you: what software platform do you want to build the operation on, one built for social media or one built for managing customer interactions?

When building a customer service capability for social media, you can start with a social media analysis platform or a customer relationships management platform. Some of the SMA platforms have CRM-like workflow features, and some CRM platforms are getting social media features.

This is the Reese's Cup Question. As social media become more important as a customer service touchpoint, how much social media do you want in your CRM, and how much CRM do you want in your social media?

From the vendor side, it's easy. You start where you are. For the buyer, it's trickier. Overlapping capabilities raise questions of purchasing rationalization and integration of both systems and processes. I don't think we've reached the major decision at most companies, but it's coming.

As companies scale up their commitment to provide customer service through social media, what do you expect? More chocolate in the peanut butter, or more peanut butter on the chocolate?

Related: Social Media for CRM or Workflow for SMA?

I'll take Outdated Cultural References for 400, please, Alex.

The entanglement of social media analysis (SMA) and customer relationship management (CRM) is moving right along. It was inevitable, really, as companies realized the need to interact with customers through social media. The interesting question becomes, will they want engagement features in an SMA platform or monitoring and analytics in a CRM platform?

Adding process to SMA
From an SMA perspective, process management is an obvious addition to social media monitoring capabilities—once you find a customer with a problem, you want to fix the problem. Scale that beyond a handful of customers, and you need a system that can track your progress. Pieces to consider:

  1. Discovery
    Finding relevant mentions of a company is a fundamental building block of SMA.

  2. Tagging
    While we're in an analytics platform, let's assign some metadata to the item for future analysis.

  3. Triage
    Decide which items require a response and prioritize. You might filter on sentiment, topic, or influence. Some items might receive an automated response at this stage.

  4. Assignment, delegation and reassignment
    Who owns the response? It's not just for accountability, ownership relieves others of spending time on an item. The system should be able to handle ownership changes to support escalation and assignment to specialists.

  5. Track to closure
    Classic customer service management—what's the status of an open item? Open-item analysis gives management a tool to manage workload and understand current incidents (the metadata from step 2 will be useful).

  6. Measure results
    Now, we're back in the analytics realm and can look at the results through customer-service and media-analysis lenses.
From a client perspective, the question becomes, which platform do you use as a base—SMA, CRM, or something else?

The workflow features in some SMA platforms support this type of process, which can also be used in media relations or other contexts (action items aren't just for customer service). Other vendors provide tagging that can be kludged into workflow features. So you could choose to build your processes on an SMA platform.

Adding social media to CRM
The heavyweights of CRM are beginning to add social media features to their products, creating new options. Their existing installations will help them, especially in more conservative customers.

You got peanut butter on my chocolate!
Larry Dignan says of SAP's Twitter demo, does show an increasing amount of integration with social networking tools. If corporate data is merged with the anecdotal tips from customers and partners there could be real insight.

This Holy Grail of insight is what a lot of vendors–Salesforce, Oracle and SAP–are chasing.

A few SMA companies have been talking about integration with other enterprise systems for a while. It's time to think seriously about how things fit together when established enterprise software companies start adding features that are the core of more specialized systems.

One of the more interesting sessions at BarCamp Charlotte was on using social media for social change. We didn't make much progress for the non-profits in attendance; mostly we learned that they need to connect with people who would like to help them. The session did, however, prime me to notice when two different programs focused on truly global issues wandered across my awareness the same day. What started as a discussion about building word of mouth for a fundraiser shifted to something much more ambitious.

I learned about zyOzy (zee-Oh-zee) when @zyOzyfounder followed me on Twitter. For me, at least, that still gets some attention. zyOzy applies a mix of events, social media and entrepreneurship to support efforts to end extreme poverty in Africa and India.

In addition to their blog, the site links to an extended online presence that includes Squidoo, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, and a wiki. Who says you need a budget for an integrated media campaign?

An old friend who now works in the NGO world pointed me toward Ushahidi, a platform for crowdsourcing crisis information. Ushahidi's original project compiled and mapped incident reports in Kenya during its 2008 post-election crisis. Reports were collected from citizen reporters using mobile phones.

The underlying technology is now being developed into an open-source platform that will be available for public and private monitoring of active situations anywhere. While in private beta, Ushahidi is being used for current projects focusing on Gaza, Congo, and South Africa, as well as a follow-up Kenya project.

What can you do with almost no budget?
"Social media are free" is the first myth to be busted—especially in a corporate marketing context—but most of the costs are driven by the need to spend time building social media programs. Free social media tools and open-source platforms, such as Ushahidi or the BuzzMonitor, put a lot of capability in the hands of NGOs that are more likely to have time and volunteers than a big budget.

Monitor Web Pages with RSS

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I reprised the RSS tricks session at BarCamp Charlotte on Saturday, where a popular trick was generating RSS feeds for sites that don't provide them. I use this to keep up with companies who don't have feeds for their press releases; it's also good for finding out about the public launch of stealth-mode companies.

Here are the companies I've found who create RSS feeds from web pages.

If you know of others, mention them in the comments, and I'll add them to the list.

Dapper can create feeds from sites without existing feeds, too, but it's more complicated than the change alerts that other services generate. Mozenda goes farther into data scraping with its commercial service, but it's overkill for basic site monitoring.

A site-provided feed is better than this scraping approach—especially when it comes to sites with rotating content (such as client quotes). But when there's no feed and you really want to know when new content is added, these tools are helpful for pulling data into an RSS-centric information environment.

A few recent projects have reminded me how much value I get from Delicious, a useful service with a funny name (though not as funny as the original It's a prime example of a social computing tool whose value isn't immediately obvious to newcomers, who probably get lost as soon as it's described as (take your pick) a social tagging, sharing, or bookmarking site. Delicious is increasingly important in my own work, so I decided to share some specifics on using it to find, save and publish information.

  1. Save bookmarks for my own use.
    Let's start with the obvious. Tagging is more effective than filing bookmarks, or at least it's a lot easier to find them later. Remember to back them up to your computer occasionally, though. Free services have been known to shut down.

  2. Autopost bookmarks to my blog.
    Those "links for 1/25/09" posts come from Delicious, which automatically creates a post based on each day's tags. Lists of links with no comments aren't too useful, so I make a point of adding original commentary to almost every item (a trick I learned from the bloggers of RedMonk—thanks, guys). That original content also makes it possible to...

  3. Use Delicious feeds to build dynamic web sites.
    This is one of my favorite RSS tricks: use Feed Informer to place feeds from Delicious on web sites (look for the link—virtually every page on Delicious has a feed). The commentary is already there for the link posts on the blog, so each link has original content to go with it. Delicious offers linkrolls that do the same thing, but Feed Informer offers more editorial control and the ability to manage feed content. The real secret here is that every tag in your account has its own RSS feed, so you're not limited to the everything-you-tag feed.

    Tag feeds let me send different content to multiple sites with just one workflow. So, for example, all of my tagged items show up on my vanity site, while subject-specific tags cause items to appear at Social Media Analysis, Managing Social Media or International Affairs. There's no extra work associated with supporting multiple sites—just add the right tag.

    If I tag something I don't want to publish, I just check the "Do Not Share" box to keep it private.

  4. Subscribe to Delicious feeds from interesting people.
    I subscribe to the feeds of a few people who pay attention to subjects I care about. When they tag something, there's a good chance it will be useful. If you find yourself following multiple people this way, add them to your network on Delicious and subscribe to that feed. Subscribing to individual user feeds doesn't alert your source that you're following them like the network feature does.

    If reading other people's tag list seems like an intrusion, remember that they have the Do Not Share box, too. Delicious users have complete control over how much they share. And if you're tagging items yourself, remember that your shared items really are public.

  5. Subscribe to tag feeds to find new sources.
    This little tip potentially puts every Delicious user to work for you: subscribe to the feed for tags in your field (for example, web analytics). Delicious suggests related tags when you search, so it's easy to find likely keywords. Now, when anyone on Delicious finds an item in your area of interest, you'll find out about it. Sometimes, this leads to the discovery of interesting people, too.

    I have all of Delicious finding things for me. How big is your research staff?

That's how I use it. How's it working for you?

What do you want that you can't have today? Specifically, what would you like to see in a social media analysis tool or service that you can't get (as far as you know)? Most of the vendors are probably reading this blog, so here's a chance to air your wish list while I get out of the way. I'll start with one that Lee Odden mentioned on Twitter yesterday.

Lee wants an automated keyword analysis tool for social media sites (process described by Marty Weintraub):

Really need to the social media monitoring industry to step up and come up with a good keyword analysis tool specific to social media sites
Lee heard from three companies in response (ok, the rest of you need to monitor social media keywords on Twitter). Is anyone else working on that application or want to talk about it (publicly or privately)?

What else do you need in 2009?
Open mic time. What's on your wish list? Mention it in the comments, and I can guarantee that companies in a position to offer it will see your suggestions. You might even hear from someone who already does it.

About Nathan Gilliatt

  • ng.jpg
  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Advisor to buyers, sellers and investors. Writing my next book.
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