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Business Technology

Data comparisons show just how far ahead the U.S. is in tech

It started with a friend’s interesting project.  https://gotelonica.wordpress.com sets forth to draw comparisons between two European cities.  “Everyday stories, vivid images, mutual interests and hopeful efforts”… will have to be good enough though because finding decent comparative data is pretty complicated!

If you search the internet for “city comparison” or anything like that, you are most likely to find a US site comparing US cities.  Mobility in the United States is a fact of life.  And great websites cater to all sorts of ways to discover if your new job offer is as good as it sounds.  Or if you should buy a house there or anything else you are interested in discovering.   Similar efforts within Europe are almost non existent.   UN Habitat data doesn’t include Sweden’s second largest city.  Interesting online articles with catchy titles such as “these are the world’s dirtiest/most dangerous/best cities” rarely include both Thessaloniki and Goteborg.

In fact an American website offered the best weather and crime comparison.   Thessaloniki has a lower crime index and higher safety index.  Which doesn’t say much unless they analyse exactly how they get, process and quantify the data.  Being Greek I know for a fact that the stats coming out of that particular civil service are far from perfect.

You may eventually find some meaningful ways to compare the cities, if you try hard enough.  Gotelonica is an excellent idea because statistics are almost meaningless on their own in such a complex environment.  European cities cannot be set side by side like American ones.  We have no real federal or state system in place.  The European Union is meant to help us work in different places but in fact there is not that much mobility.  And the lack of data is a pretty convincing evidence of this.

We are decades behind America and it shows.   Much like my objections to Greek Police statistics above, almost any matter (other than the weather) concerning European cities is bound to become political.  Different measurements, different resources allocated to statistics, different infrastructures which make the numbers rather drab tools to paint a true picture.  It makes it even harder to build any sort of technological platforms or apps.  So we just sit around while Google and Facebook speed along by getting users to volunteer information, live with their tools and then use machine learning to offer better judgements than any European tool ever could.  Google traffic data is the best pan European resource for how fast you will get from A to B.  While we argue about how and why our GPS alternative never got off the ground, Maps just keeps getting better.

So next time you start talking about European tech entrepreneurs, take a moment to consider how hard it is to get decent databases to work with.  Or to attract other Europeans to your city to work for you.   Or even to calculate ahead of time the chances of either of these two happening.

Categories
Business Communication Society Technology

The Asian Toad and Google research for business

My friend James is probably the smartest person I know.  Whether he is teaching himself music in order to do the soundtrack to an amazing documentary of his, building innovative mammal free zones in New Zealand, riding a motorbike or in Madagascar fighting the Asian toad.

The what?  When a modern human comes across something unknown, we Google it.  Just like that.  Which means that billions (3.2 billion) of searches a day globally can tell us a lot.  People in the UK search for “toad” more than other countries, but of course there are toad in books, children’s series, music band and all sorts of other things.   Maybe there are opportunities in those for some sort of co-promotion.  The English are followed by Ausies, Americans, Canadians, NZ and …Nigeria?  Following Google searches is a bit like the dictionary game.  I just spent five minutes learning about “The Grasshopper and the Toad”, a short story by a Nigerian, as well as the use of the word “toad” in Nigerian politics.  Which is exactly the sort of peripheral knowledge you need as a business when researching your topic.

For example searches for “toad” have seasonality.  Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be because of some amphibian habit.  For example in the UK, October seems to be the main month for “toad in the hole”, a popular local dish, comfort food for many.  By contrast in the America, searches for “toad” peak every year at May and Arkansas is the state leading in interest.  If you are planning a campaign for the Asian toad, maybe do it in the winter when people so you don’t compete with all the people asking “what is the difference between a toad and a frog?”    In Australia searches for toads are in the Northern territory, don’t waste any ad money elsewhere.

Of course Google “normalises” the data.  Which means they try and mess it up enough so you can’t reverse engineer it, or use it to compete.  Still, with time, even without numbers, you can see that there are more searches for a “horned frog” than an “asian toad”.  You can follow that path too and look for promotional opportunities if you want to.

I picked the example of the Asian Toad on purpose.  If you are using a business problem you are often too close to the topic to explore.  For example searches for “toad” correlate in seasonality in the U.S. with searches for “vinyl siding”, “house paints”, “insects” and “utility trailer”.  Each of these terms merits some online detective work.  Working around the limitations of data provided by Google is actually inspiring.  Searches for “frog” correlate mostly with “garden clogs” in America but while checking this out I discovered “save the frogs”, a poetry competition in Australia which made quite a digital dent in terms of stats.

Searches for “toad” in Australia correlate with the term “religious”.  The search to figure out why this occurs won’t fit in a blog post.  But you see the point:  playing around with Google search data brings new ideas to your project.  It changes priorities by giving new angles.  Something you consider secondary might be a huge business opportunity in a specific segment.    New ideas are born, old ones improved.  We are all essentially trying to build a model of how things work.  Use Google’s model to tweak yours.

It is a big and complex world.  Don’t let your assumptions narrow things down too quickly.  Oh, and check out http://jamesreardon.org/ – tell people about the Asian toad and let’s all do something about it.

Categories
Business

Don’t waste good money on Greek retail – part 1, the stats

From afar, it probably seems like a mystery.  Greece has no money.  So why are so many tech items still selling well?  It isn’t easy to get a handle on the market as it feels pretty third worldly most of the time.

For starters you need to recognize that there aren’t very good stats for most things.  I can cite several phone calls received from influential trade magazines looking for numbers.  They pretty much take whatever you feed them and have few reference points to know if you are making it up or not.  Often the results are ludicrous.   And they dress it up in wishy washy language or vague charts rather than admitting that “based on brief chats with two people I got on the phone from Greece….”

Others try and make assumptions or extrapolations based on official figures or trade associations’ statistics.  The former are very sketchy as we have parallel imports galore and many other factors distorting the numbers.  Trade associations in Greece are generally weak, not very active and not very high tech or online.  If you do get any numbers they will probably be out of date and refer only to a few larger companies.  Government agencies are even worse.

Greeks are generally secretive and don’t give away business information.  To make things worse often the IT infrastructure is spread over many different databases and software.  Many systems might not be online, relying on import/export procedures of various sorts.  So it’s not just that they don’t want to give anyone good figures about their sales;  it’s that even they don’t really know what is going on in their sales!

A good example is store traffic data.  This is absolutely essential for planning any retail promotion and guess what?  Almost no Greek company has decent figures.  Most now have some sort of technology installed to monitor visitor numbers but they are plagued with distortions.  Some stores have multiple entrances and exits making it hard to calculate, others have cafe or restaurants within their premises making it impossible to know how many people shopped and how many just ate and left.  Sure, over time, these glitches should straighten out and give a more complete picture; if you combine them with that other data.  Which you don’t have!

So all these fancy promotion ideas you have, well, just bear in mind that you need a rather big pinch of salt in order to implement them.  Get a feel first hand before you OK any spending. A major problem is that most “chains of stores” that Greek tech retailers say they have are in fact rather unbalanced affairs.  But more on that in part 2…

 

Categories
Communication

20 Social Media Statistics (which are completely imprecise and stupid)

Email going around with the following disinformation:  (In italics my responses.)

“These figures reveal the huge black hole that our time disappears into when we visit Facebook, Twitter or YouTube or other social media sites.

  1. One in every nine people on Earth is on Facebook ( This number is calculated by dividing the planets 6.94 billion people by Facebook’s 750 million users)   No they are not!   About 1 in 5 Facebook “people” is in fact a company or something else other than a real homo sapiens.
  2. People spend 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook.    No they don’t!  Much like television, there is no way to measure when they are spending time on Facebook or watching television while the laptop has Facebook open in some browser window.
  3. Each Facebook user spends on average 15 hours and 33 minutes a month on the site.   No way of knowing!
  4. More than 250 million people access Facebook through their mobile devices.   And what a horrible user experience that is!   What exactly are they doing other than checking up in case ‘something happened’?
  5. More than 2.5 million websites have integrated with Facebook.   More than 2 million of those are completely automated through various other platforms which are also ‘integrated’ with loads of other services – it doesn’t mean anything.
  6. 30 billion pieces of content is shared on Facebook each month.  And by category that would be…extremely interesting information as opposed to this!  How much is video, how many original posts, how much news, etc.
  7. 300,000 users helped translate Facebook into 70 languages. Yeah right.   It is the beginning of a new type of democracy I presume too…
  8. People on Facebook install 20 million “Apps” every day.  And then never use them again most of the time!
  9. 190 million average  Tweets per day occur on Twitter (May 2011)  Of which most are highly concentrated by region, profession and other demographics which make them a pretty unrepresentative bunch in most countries.
  10. Twitter is handling 1.6 billion queries per day.  And their servers overload on average how many times a day?
  11. Twitter is adding nearly 500,000 users a day.   Rubbish.  Many. Twitter users never actually interact with their Twitter account again.
  12. Google+ has more than 25 million users.  Google+ has as many users as Google wants.   They can just turn all Gmail users into G+ users without asking them, or force you to have G+ to access Google Maps or…many other typically Google “here’s something for “free” approach’…
I skipped the other 8 about YouTube which were fairly accurate (so boring!).   Is it just me or are we experiencing a wave of social media…media mania?
Categories
Business Technology

The politics of software piracy statistics

Working with software in the Balkans, piracy has always been a prominent issue.  Whether it was during an initial meeting with a new vendor trying to figure out which parts of the market to first aim at, or with an old partner looking to squeeze out some particular segment.  “Nah, we can’t do that.  Too much piracy.”  Discussion ends.  For people in technology as long as me, a big part of us is resigned to the situation.  Everything can be copied.  Change your business model.

But then BSA (the Business Software Alliance is the most polite version of the acronym) came along.  Sure it was only backed by a few companies but they were the big ones that matter.  And their PR, well, I don’t need to tell you how many millions piracy costs the software industry because everyone else does.  OK, it sort of makes sense to accept a number like this from an organization that represents software companies.  Not!  Why on earth should we not assume that they are greatly exaggerating?  It is like accepting the data from McDonald’s about the nutritional value of their food!  “Ultimately, determining the global PC software piracy rate includes collecting 182 discrete data inputs and evaluating PC and software trends and data in each of 111 economies.”  No mention of the exact data inputs…no wonder Pearson is selling of IDC with shoddy work like that.

And it gets worse.  “Worse” as in “worrying that most people/journalists/politicians take them at face value”.  You read a title like “Piracy down in Canada”.  Based on what numbers?  BSA.  Well, actually a mish mash of pseudo proper looking numbers from IDC and whatever else they can combine to make it look scientific.  In Canada’s case even IDC and BSA admitted they overdid it.  Their numbers were wild guesstimates!   Now this sort of megahoax gets people like me interested.  Why should BSA want Canada to appear like a low piracy country?   A good example.

It seems that the main purpose of BSA is to get legislation passed so the companies involved can sell more while doing less.  To achieve this:

1. Statistics are fabricated and presented in such a way so as to apply pressure when and where needed.  Yeah, let’s change around the top ranking so as to get different countries in the spot light.

2. PR and advertising focuses on either general wishy washy “principles” or specific cases (for intimidational purposes – it is cheaper than actually suing every culprit)

3. Position the lobbying effort as high as possible with as many vaguely relevant organisations as possible.  Then get them to regurgitate the rubbish data, or – better still – to simply take action based on the false information.

So why has piracy dropped in Greece?  I would love to take the credit through the increased retail presence of ProgramA.  It has been a truly massive change in retail indeed.  But let’s be honest.  Not even GfK monitors most retail sales!   So it must be, because the Greek government bowed to the pressure and passed the laws BSA asked for.  Bill Gates shook hands with our prime minister, got his top level deal, threw in a bone with a Microsoft research centre in Greece.  Guess what?  We are no longer top of their list!

The list of countries on this year’s BSA report read like a US terrorist suspect roll call!  Georgia    95% Zimbabwe  92% bangladesh  91% Moldova    91% armenia    90% yemen    90% sri lanka   89% azerbaijan  88% libya    88%  belarus    87% Venezuela  87%  Indonesia   86% Vietnam    85%  Ukraine    85%  Iraq    85%  Pakistan    84% algeria    84%  cameroon   83% nigeria    83%  Paraguay   82%  Zambia    82%  Montenegro  81%  bolivia    80%  el salvador  80%  Guatemala  80%  botswana   79%  china    79%  Ivory coast   79% Kenya    79%  nicaragua  79%   On the other hand “Serbia is one of a handful of economies, including Italy, Greece and Colombia, where tax audits also include software license compliance. This is one of the reasons piracy has dropped six points from 2005 to 2008.”  Great work guys, you got government agencies working for you in these countries!

You know what the initials BS stand for.  Now you know what BSA stands for.  Only believe statistics you have made up yourself!