A Use of the Oculus Rift: Journalism

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Harvest of Change

This past September, The Des Moines Register developed a news feature on a farming family in Iowa, on how the industry is changing.  Recorded with 360-degree video, it is an innovative and excellent use of the Oculus Rift and the promise of virtual reality.

Unlike in traditional video, while the family head makes remarks VR allows a glance at the rest of the family's joyful reactions.

Unlike in traditional video, while focus is on the family head making remarks, VR allows a glance at the rest of the family’s joyful expressions.

What is beneficial about the medium is because it is immersive, the experience brings out a very personal view of the subjects, and the “news story” carries a lot of empathy. I don’t think that it feels this way simply because it is different from our regular 2D video experiences, but I suspect it is because the ability to look around demands that you must physically direct your attention. In addition to that, being able to look around for additional context can be very enriching as well.

It’s intended to be used with the Oculus Rift, but you can still view the feature on their website with a browser plugin from Unity, or download a package and view it WASD/mouse game-style on a computer.

Lol, where is Johnny off to?

Lol, where is Johnny off to?

Is Product Placement in a Digital Age Bad?

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ofcom product placement PFor a Consumer Behavior course I am taking over the summer, in our forum discussions we were prompted with a UK regulation from 2010 concerning product placement in British programming. Put into effect in February 2011, the UK regulator Ofcom now permits product placement in programming only with the prominent display of their designated “P” (alliteration unintended) at the beginning of each segment, as a heads up to viewers that there will be product placement at some point during the show.

As a class, we were challenged with discussing why this was an appropriate time for this new regulation to occur, and whether or not it was justified. Working in Price Per Click advertising for a little while, and an active consumer of online content with all of its delights and woes, I feel elated at seeing trends of how online advertising can become more and more precise in how with available data, content can become more and more targeted for a relevant audience. Of course this comes with privacy concerns from borderline intrusive messaging, but as an optimist I think that it is a very bright time both for marketers to share their content and messages, and for consumers to be open to relevant products in their lives.

Is Product Placement Really a Desire of the Public?

From the verbiage in The Independent, their language suggests that lobbying from advertisers pressured the government to allow for product placement for the first time.  This suggests that the prevailing British preference was to not have outside brand messages interfere with the programming that they are watching, and that they see that their goods and services as removed from the experiences they watch in their shows.  This would be the only point of concern, but I think that this regulatory change was implemented in a historic time that makes this concern irrelevant.

For values towards brands outside of the United States, this situation reminded me of a passage I read (written in 1989) about neighborhood businesses called ‘Third Places,’ much like a local Starbucks or neighborhood bar.  In discussing the French culture of cafés, Ray Oldenburg (The Great Good Place) points out that in their concern for the invasion of market forces, they don’t even name many of their local businesses. He more-eloquently describes their dynamic:

“Naming something is the first step toward advertising it, and the French have always been admirably suspicious of advertising—only in recent years have they permitted it on television.  But the major reason for not naming a bistro is simply that the neighborhood café does not need a name.  Its patron has filled a local niche and is content with his small, steady business.”

For the sake of contrast, I would argue that television is fundamentally different.  Television programming spans distance of neighborhoods, and of course now with the internet, we are no longer limited to media catering to the local tastes and desires in the city of our residence.  We are now able to pick and choose the cultures that we desire to reinforce or be influenced by, so theoretically every channel and programming block will only become more and more relevant to particular audiences.

As part of our course outlining literature on self perception through consumption, “symbolic self-completion” theory and the concept of the “extended self” both suggest that “we are what we consume.”  Since I am not very familiar with British culture, I am unable to make assessments on what types of products Britons use and prefer, but given the backlash of at least The Independent, it seems as though the British (at least in 2011) preferred to live the way they did and use the products they already used.  However, assuming that the nature of the networked world will influence consumer behavior in the UK as it has in the United States, these consumers will understand that new possibilities extend past their own local customs and products, and that to a certain extent they already participate in ‘cultural selection’.  Also, assuming that marketers in Britain are conscious of their target markets, then they will find ways to interject their messages only in the places where they will effectively influence those who will be likely to benefit from that messaging and use of their product.  This should not make product placement much less an issue of unwanted obtrusion, and sure enough it seems most of the critical articles on product placement center only around 2011 when this change first occurred.

As one last point of potential contention, there may also be concerns that product placement would start invading every area of life.  From the same article in The Independent, this interjection of product placement is restricted only to programs other than “children’s programmes, news and current affairs, consumer advice and religious programmes made for UK audiences.”  Each of these prohibited spheres I think are reasonable ‘socially sacred‘ mediums where commercial interests are not appropriate and should not influence civic life, and I think that this was a very tactful decision from Ofcom.

‘Product Placement’ Can Now be a Celebrated Thing

So justifying of product placement aside, I think that on the contrary the cultural lifestyles promoted in media is actually welcoming of product placement, just not in the way we traditionally think.  With nearly every human activity revolving around using products that others manufacture, it is arguable that every form of media is some type of advocacy for a certain lifestyle with certain products.  Whether this is overt or covert is one thing, but the line of what products are intentionally promoted and which are accidentally featured is only going to be more and more blurred.


Top Gear, from Mirror.co.uk

More recently in September of 2013, the BBC show Top Gear had inadvertently crossed this line.  As a show that praises the craft and even art of various automobile manufacturers, their use of man-made products is very apparent.  In one episode, brands of seats and harnesses were unintentionally displayed, and following from Ofcom’s 2011 regulation they were penalized for their failure to display the product placement P. In the producer’s words “We have never given them prominence over the years because we have different manufacturers for Star in a Reasonably Priced car.  This slipped under the radar.”  This suggests that his use of brands is so engrained, that their use wasn’t even thought of as product placement in his eyes.

More generally, how often do sophisticated crime/law/government TV shows feature a curiously slim aluminum-and-glass laptop, sans a glowing Apple in the back?  Or banner ads with people using a smartphone with a cover, that has a hole for the camera lens distinctively in the far top-left corner?  To identify with their customers, marketers acknowledge that Apple holds a 41.4% marketshare on smartphones in the US.  And how often have you seen younger models in ads wearing a certain type of plain, dual-paneled canvas shoe (TOMS)?  Or a professional carrying a white coffee cup with green highlights (Starbucks)?  These products are simply part of our culture’s lifestyle, and in connecting with consumers, this is a great chance for marketers to help reinforce what their brand’s culture stands for, and how it can fit in with what their consumers already do.  It is only when a brand is overly blatant about it, or it doesn’t match the environment that product placement seems off-putting and irrelevant, but the ‘invisible hand’ seems to ensure that brand use is done tactfully for the most part, not requiring legislation to prevent its abuse.

There has recently been contention around advertising on Facebook, since it is now grown to such prominence to even be referred to as a ‘social utility.’  But as advertising can get more and more targeted, we will have less and less ads shown to us about mortgage refinancing etc., but will have more relevant ads shown to us.  I think YouTube has already proven that targeting is possible, and most video ads that are presented to me on YouTube I have found to be quite relevant… and in some cases even enjoyable!

As long as we as marketers can find ways to take advantage of Big Data becoming more and more available to us, the more effective we can be… and the less annoying we will be to other consumers by taking them out of our line of fire.

How to Tag A Google Analytics Campaign

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tagged google analytics campaign

Ready to get started measuring campaigns driving traffic to your site? For each link you put out—whether from email or social media properties—append your link with a query string using Google’s server syntax to identify up to 4 different content parameters of categorization, all of which can be tracked within Google Analytics.  You can find these reports under Acquisition > Campaigns.

What Does Tagging Enable Me To Do?

Think of tagging your campaigns as putting up turnstiles on paths in a park.  But not only do you get a count of how many people used that path, but you also put a stamp on the hand of everyone who comes through, so you can then see what attractions they visited, how long they spent in the park, and even if they bought ice cream.

Google Analytics can already tell you who your referrers are: whether they came from search, a social media platform, another website, or even directly.  But what about that one special announcement that you made?  Campaign tagging allows you to separate out traffic from specific sources, and see specific behavior that you wouldn’t have been able to observe before.

With this knowledge, you can evaluate landing page performance not in general, but from a specific set of ad copy.  You can track one Facebook link post versus just a picture, and even count conversions from various email campaigns.

So How Do I Tag My Google Analytics Campaign?

Google has a built-in URL builder worksheet that you can use to tag your campaigns, but for any large amount of links to be tagged they even recommend using a spreadsheet to create the same syntax. Well, I have built one already, and I’m willing to share! This past winter, I helped set up my first campaign for a not-for-profit’s conference, with over 120,000 site visits over the course of three months.

For our workflow, we used a collaborative Google Spreadsheet so that any member of the marketing team could tag their own URLs, whether it was the Marketing Manager for a big keynote announcement, or the Digital Communications Manager for a quick tweet. The sheet has five fields to enter text, including a URL and 4 content parameters. The last column simply concatenates each cell together–with the required character syntax in between–and we were able to quickly iterate tagging different messages for our campaign.

Click to view this free template that is publicly available, where you can copy the formulas and even the whole sheet if you’d like. Enjoy, and have fun splicing and dicing your data!

Google Analytics Campaign tagging Google Spreadsheet

Open-Sourcing Big Data is Rebuilding Detroit

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Last week, I attended Ann Arbor New Tech‘s monthly gathering, where five presenters shared the projects they were working on (in the form of startups for three of the groups).  As a sociology minor, I was particularly struck by one group called WhyDontWeOwnThis who partnered with the City of Detroit to crowdsource mapping out all vacant or abandoned property parcels in the city.  For each property, WDWOT has meticulously imported countless CSVs of tax records and registered owner information–all of which is already available to the public–and has created filters and navigation for venturers to the city to peruse.

At first glance, my gut reaction was of disgust that this may be just yet another iteration of ruin porn in Detroit.  But then with some time (and demoing of the site, with its various functionality) I realized that while the greatest value provided may be for flippers, with all the negative connotations it has for me, I came around to the idea that this site ultimately assists the regrowth of the city.  The best realization that this was also a synergistic solution, like I had seen in a previous prediction concerning big data: that the city had all of this data available previously but it was stored away in electronic public records, and giving companies like WDWOT an opportunity to have easier access to it has allowed this data to be transformed into something productive and useful.

From the description of the founders, it sounded like this was unfortunately much more of a manual process than ideal.  However, they have begun this same process with many other cities in the United States, and are well on their way to helping transform these cities as well.

WhyDontWeOwnThis is rebuilding Detroit and other cities

In choosing to go to a university in Metro Detroit during the Great Recession and auto bailouts, I wondered what the ending would look like for the once-great post industrial giant city that is Detroit.  But I am glad to say that piece by piece, ingenuity and innovation is still rebuilding Detroit, and is even being exported from Detroit.

Testing: Twitter Cards for Analytics (and Google Tag Manager)

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Now that I am taking website analytics for granted, my appetite for data is whetted.  I knew of YouTube analytics, so I thought surely Twitter would have some sort of analytics API.

Apparently the way Twitter measures inbound traffic is through Twitter Cards, which are activated every time someone clicks a tweet button and that pop-up-compose-tweet window appears.  As I thought about it, I’d seen this type of information graph before, and it was time to start learning more of these tools and uses of data APIs.

Also, I have implemented Google Tag Manager on this property, so don’t mind me tracking your external link clicks. :]

How to Make a Weekly Heatmap From Time Data

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Do YOU have timestamps of some series of events?  Are you looking for a better way to view them than A-Z sorting, glazing over a stack of hundreds of numbers all bleary-eyed? Well, why don’t you try a heatmap!

This is beyond a simple graph.  A heatmap allows for three dimensions of data to be viewed, and the coloring of a heatmap will allow for quick identification of trends and clusters in points of time.

Most likely, your data will be retrieved from some type of streaming feed.  In this case, our registration database returned the timestamps that the “Submit” button was clicked for a completed (and verified) registration for a conference.  In this use case, the three dimensions will be:

  • Day of the week
  • Hour of the day
  • Site visits per hour

You can put them on timestamps, days of the week, frequencies of the digits of pi, or any other time-based metric you can think of.

I have broken this down into 5 steps:

  1. Prep data into desired units of granularity
  2. Stage data for counting in an array
  3. Create the display fields with bins
  4. Add counting “=frequency” formulas
  5. Add conditional formatting to display heatmap zones

1) Prep data into desired units of granularity.

We’ll need to break up the time and date in order to sort them into their desired bins of “day of the week” and “hour of the day.”  Like a Riemann Sum (remember those?), we will break up an otherwise continuous stream into chunks that we can identify.  These formulas are based on 24 periods in a day, but you could modify these into any size that you desire.

Days of the week

For days of the week

Hours of the day formula

For hours of the day:

2) Stage data for counting in an array

Don’t worry, we’re not going to count these ourselves.  We just need to arrange the data into organized columns that we can point a formula to count for us!

Arrange data into columns by days of the week:

Column into array

3) Create the display fields with bins

Now, create a graphical representation of a week, plotting ‘days of the week’ and ‘hours of the day.’  I just made the table a couple columns over from the data, but you could plan wherever you’d like to put this and link it as desired.

We have already sorted our data by one dimension (or axis) already, days of the week.  Now, the counting and sorting criteria (or “bins”) that we will select will be the vertical axis, ‘hour of the day.’

Days and hours array

4) Add counting “=frequency” formulas

Now comes the fun part, adding the formulas to do the work.  The goal here is to look back at the data array of the timestamps, count how many of each hour there are, and then report that number back for each unit that we have in our table.  This can be a little tricky, and I got a lot of help for this method from Eugene O’Loughlin’s video on YouTube.

The syntax for this formula is as follows:

=frequency(array, bins)

  • array: the column of data we will reference, in this case ‘day of the week’
  • bins: the counting and sorting criteria, in the case ‘hour of the day’

We will A. add this formula in the top cell of each day of the week, and then B. apply this formula to the rest of the column.

A. Add “=frequency” formula to first cell (click the image for a larger view)

Click for a larger view





B. Apply to the whole column: select whole row, click into formula bar, then type Cmd + Enter (or Ctl + Shift + Enter for PC).  Watch here if you would like the visual.

Then rinse and repeat for each day of the week.

5) Add conditional formatting to display heatmap zones

You will probably have something like this so far.  I included Sums rows on each side to ensure validity of data adding correctly.

You will probably have something like this so far.

So now you have a lovely table of numbers, but wouldn’t it be nice if all that black and white actually meant something?  Conditional formatting allows for you to quickly identify outliers to your data.

Before I got started, I included rows of Sums on each side for quick data validity to ensure adding was done correctly.

Select the data array, then select a Conditional Formatting ‘Color Scale’ option you like.  With my 2011 version of Excel (Version 14.3.8, from Office 365), there were several templates available.  No need to reinvent the wheel here, we just need some color to highlight our data.

Heatmap - conditional formatting






Conclusions and Applications

Heatmap - final


So there you have it!  From this heatmap, we now have solid data to suggest when the best times to convert are (in our case, obtaining registrations for our conferences and events).  I applied this same technique to our pageviews, and the results ended up being vastly different from when people actually decided to finalize their registrations.

Like any tool, you must understand what limitations the data have.  Ask your own application question before building this… or if you are a —P type personality, just make it and see what conclusions you might come up with.  After all, you’re the creative analysis guru!

Blog Take 2

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Since creating this blog for the first time, I have upgraded to a better web server, a revamped personal website, and a much more sane frame of mind now that one of my most difficult semesters is over. And I also accidentally deleted what I had worked on so far.

Additionally, all the quirks I learned about web hosting and how to run this blog have been figured out, and having redone the process of re-setting this blog back up, I hope that you will appreciate its efficiency and organization! There is much more to come, and here is my list of what I desire to write on soon:


What I wouldn’t have learned if I WASN’T at Eastern
  • Strong bonds/connections/reliance on family is not weakness
  • When it all shakes down, it’s not about doing… it’s about being (with people, and with God)


An Entrepreneurship project–more conceptual than anything at this point


Ray Oldenburg’s “third places
Two papers for my Finance class:
  • Ethics, a trader getting into medical marijuana
  • International business


How does Twitter work, and what’s it good for?
Becoming a thought leader through Twitter and blogs