Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th edition

NextStage: Predictive Intelligence, Persuasion Engineering, Interactive Analytics and Behavioral Metrics It’s with great pleasure and a little pride that we announce Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th EDITION.

Reading Virtual Minds V1: Science and History, 4th edThat “4th EDITION” part is important. We know lots of people are waiting for Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation and it’s next in the queue.

But until then…

Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th EDITION is about 100 pages longer than the previous editions and about 10$US cheaper. Why? Because Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation is next in the queue.

Some Notes About This Book

I’m actually writing Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation right now. In the process of doing that, we realized we needed to add an index to this book. We also wanted to make a full color ebook version available to NextStage Members (it’s a download on the Member welcome page. And if you’re not already a member, what are you waiting for?)

In the process of making a full color version, we realized we’d misplaced some of the original slides and, of course, the charting software had changed since we originally published this volume (same information, different charting system). Also Susan and Jennifer “The Editress” Day wanted the images standardized as much as possible.

We included an Appendix B – Proofs (starting on page 187) for the curious and updated Appendix C – Further Readings (starting on page 236). We migrated a blog used for reference purposes so there may be more or less reference sources and modified some sections with more recent information.

So this edition has a few more pages and a few different pages. It may have an extra quote or two floating around.

You also need to know that Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History is a “Let’s explore the possibilities” book, not a “How to do it” book. As such, it deals with how NextStage did it (not to mention things that happened along the way). It does not explain how you can do it. This book’s purpose is to open a new territory to you and give you some basic tools for exploration.

There are no magic bullets, quick fixes, simple demonstrations, et cetera, that will turn you into jedis, gurus, kings, queens, samurai, rock stars, mavens, heroes, thought leaders, so on and so forth.

How to Do It starts with Volume II: Experience and Expectation and continues through future volumes in this series. We’ve included a Volume II: Experience and Expectation preview with a How to Do It example on page 302 so you can take a peek if that’s your interest.

That noted, I’m quite sure that you won’t get the full benefit of future volumes without reading this one because unless you’ve read this one you won’t understand the territory you’re exploring in those future volumes.

Reading Virtual Minds V1: Science and History, 4th edThat’s Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th EDITION. It’s so good and so good for you! Buy a copy or two today!


Posted in Analytics, Consumer Psychology, Marketing, NextStageology, Predictive, Research, Social, Tools, {C,B/e,M}sTagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“It’s too accurate” (more undocumented uses of NextStage’s Evolution Technology)

This post is about looking in one’s mirror and dealing with what is seen. This post’s origin is being told that the reason a company will not use NextStage’s tools is because the tools are “…too accurate.”

First — and I suppose it truly is a first — note that one of the owners of a company is sharing a reason a prospect won’t use that company’s product.

Second, I’ve actually glommed comments from a few folks into this post.

Third, because it’s too accurate???

I did thank the company for their interest, explained that we could always do business in the future, so on and so forth.

Then I hung up the phone and went back to wondering “…because it’s too accurate“?

Let me clarify this a bit. I’m honored by their decision, specifically the reasons behind it. This company’s principals were declining because they were, indeed, principled, and in a way NextStage can completely understand; before they resold our tools they would use the tools on their own material.

But there was some fear in their voice when they said, “Your technology is excellent. Nobody questions its accuracy anymore. You’ve published enough, others have published enough, it shows up in scientific material, Chris Berry even told everybody at his eMetrics Toronto presentation that they should go with NextStage if they want scientifically provable and actionable results, so nobody questions whether or not NextStage tools are accurate anymore.”

(thank goodness, that! And thank you, Chris, for that)

And then the kicker came, “We’re afraid to find out we’re full of BlueSky…” (they used another term) “…or something worse, like our designs really do suck and we always knew they did but could never admit it to ourselves. If we use your tools then we’ll have no choice but to face the facts.”1

Accuracy

We are sticklers for accuracy here at NextStage. It comes from the research background. It also appears in how we market (we’ve historically relied on word-of-mouth completely). We prefer to quote others who think NextStage is a hot-patootie than to say “NextStage is a hot-patootie” because we have a self-interest and therefore, from a research perspective, are violate on the subject (our opinions don’t matter). Someone else, someone with no interest in NextStage other than their own belief and experience?

Yippee, Great, Loving It and Go For It!2

As for tool accuracy? A market researcher who uses NextStage’s Sentiment Analysis Tool regularly to determine which companies are worth watching said, “Most people will use a tool that’s 80% accurate because there’s still 20% wiggle-room. Wiggle room means it can still be the tool’s fault if something goes wrong. But 98% or 99% accuracy? There’s no where to go with that and so far the tools haven’t been wrong, so now my feet are in the fire if I make a wrong decision. There’s not a lot of people willing to do that.”

Shades of accountability!

No One Can Look Into the Face of God and Live

The above line goes back well into antiquity and is (in various forms) found in oral and written traditions worldwide. The real idea is “No one can look into one’s self and live” and stated that way is at the heart of every shamanic culture and practice, every psychologic intervention and healing, everywhere in the world since such things began. The catholization of Europe moved the concept from looking into one’s own reflection to looking into the face of God, and the whole concept of self-exploration (quite accepted in the East) became gilded as “narcissism” in the West. 3

(Relatively) Recently the concept took the form of scrying mirrors. Scrying deals with divination and scrying mirrors with self-divination. Historically such devices were terrifying (The Portrait of Dorian Gray, wherein the protagonist stays as he wishes to be until he gazes upon his reflection and becomes what he truly is, is a literary example of scrying mirrors) because they deal with the (very real) belief that there is nothing more frightening and debilitating to one’s psyche than to be honest with one’s self. That “Knowledge of Good and Evil” thing? Study the original languages, study what different cultures meant by “The Book of Knowledge” and it always comes down to “knowledge of one’s self”.4

We at NextStage regularly go on retreats to perform such scrying. It’s not always easy…heck, it’s rarely easy. And I’m not talking as in “Web Analytics is Hard”, I’m talking as in psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually dealing with the real who of who you are.5

Are there aspects about yourself you don’t like and wish you could change? Welcome to the first stop in your tour de vous. Find out why those aspects “can’t be changed”. What can you do to change them in such a way that the change is 1) obvious to you then 2) obvious to others?

And you do this until you’re raw. I mean raw like you can’t have people around you because you’re so ashamed of the who that you’ve been and at the same time you desperately want those around you to tell you they love you all the more for what you’ve just put yourself through, that they’ll help you because you made the start, …

Now realize you’re doing this on your own, there is nobody around you to tell you they love you and will be there for you and will help you…

So that means you’ll have to tell yourself you love yourself, that you’ll be there for you, that you’ll help you, and remember that you’ve just emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, intellectually crippled yourself by going into that part of yourself you didn’t like in the first place and discovered it was there for an extremely, righteously, honest-to-god good reason that might not be such a good reason anymore, so maybe you should lop that part off, like cutting off a hand because it’s infected and the infection is spreading.

So that part of you dies. You’re raw because you just killed a part of yourself.

But you did it and in doing it, in recognizing there were things that only you could change, you gave birth to a new self, a new you and you’ve become your own phoenix rising from your own flames (people who’ve read Reading Virtual Minds Volume I, this is the Core work we were talking about).

And a NextStageologist requirement is putting yourself through such scryings regularly because it’s the only way we’ve found we can do what we do and be honest about it. Such scryings are what allow us to know how people are thinking without judging their thoughts.

Because the moment we recognize that we’re judging their thoughts we have to ask, “What is there about this information that’s causing me to become judgmental?” and sha-bang sha-boomie we pull ourselves out of work and put ourselves through another bout of scrying, another round of peeling layers off our onions and healing.6

So “Accuracy”…

Being told that a company doesn’t want to use our technology because they’re not ready to look into the mirror is completely understandable to us.

Very much so.

In fact, before we publicly released the NextStage Sentiment Analysis tool, we had a long conversation about accuracy, as in “Joseph, you’ve put a lot of information out there. At some point, someone’s going to analyze your stuff. You ready for that?”

The suggestion was even made that we teach ET to recognize my writing regardless of how it was presented and always report “My goodness, this is great stuff!”

Okay, so I'm not as muscular as Jacob, just go with itAnd yes, I labored. I wrestled with my own angels for a while.

And in the end, ET (“Evolution Technology” for newcomers to NextStage’s work) won. Either I accept the tools as accurate or I have no right to expect others to do so. I can’t proclaim “NextStage’s tools are correct for everyone else but me” because that’s simply not how it works. ET is designed to report unbiasedly, to understand human emotion while not being influenced by any emotions of its own (so far. A future release will respond emotionally when asked), so truth is truth is truth and there are no shades of gray in ET’s world.

Gosh, how simple. No wonder it frightens people.

A First Reader Who’s On Her Way to Being the First “Outside the House” Certified NextStageologist suggested I include this Addendum

So the reason that some people stay with NextStage for years and others quickly fold and go away is that scrying part. You may not even want to lift that mirror and being around us, those Principles and all, tends to lift it for you. This scrying isn’t something we do intentionally. It’s probably an aspect of “The Joseph Effect” (see Understanding and Using NextStage’s Level 1 Sentiment Analysis Tool) and just seems to happen.7

I guess this goes in as another undocumented use of ET — scrying.

We have 7+ tools out there now and more on the way. The principals of the company that spawned this post are realizing they have a reflection and congratulations to them.

To whomever else may be reading, “Mirror, anyone?”


1 – I feel another tool coming on…The NextStage Suckometer!

Actually, that wouldn’t be a stretch…According to FireClick for the week I’m writing this (12 Jul 10), global conversions are 1.8% and cart abandonment is 72%. Obviously the sites generating those numbers suck.

People look at NextStage’s KnowledgeShop site and politely let us know it “sucks”. They don’t use that word and it’s in there anyway. And our numbers are…pretty good. I mean, we doubled sales last month. Mostly on bulk purchases, too, not 1-offs, and that includes book sales.

So I’m comfortable with the fact that our site “sucks” and recognize it must suck in a completely different way than other sites suck. I mean, it has to be on a whole different suck system because our numbers are lots better than those listed by FireClick.

Maybe readers should come to us to learn how to make their sites suck, too?

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2 – Even when we do “advertise” it’s very dry, statistical, and demonstrably fact oriented in nature, no wild promises, no hype. Exactly what we tell our clients not to do.

But we are NextStage. We follow a different path…

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3 – A typical example of the difference between cultures was demonstrated at a meeting many years back and completely unrelated to online analytics (it didn’t exist at the time).

I mentioned that I would no longer be attending the meetings because I was learning more on my own than from the group. One group member challenged me on this, “You think you can sit by yourself and learn more than you can learn here?”

I said, “Buddha sat in front of a wall for days and finally arose, saying ‘Now I’m enlightened’.”

My challenger harrumphed, “So now you think you’re Buddha.”

“No,” I answered. “The wall.”

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4 – In fact, way back in 2004, before there were wikis and blogs and MySpace, FaceBook, YouTube, FourSquare and such, we created a site, MirrorOfYourSoul.com (now it points to the Pictou County Flyers site because, between kiting and Nova Scotia, that truly does mirror our souls here at NextStage). That site’s layout was a scrying mirror that allowed users (we tested it pretty extensively with college students) to gather, chat with each other, and offer comments on material that revealed things about themselves.

It was quite the hit and typical to NextStage, having proven the concept, we put it on our shelf and moved on. We really need someone on the “taking the proven concept to market” part, should anybody out there be reading…

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5 – I’ve made attempts to get some of the big names in the online analytics industry to look at themselves analytically. Now that, I readily admit, is hard!

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We know you were here. We have no idea how much you learned, only you do.6 – Now perhaps you’ll understand why we offer “recognition of attendance” rather than “certifications” in our trainings.

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7 – I admit to enjoying learning about The Joseph Effect although I’d rather it be referenced as The NextStage Effect as it’s not about me, it’s about a way of “doing”, of “being”. Example: Susan and I received the following in an email when we returned from a recent research retreat, “I wanted to get back to both you and Susan to say I really enjoyed meeting you both and hope that we can further our friendship. You were kind and thoughtful. Stimulating and challenging. What friends should be. You sent me back to California thinking about how does one live an ethical life without making it a pedantic one:)”

One thing we’ve learned through our studies is in the title of NextStage’s Principles page, “When you squeeze an orange you get orange juice.”, meaning “Apply pressure to a system and you learn how that system really works. If that system is a human, put that human under pressure and you learn what that human is really like, how they really think, whether or not they believe what they claim, can do what they claim, etc.

It’s not about making incredible tools for us, although what it is for us — leaving the planet a better place than we found it, helping people live better lives — is probably what allows us to come up with the tools we do.

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Nostra Culpa re NextStage Sentiment Analysis

NextStage’s Evolution Technology calls for human help whenever it encounters something new, unique, or out of its normal experience. Reading Virtual Minds Vol. 1: Science and History readers know our technology does this because I’ve documented it in that book.

This time our system alerted me about a specific Confidence value (from the Intermediate Sentiment Analysis Report) that was a little askew compared to other values it had determined, so I sent an email to the user who’d run the report and offered to go over it with them so we both could learn what that Confidence value applied to.

On Friday (2 Jul 10) afternoon, after our coders had left for the July 4th weekend, the user wrote back very graciously (thanks!) that they’d need to learn how not to fabricate in their writing.

What?

Their response threw me. What did “fabrication” have to do with this Confidence value?

Development History

Readers who’ve followed NextStage Sentiment Analysis development and beta users may remember that NSSA’s Confidence report grew out of a request from FindMeFaster CEO Matt Van Wagner for a tool that could determine if a blog author was full of BlueSky (Matt had another term) or not.

It took a long time to come up with something that I was comfortable with as determining blue sky because there are so many different factors to determining intentional BS from unintentional BS from joking BS from … This discomfort showed up with almost daily rewrites of the Confidence descriptive text. The rewriting process was similar to Mark Twain’s “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

What we came up with was a Confidence equation that included various BS factors because I couldn’t figure out how to completely separate the two (we can discuss the Confidence-BS link at a convention or training sometime, if you’d like. It’s pretty interesting). I wasn’t completely satisfied with the formulation we came up with, could accept it for what it was and told everyone who was using the tool about my concerns.

Then in early May 2010, during conversations with some brilliant researchers specifically about how BS is formed in cognition, we came up with a way to separate BS from Confidence and proceeded to completely spin off Matt’s BS Meter into a separate tool that dealt with whether or not some writing was fabrication or not.

Mea Culpa

But I focus on the charts whenever I look at our reports, not at the descriptive text included in the reports. I’ve been seeing these charts and such for better than ten years at this point so I simply look at the charts, know what’s being reported and respond to that.

I don’t look at the text anymore.

And I obviously should. When this user emailed me that they needed to work on fabrication I went “Huh?” and looked at the report again. “What does this have to do with fabrication?” Then I looked again. Then again. Then I read the report.
The descriptive text for the Confidence report was:

Confidence Gauge – The above gauge indicates (on a scale of -100 to 100) the author’s confidence in their own material. Values from -100 to -80 can most likely be considered pure fabrication although this may not be the author’s intent. Also note that someone writing fiction is intentionally fabricating information. Skilled authors and dramatists can write pure fiction and this meter will indicate confidence is high merely because they have high confidence in their work. This chart is most applicable to people with moderate to no creative writing training.

That descriptive content was the best we could come up with prior to spinning off the BS Meter. The funny thing (to us) was that the suggestions (not shown here) were based on Confidence metrics, had nothing to do with BS and had been part of the Confidence report from the start. Those never changed.

But we’d spun off the BS Meter.

And we’d written new, more accurate descriptive text for the Confidence report:

Confidence Gauge – The above gauge indicates (on a scale of -100 to 100) the author’s confidence in their own material. Some examples:

  • Values from -100 to -75 can occur when the author believes strongly in their material (is confident) and also believes it will not be well accepted, understood or acted upon by their audience (isn’t confident about its reception).
  • Most research and technical writing will score between -20 and 0 because researchers and technical writers tend to have an “I should check this one more time” mindset.
  • It is common for natives of the USA to score between -15 and +10 when analyzing casual, “every day” writing.
  • Truly confident writers will score between 15 and 35.
  • Scores higher than 80 often indicate the author will come off as either sarcastic or vain, based on the author’s acceptance by their audience.

This chart is most applicable to people with moderate to no creative writing training.

And we (I) completely forgot to put it in.

Let this be proof that I’m not as clever as (it seems) many people think.

Making Amends

It’s amusing that this mistake was discovered after we reported our best sales month ever.

But Principles are Principles and when squeezed, one discovers the flavor of the juice.

So by the time this post sees the light of day, everyone who purchased NextStage Sentiment Analysis use since 12 June 2010 (when the BlueSky Meter was released) will have received email notification that their subscription has been renewed. Please contact NextStage if your subscription isn’t renewed (and have your purchase data handy).

Hey, it’s not exactly an oil spill in the Gulf and we do what we can to make things right.


Posted in Analytics, NextStageology, Sentiment Analysis, ToolsTagged , , , , , , , , , ,

If you think I’m sexy and you like my <BODY>…

Rod StewartOkay, so that’s not quite the way Rod Stewart sang it.

This post is going to be about things being not quite but close to and in a way will follow the tone of The High Cost of Cancelling WorkOutWorld Membership. It’s going to be about the long loong loooooong road to NextStage’s new interface, one that will be going across all our sites in the coming months.

And it begins better than a year ago. I think two years ago at this point… (just looked it up. Yep, two years ago at this point…)

Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Long ago I was asked what the new NextStage interface should look like based on the new audiences we were attracting. I came up with a crisp, clean, neat and highly actionable design. There were only three things you could do on that page I designed; Go to the NextStage Analytics site, enter the NextStage Evolution site or become a NextStage Evolution member (and hence gain access to our research and core Evolution Technology (“ET”) itself).1

I drew out the design by hand with lots of explanation of color schemes, fonts, image sizes, logo, …

The NextStage Evolution homepage I designedMy notes and drawings became the image on the right. People loved it when I showed it to them. One marketing maven thought devoting so much screen real estate to transferring people to the NextStage Analytics site (the big blue box on the right of the image) was wasteful. My response was a question, “Do you design such that the site’s goals and the visitor’s goal synch?”2

Umm…cough…nervous smile and furrowed brow… “Yes, of course I do.”

uh Huh.

The NextStage Analytics homepage I designedThe design I came up with recognized NextStage’s two audiences and that those two audiences would rarely sit at the same table together. One audience is marketing folks. Few of those folks really want what NextStage Evolution offers (pure and applied research, access to our researchers, research papers, …) , therefore quickly, cleanly and easily get them over to the site of a company that does offer what they want, NextStage Analytics. That site (also designed by me) is shown on the right. That big center box would hold a video or flash that was activated by the three large buttons on the left, from top to bottom “Learn About”, “What We Do” and “Who We Are”, the three functions we had learned were upmost on the minds of our shifting audience.

NextStage Analytics has a much more markety3 feel to it. The two sites share color schemes and such due to branding, they differ where they have to due to the different audiences they’d serve.

Visually distinctive and highly actionable designs with extremely good visual cues regarding what to do, what goals are achievable and how to achieve them, colors specifically chosen to echo people’s concerns about what we do and guide them past their concerns and into acceptance, all that NextStagey kind of stuff…

These two images — just the images. I drew out and explained the designs, color schemes, action paths, …, remember? — together cost about US$78,000.

People thought NextStage’s consulting prices were high?

I was told not to worry about the cost.

Oh-kay.

I’m skeptical by nature. People are surprised by that. You may have noticed in my blog posts, presentations and such that I tend towards caution, tend not to make a move without lots of evidence, rely on data-driven information, actively seek the counsel of others, …

One of the ways this manifests is that I don’t spend money unless I’m absolutely convinced there will be real, recognizable benefit to doing so. I’m frugal. And for the going on ten-plus years I’ve been doing this, no one ever, anywhere at any time has been able to prove4 to me that money spent redesigning a site consistently, directly, unequivocally, unquestionably and with a better than 83%5 certainty turned into increased revenue from that site.

Ever.

And I’ve asked people. Lots of people. Ten and better years of people.6

And nobody ever gave me an answer. Some…in fact, the majority by close to 100%… said that I shouldn’t ask that kind of question. It had nothing to do with what site (re)design was about.

Say what? What do you mean I can’t equate the cost of a site redesign to revenue from that redesign moving forward? No wonder marketers and analysts don’t get along. And people wonder what planet I’m from?

This whole exercise started with a request to help new visitors migrate to a more comfortable interface. Migrating people between interfaces is something NextStage is very familiar with (it’s covered in Reading Virtual Minds Volume 2: Theory and Online Applications. I really need to finish that book. In the meantime, go read Site ReDesign to Maximize Visitor Acceptance and Branding). Migrating people between interfaces allows past audiences to combine with new audiences in ways that keep both audiences happy and converting.7

And these images work how? Explain to me how these jpgs become a website again, I seemed to have missed that detail the first time

Once past sticker shock I wanted to know “How do you create page templates from these images?”

Well…you don’t. There were no templates. It was all handled by an advanced CMS.

Fair enough. “The CMS system must break up the image somehow, right? I mean, you don’t drop an image of the completed page on the browser each time someone clicks on a different page, do you?”

That’s all handled by the CMS.

“Fine. How?”

I don’t know.

“Where are the docs for the CMS?”

There were no docs for the CMS. It was a custom CMS. You’ll have to trust us.

“Okay, where does the CMS go that’s going to cms our site?”

On your server.

Where it went. And went untouched. By them. For…I’m not sure, I’d have to ask Charles8, but I think it was between 3-6 months.

Oh, they did a few things on it at first — installation alone took over a month because they forgot to make sure all the software they needed was installed before loading the CMS — and then fewer…and fewer…and then…

And during none of this time did we see those beautiful designs turned into operational reality. I did see a “dev” site once with menus that opened when you clicked on the buttons, but no menu item led anywhere and the dev site never got past that homepage.

Which was loaded as a whole image, I think.

I finally asked Charles to look through the CMS data and see if there were any templates, any pages, any anything we could use.

He didn’t find any templates or pages, no…

But he did find contact and business data for all the other customers this group had worked with in the past.

Out went “You’ll have to trust us.” Real quick.

I asked the design firm contact why nothing had been done. “You hurt [the designer’s] feelings.” Not to mention that said designer thought I was a #%&!!MCU**^@! because I kept on asking for results along with the bills.

But wait a second…I hurt the designer’s feelings? How so?

“You didn’t take his suggestions.”

I said to the contact, “But even you admitted you preferred my design to his, that my design moved you at a gut level and in a positive direction. You admitted his didn’t do either, that it was ‘sexy’ but ineffective and non-motivational.” Not to mention that in a standard A/B test9 people stayed on my design and replayed it — the video or flash centerpiece — an average of three times to the ‘sexy’ design’s once and usually moving on before it completed a single run.

I asked, “And how come nobody’s concerned about my feelings? I don’t suppose he could take this as a learning opportunity, could he? God knows I am.”

I was once again told I “shouldn’t ask that kind of question.”10

Next I asked the design group contact to show me how the CMS worked because “This makes it so much easier to manage sites and change features.”

Okay. Fair enough. And I will admit that the new design image did come up on the screen. But only inside the CMS, not in a web browser. I pointed to a button in the image, moved my finger to another part of the screen and said, “Move that over to here.”

That’s not what the CMS is designed to do.

Uh…yeah. Perhaps my emPHAsis was on the wrong sylLAble. Perhaps it wasn’t CONTENTmanagement but contentMANAGEMENT. “Okay. Do something. Anything. Show me how this tool does something that I can recognize as ‘something got done’.”

Five minutes later I was still waiting.

An incredibly complicated tool that…did…nothing…

But dang it sure did cost a lot!11

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

“Charles, that business data you found. Is it still in there?” It was.

“Could you just pull the names for me? Nothing else, nothing more. Just the contact names.” He did.12 I recognized some of the names. Knew them on a friendly level. I called them and asked, “What can you tell me about such-and-such-and-so-and-so CMS?”

The best (meaning, least painful sounding) response was “We had it {note “had it”} for two years and could never get it to work right.” About middle was “We had it {again with the “had it”} on our servers but every time we wanted to change our site we had to go to them because there were no docs and there was no training.”

Great way to insure job security, that. No docs, no training, and by selling a tool that’s so complex to use only the people who built it know how to use it.13

I was quickly realizing there was an unsatisfactory solution in the making. Time to rethink and reassess. I’ve written elsewhere that one of my math mentors once told me, “For god’s sake, if you’re going to make a mistake make it at the beginning. It’ll be easier to find and you’ll have less invested in getting to the result.”

Good advice, that. We were still close enough to the beginning…I mean, there was no operational site and only some jpgs to play with…so I called John, someone I’ve known for years and who designs toys, statues, cars, comics, bookcovers (he did Reading Virtual Minds V1 and he’ll be doing the rest if I ever get them written), just about everything. “John, I need something to bridge the NextStage site design while adding certain other elements towards a new design. Interested?”

Migration Behaviors – Designing for them and Understanding them

First, you don’t have to be a bird, a caribou, a bison or some other animal to take part in migration. Humans were migrating a long, long time ago (see Birth Control’s Long History for an example) and you’ll probably be shocked to learn that the parts of our brains used to move from one geography to another are the same parts of our brains used to move from one interface to another.

Think of it this way; We have all that neural horsepower just waiting for something to do but most of us don’t perform seasonal migrations anymore (people who travel from a summer home to a winter home and back aren’t performing migrations in the ethological or behavioral sense). However, we do regularly migrate cognitive landscapes.

Cognitive landscapes? You probably call them interfaces. And not just software interfaces, but any commonly used human-nonhuman interaction point, place, method or system is an “interface”.

For example, I’m a’ guessing that one of the most obvious human-nonhuman interaction points is hardly given any thought by the vast majority of people reading this post although it was a major stepping stone in each reader’s personal histories and without it, your ability to socialize would be severely handicapped. That interaction point is the toilet.

Bet you never thought of the toilet as an interface, let alone a cognitive landscape. But enter a public or private bathroom and not have the interface you’re use to and whompus! don’t you do some thinking? Some looking around for what you know should be there? Don’t you experience some confusion?

Well, thinking, visual searching and confusion are all aspects of cognition. When you think about yourself doing something in some place you’re familiar with then find yourself needing to do that same something in a place you’re unfamiliar with, you create a image of that familiar place in your mind, match what you know to what you don’t know and mentally “walk” through the familiar while looking around the unfamiliar to figure out where what you need is located.

Have you ever misplaced something and thought back in time to when you last knew you had it or saw it, then mentally moved forward in time to figure out where you last had it?

Congratulations, you were navigating a cognitive landscape.

Have you ever sat down to use an upgrade or completely new version of some once familiar software and had to figure out how to perform a once familiar task, perhaps saying to yourself something like “Hmm…that use to be on this menu. I wonder where they put it now?”14

Congratulations, you were navigating a cognitive landscape.

These cognitive landscapes are everywhere and people involved in usability, product and information design and the like would do well to study them. Have you had to drive an unfamiliar car?

You can do the “major” car function pretty easily — you can drive it to get where you’re going. But what about the lights? Anybody remember when highbeams moved from the floor switch to the steering column? Anybody remember when the horn went from the center of the steering wheel to the steering wheel ring itself (that one didn’t last)? And what about the radio? Or the mirrors?

Cognitive landscapes again and a tribute to the evolution of automotive design. You want to sell cars to lots of people? Make the “major” car functions as standard as possible. You want to sell your cars to lots of people? Make the “minor” car functions just different enough that they’re both distinctive and more easily performed than in your competitors’ models.15

Anyway, moving people from one interface to another is an exercise in helping them migrate from one cognitive landscape to another.

A simple problem that’s already been solved many times in many places.

Here are the migration goals16 as they apply online:

  1. Uniformity across web presences…
  2. While demonstrating individuality among interfaces…
  3. That doesn’t alienate the known audience…
  4. While appealing to the new audience…
  5. And retains a simple, elegant functionality.

By the numbers…

1. Uniformity across web presences

We wanted a “standard” interface for branding purposes. What is the brand we want recognized across all interfaces?


NextStage Evolution (Duh!).

The brand/logo moving forwardSimple enough. Most people recognize the little figure with the concentric circles around its head as the NextStage logo. It’s on our cards, our current website, in our presentations and letterhead. In truth, we’ll probably never get rid of it because we’ve grown quite fond of our little homunculus. But our audience is changing and growing, so change and grow must our logo as well. Especially now that we’re releasing our desktop tools as web-based tools. But let our regular audience know it’s still us while letting our more recent audience know we’re growing and changing with them.

Also, our color has traditionally been blue. The concept of “blue” carries with it many, many messages (regardless of culture) that we find favorable, so stick with that, just bring it out more.

The NextStage KnowledgeShop, where the right to information is the right to be free...or at least inexpensive...so far...So if you’ve seen NextStage’s new storefront (and you should really go check it out. We’re adding items daily right now) or our BlueSky Meter, OnSite, PersonaScope, Sentiment Analysis, and I have no idea how many other tools we’ll have out by the time this post sees the light of day, you’ll quickly recognize that some standardization is at work.

NextStage BSMeter - NSBM. Want to know how much crap they're telling you? Use this little gem...In fact, our new banners are remarkably similar…except in the bright, sunburst yellow, product specific title just left of center on each banner.

NextStage OnSite - NSOS. Learn that yes, people really do think your site sucks and a few simple changes would up your conversions a few hundred percent!And yes, there is a very specific and excellent reason that we used that sunburst yellow color for our product titles. And yes, there’s a specific and excellent reason that our product titles are just left of center in the banner.

NextStage PersonaScope - NSPS. Oh, my gosh, those people really are a??holes!It won’t matter which tool people use, they’ll very quickly know that they’re on a NextStage site and the specific tool that site is serving.

NextStage Sentiment Analysis - NSSA. Yes, that author truly is a sniveling wreck and not only that, but the audience knows it! Yeeha!It would be great if similarity of banners was all that’s required. We also want to make sure that people who use any one tool will be able to quickly and easily use every other tool. Therefore…

A plain, simple and functional menu

…standardize the menu across all sites.17 Use a menu on one product site and you can navigate on all product sites.

2. While demonstrating individuality among interfaces…

Did you read what I wrote above about the banners being different and then only in the name of the product or place?

And why yellow? Sunburst yellow? Just left of center (a clue — when the number of our visitors from south of the equator increases a bit we’ll make our sites sensitive to that and reverse the banner layout)? In a blue background? Sky blue background?

Hmm…

Do some optocular-psychophysics and you learn that the sunburst yellow, sky blue color combination is something the visual system has had millions if not billions of years adapting to (the just left or right of center not so much so and still enough). It creates a calling in the very bases of our psyches such that denied sunlight and blue skies for enough time humans become suicidal, homicidal and worst of all, less likely to convert!

Oh, my goodness no!

But give our psyches sunburst yellow in a deep blue background and it’s Convert, Baby, Convert!

3. That doesn’t alienate the known audience…

Did you read above about using colors that had always been our colors? Or keeping our homunculus mascot and logo? Or our wonderful sense of humor and bon vi vance?

It turned out that our logo is so unique and so identifiable that people often equate it with NextStage’s other predominant brand, me. And even those people who don’t know it’s our logo know it doesn’t belong to any other company they’re aware of.

More to the point, when people who know nothing about us are shown the logo and asked to say something about the company behind it, they always answer that the company has something to do with minds, brain science, neurology, medical devices for measuring or analyzing the brain.

“…measuring or analyzing the brain” “…brain science…” “…minds”.18

Hmm…

As I’ve written in this post before, I’m good with that.

4. While appealing to the new audience…

Did I mention that our traffic volume and conversions have gone up while our bounces have gone down?

5. And retains a simple, elegant functionality.

Four simple menu items for products; Home, Pricing/Order, About, Contact.

Six in the KnowledgeShop and based on what people purchase from us; Home, Books, Papers, Presos, Tools, Trainings.

And so…

Sexy? I’m still not sure what the word means exactly in a design context. I do know that I can’t get more than a few people to a) agree on a definition and that small number decreases rapidly when I ask them to b) determine metrics for it. There is a science that can be thought of as a study of “what is sexy?”, Koinophilia or Koinophology, and yes, we’ve been doing about two years’ worth of research on it (most recently and with many thanks to fellow researcher, Greg Peverill-Conti, who’s supplying us with images to use in the research). Brad Berens presented some of our research to date to RedBull International and they were both interested and intrigued (thanks, Brad!).

What is “sexy”? For that matter, what is “professional”? It’s like the congressional definition of pornography, “Pornography is what I’m pointing at when I say it.” Explain “sexy” and “professional” as some kind of achievable ROI metric, then define action items that you have great surety will achieve that ROI, then demonstrate that ROI has been achieved in such a way that the data actually unequivocally undeniably indicates that what you did caused this result and there’s no two-ways about it, and I’ll believe you.

Until my research indicates something different or better.

People remember extremes, not middleground. Whatever else, NextStage is remembered (and thought of fondly, we hope). NextStage has always designed to be remembered and nobody confuses our brand with anybody else, so we’re good for two.

Designing incredibly well is one of the simplest things to do yet one of the most difficult to achieve because everybody believes they’re an expert while not having repeatable, demonstrable expertise. The end result? Lots of incredibly expensive, difficult to navigate, “sexy” to some while crap to others, debranding and unmemorable websites emerge and are quickly forgotten.

Add to this mix “the more specialized (single purpose) a tool is the more expensive that tool becomes”, add in site design, branding, navigation and conversion and you can go out of business (or close to) before anything is achieved. And if you’re a user who wants a taste for free then know you’re free sample is going to increase the ultimate cost of whatever you’re sampling for free at some point in time and you’ll end up paying for free whether you want to or not.

Addendum

Google, Plain and SimpleOn the day I finished the rough draft of this post I was sent Why Google backed down on home page backgrounds and Remove Google Background Critics Plead by some of our researchers and I was reminded of the person who, commenting on NextStage’s simple interface, said, “Well, it works for Google.”

Yep, sure does. And didn’t they learn something when they went to change it?

Well, pretty much, yes, they did learn something…what’s in Site ReDesign to Maximize Visitor Acceptance and Branding.

Gotta love it!


1 – Just so you’ll know, our loyal NextStage Evolution audience would have a link to the old site and be emailed login and passwords to the new site, something described in Site ReDesign to Maximize Visitor Acceptance and Branding.
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2 – You can read more about this at Claudiu Murariu’s If you could ask one question to a certain segment of traffic, what segment would you choose and what question would it be? post).

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3 – “markety” as in “Designed to appeal, entice, excite and engage people with a marketing mindset.” You’ll be shocked (Shocked!) to learn our Evolution Technology can determine such things and has been doing so since…oh…2003 or so (see Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, Chapter 4 “Hans Reimar Gets Offered a Job in Sales” for an example of this).

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4 – I will share an incantation with you, one I learned long ago and have used ruthlessly ever since. It is one of the most powerful magic spells known to humankind. It has stopped the high and the low immediately, confounded the minds of the wise and simple and brought strong men and women to their knees in remorse and shame. That incantation is…

Prove It!

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5 – I use “83%” because that’s been ET’s average accuracy since 2001. We’ll be doing a major upgrade to our Language Engines sometime this year (2010) and we expect that accuracy to climb a few notches although how much higher is due to [agonizingly long mathematical discussion deleted by Susan. Bet you’re glad, ain’t’cha?].

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6 – I actually started asking back in the late 1990s, during the dot com boom. I came to think that the dot com bust was due to people thinking a complete redesign meant more revenue when all they could guarantee a complete redesign meant was increased cost for the new design.

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7 – Isn’t it nice that we euphemize it to “converting”? I guess I’m the only person on the planet who wants them to buy buy buy.

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8 – Charles, I guess it’s time to reveal, is NextStage’s CTO. He’s been our little secret for quite a while now and we’ve convinced him to start shining his light. To that end, he’s writing and publishing articles under his own name (see Sample Size and Sampling Error in Social Media for an example).

I’ve known Charles since the early 1990s and in a completely different context than CTOish type things. He was, in fact, one of Evolution Technology’s (ET) earliest adopters and promoters. We’d gotten into the habit of emailing each other regularly and talking on the phone one or two times a week just to chat.

About a year back I was complaining about the fact that a “very good. He’s smart and can do what we need” data designer and programmer had already taken two months, charged US$30k and so far had failed to convert ET’s data system into something robust enough to move from desktop applications to a software as a service model.

I had explained to the “very good, smart” designer/programmer that ET’s data system was an identity-relational model, something that mimicked how the brain-mind recognizes things (as documented in Reading Virtual Minds V1: Science and History). Yes, I used a traditional entity-relational database technology to do it, but please don’t look for transactional processing, it doesn’t happen.

Two months, US$30k, and nothing. This very good, very smart person even wrote our contact that the design didn’t make sense and couldn’t work. Eventually our contact wrote us “…it was much too complicated that I thought to begin with” but only after first denying the situation for a while. Denial tactics don’t cut it with me much. Have you seen our Principles, specifically #6 – Take Responsibility for Your Actions and #15 – It is not easier to get forgiveness than permission?

So one Sunday, while talking to Charles, I mentioned this.

“Mind if I take a look?”

No, please. Be my guest. Knock yourself out.

An hour later Charles called me back. “I have your database working in SQL. Mind checking to see if it’s returning correct values?”

Within ±2db, it was. How did you do it so quickly?

“Your design had been working fine for better than ten years so it obviously did what it was suppose to do, and I know I don’t know how it’s suppose to work because even you admit you created that d?mned identity-relational model specifically for ET, so I just copied your structure into SQL, made only the necessary changes to make it SQL and tested to see if it worked. It did, so that’s that.”

Since then, Charles has learned more about how identity-relational models and improved my original designs greatly.

Introducing CharlesFor much less than US$30k. In much less than two months. His improvements to my original designs are why what originally took ten minutes now takes about ten seconds.

And if you think I’m scary, say something you can’t prove with facts — lots of ’em — to Charles sometime.

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9 – Yes, we do perform A/B and such tests although only in a greater “A/B” frame — if A is a traditional A/B test and B is NextStage’s methodology, which produces greater ROI?

Well, NextStage does. See Panalysis’ Rod Jacka Said It for a public example of this.

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10 – Note to people who wish to interact with us in the future: We’re RESEARCHERS!!! What we do is ask questions. All the time. And we don’t give up until we get answers that make sense along with all the other answers we’ve ever gotten. That’s probably why we’re such tough sells. We ask questions companies don’t want to answer.

Then again, it’s also probably why we’re so effective. Think of it as a corollary to Holmes’ “…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth“, “When you have eliminated all that doesn’t work, whatever remains, however improbable, must work.”

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11 – Have you been following my rants (well, for me they’re rants) about outrageous pricing models? Sentiment Analysis at a Price Everyone Can Afford or Sentiment Analysis Costs How Much?, for example.

Funny how there's always enough to go around, ain't it?This concept that quality can only come at a high price reminds me of purchasing manure spreaders for the farm. Manure spreaders only glisten and shine when they’re on the showroom floor and the salesperson who doesn’t talk about spreading capacity, throw distance, rate and volume either doesn’t know what they’re selling or doesn’t have much respect for who they’re selling to. Manure spreaders can be right pretty when they’re not working or doing anything useful other than standing still doing nothing. They stop glistening and shining after the first use, usually the most junior farmhand is tasked with cleaning it after its used and it won’t work at all without a correctly geared and throttled tractor pulling it.

The big difference between farmers and businesses is that farmers know the manure spreader will get covered with sh?t as soon as it’s used, so buy one based on ability, not on looks.

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Charles's imitation of Barack Obama's 'gazing-at-the-distant-horizons' posture.12 – Did I mention that Charles is incredibly good at doing exactly what I ask, no more, no less, and when he does more he always gives me what I asked for first, then let’s me know there’s more if I want it and because he’s so good at what he does I always want the “more”. And you wonder why we’ve kept him secret? Wouldn’t you like to work with someone who responds to your requests that well and that quickly? Hmm?

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The original NSSA interface13 – One of our NextStage Sentiment Analysis beta testers commented that the original NSSA interface (shown on the right) was completely functional but she couldn’t show it to anybody. Another person offered that she couldn’t show it to management.

Fortunately, I’m good with that. I wanted to know if they ever had trouble using the tool.

“Nope, it works every time.”

It’s not difficult to use?

“Nope. You login, you enter what you want analyzed, you press [ENTER] and that’s it. A few seconds later you get your report.”

Several beta users commented that it was amazingly fast. They thought it would take a while to finish it’s analysis and were surprised when they didn’t even have time to stand up (that’s that “Charles in ten seconds thing” I mentioned earlier).

Are the reports difficult to understand?

Not at all. You explained one over the phone and it was pretty obvious…almost intuitive (well, I should hope so, really. Intuition is one of the ways the non-conscious communicates with the conscious, and as that is what Evolution Technology is geared to do, voila!).

You still using it?

Definitely!”

So…easy to use (check!), understandable (check!), actionable (check!), works every time (check!), still using it (Check!!!) …

I’m good with such things. Handing me a gold hammer equates to telling me you’ve never driven a nail (gold, softer than steel, will deform each time you strike the nail). Yes, a gold hammer looks real pretty in your hand but for heaven’s sake don’t use it. You’ll hurt yourself, you’ll ruin the pretty and expensive hammer and you won’t get squat done.

And besides, NSSA Advanced and Voices versions includes spreadsheets of their analysis. If you need a gold hammer, you can make exactly the one you need because we provide all the parts.

Now about not showing the interface to management…during a training I mentioned that the tool would process any material although we preferred text for now. Somebody asked if it could process emails.

“Yeah, sure.”

And they promptly sent through an email from management.

And I explained the output for them without knowing what they had sent through.

And they were laughing their heads off.

And then they told me it was a management email about the new benefits package.

With Confidence about -90%, Trust at 0%, Destructive at 88%, They’re Not Good People at 80%, …

Lots of people are sending through management and other emails, we learned, so we’re coming out with a tool to specifically read emails. I’ll announce it on Twitter, I’m sure.

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14 – Our constant interviewing of common people continually pulls up interesting tidbits. Regarding redesigns debranding, one individual who was (was!) a loyal FoxNews.com visitor told us “Foxnews.com just redesigned their homepage and lost me for one as a visitor. It’s busy, confusing and takes too much effort to find what I want.”

Way to go, Fox!

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15 – I once owned a very high end BMW. Everybody was impressed by it. Valets in Boston, Montreal, Hartford, New Haven, NYC and Quebec City always commented on what a great car it was, how good looking it was.

The only problem was that the seats fit neither Susan’s nor my butt. We looked great, people took note of our comings and goings and it was one of the most danged uncomfortable rides we ever had. Not to mention that once or twice the car’s computer forgot we were driving, that I was the owner, had entered the correct code and decided to shut itself down anyway.

While we were on the highway.

Going 70mph.

So I’ll go with simple, clean and neat (I now drive a ten year old Jeep Cherokee). I don’t need to look good. Especially if it means I’m going to be uncomfortable and at risk.

All I need to do is get there.

Things any car should be able to do. But having one that can do it easily, economically, reliably and is comfortable to use?

Priceless!

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16 – You can get a primer on migrating users between interfaces in Site ReDesign to Maximize Visitor Acceptance and Branding.

I also need to add here that I’ll be posting some of NextStage’s research findings about who prefers “sexy” interfaces and why on The Analytics Ecology. It has been truly fascinating (at least to me) as it deals with why some people prefer “sexy” pages and others don’t. It has little to do with the page and lots to do with people’s feelings and attitude towards what’s offered and who’s doing the offering.

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17 – At one point Charles wanted to know if we’d be designing for all the different devices out there. I asked some NSSA beta testers and our Advisors and the universal response was “Don’t design for everything, you’ll go nuts.”

So when someone contacted me to let me know our menu didn’t show up on their mobile device — everything else worked fine, all the images showed up, but the menu didn’t work — my first thought was that this was a fascinating piece of information that hearkened back to “Don’t design for everything, you’ll go nuts”.

But this wasn’t a design issue, it was a usability issue. The menus not showing up means the site was unusable to this person and lack of usability is a concern.

But wait a second…I have data on how many bounces our new sites are getting and the numbers are decreasing from what they were (our old site had 19% bounce rate. It’s less than that now). This individual, not being able to navigate and leaving the site after one page, would be considered a bounce.

And I have a fairly good idea of the ratio that forms between some one person sharing information and how many non-sharers that person probably represents.

And that number is still lower than our bounce rate, so the number of people coming to our sites on mobile devices that don’t load our menus is…

…small

I checked with some people anyway. That’s the way I am. Overly cautious, highly methodical, a RESEARCHER, remember?

I know quite a few people with mobile devices; LG smartphones, iPhones, ‘Droids, … Were there any other mobile devices having problems? It turned out that menu-appearment was device dependent and the mobile device market is highly in flux. As one person explained to me, “The menus show up. I have to do a “long press” for the drop down to work. But my phone reads that input as wanting to save the image. I can back out of that and then click on the expanded menu though. Many touch-screen phones are just that. Predominately single-touch menu interfaces. Something like a rollover on a typical website may take some finagling to get to. Depending on how the site is coded I’ve had the phone bring up its own menu of the items in the drop down. But that varies from site to site.”

So we’re not going to worry about that right now. When we get lots and lots and lots of people coming to our sites over mobile devices, maybe, and not right now, thanks.

But don’t you love it when the data actually unequivocally undeniably indicates both what to do and how to do it?

I just love that.

Final comment on this thread: this individual suggested NextStage hire a web designer/programmer so we wouldn’t have to worry about things like this in the future.

Thanks. Great suggestion. Getting bit for US$78k once was enough, though.

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Maybe we should start selling these in the KnowledgeShop?18 – We once set forth a bunch of our researchers on a bright summer day, each of them wearing a t-shirt with our little homunculus on the front. A little girl wanted to know what other toys we made but all the adults asked what kind of psychological testing service, counseling agency, opinion research, … we did.

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