As an attendee of quite a few conferences and webinars in my career, I’ve become somewhat jaded. What often seems like a great agenda when registering usually turns to disappointment upon delivery, either because the speaker won’t present hard numbers due to confidentiality or because the talk is just a thinly-veiled vendor pitch. Thankfully, the Philly DAA Symposium 2012 was neither.
Multi-Armed Bandits & Prediction
The highlight of the day were the talks by Peter Fader from the Wharton Customer Anaytics Initiative and Steve Meyer from Comcast. These two presentations highlighted what I consider to be truly advanced uses of data & analytics and represent where the industry as a whole should be moving. I especially appreciated that Dr. Fader didn’t gloss over the fact that there is some serious math behind the multi-armed bandit approach to testing, as evidenced by this tweet:
— David McBride (@tranceglass) October 18, 2012
For the Comcast presentation, Steve Meyer highlighted the difficulties in predicting which movies will do well in Comcast Video-on-Demand (VOD), using a real example of Disney’s John Carter vs. Battleship. Both movies have the same lead actor (Taylor Kitsch) and are both action/adventure movies, yet Battleship was one of the highest performing VOD titles this year and John Carter was a flop in VOD (just like in the theatres). Steve then went on to highlight the fact that if you were to solely use a machine learning type of algorithm to classify the movies, it likely would have high mis-classification rate; yet, if the analysts interject their gut feelings into the process, you might improve your prediction, but you might also add personal bias into the decision. The juxtaposition of the two methods (machine learning vs. gut feel) and the potential benefits & flaws was a great insight to share with the conference.
Statistics and Digital Analytics – Approaches to Site Analytics
Another presentation I really enjoyed was the talk from Gary Angel around why statistics isn’t more prevalent in digital analytics and some potential pitfalls if you do try and use more advanced techniques. Gary started off with some humorous examples of useless “insights” such as “Visitors who view 5+ pages convert higher” (when the checkout process is 4 pages long) as evidence of why statisticians are sometimes viewed with contempt in the digital space.
Gary then went on to discuss how to get beyond the above silliness by taking into account how site structure influences analytics trends. By mapping the site hierarchy into levels and calculating the distance between each page and the conversion that takes place, you can then apply some of the more advanced statistical techniques to your digital data.
— Matthew Wakeman (@m_wakeman) October 18, 2012
Developing Digital Analytics Talent
No gathering of digital analytics professionals would be complete without a discussion of the shortage of talented individuals. The panel discussion highlighted the types of skills and people who might not have the skills today, but are certainly worth looking at when trying to build a team. From SEO professionals to people who know SQL or SAS, by expanding your search to people who have analytical minds you increase your ability to hire someone now vs. waiting 6-12 months for the ideal candidate.
Selfishly (as a vendor), I wish there were fewer vendors at the conference, but at the same time…everyone I know in digital analytics seems to work for a consulting firm, agency or a product company! So one of the great side benefits to this conference was running into a bunch of my old co-workers in the area and catching up with what everyone is doing. In many ways, I prefer an event like the Symposium to a Web Analytics Wednesday event, since the discussions tend to be more professional than casual bar talk.
A Big Thanks to all of the Organizers
As I stated in the beginning of the post, it’s very rare that I walk away from a conference or a webinar feeling like the agenda lived up to my expectations. But in the case of the Philly DAA Symposium, the organizers were able to raise the bar on the level of content and insights shared and you’ve done a great service to the digital analytics industry. So Heather Aeder, Daniel Laws, Chris Meares, all of the presenters and everyone else involved, fantastic job! You’ve set the standard which I hope my next conference will live up to…
…all for $10 as a Corporate DAA member. Unreal.