1 September 2012

This blog primarily deals with matters relating to business, technology and change; obviously with a major focus on how information provision overlaps with each of these. However there is the occasional divertimento relating to mathematics, physical science, or that most recent of -ologies, social media.

The following article could claim some connections with both mathematics and social media, but in truth relates to neither. Its focus is instead on irritation, specifically a Facebook meme that displays the death-defying resilience of a horror movie baddie. My particular bête noire relates to the following diagram, which appears on my feed more frequently that adverts for “Facebook singles”:

It is generally accompanied by some inane text, the following being just one example:

I got into a heated battle with a friend over this… I got 24 she say’s 25. How many squares do you see?

Nice grocer’s apostrophe BTW!

I realise that the objective is probably to encourage people to point out the error in the ways of the original poster; thereby racking up comments. However 24?, 25??, really???, really, really????

Let’s break it down…

Well there is clearly one big square (a 4×4 one) staring us in the face as shown above. Let’s move on to a marginally less obvious class of squares and work these through in long-hand. The squares in this class are all 3×3 and there are 4 of them as follows:

1…

2…

3…

4…

Adding the initial 4×4 square, our running total is now 5.

The next class is smaller again, 2×2 squares. The same approach as above works, not all the class members are shown, but readers can hopefully fill in the blanks themselves.

1…

2…

Skip a few…

9…

Adding our previous figure of 5 means our running total is now 14; we are approaching 24 and 25 fast, which one is it going to be?

The next class is the most obvious, the sets of larger 1×1 squares.

It doesn’t require a genius to note that there are 16 of these. Oh dear, the mid-twenties estimates are not looking so good now.

Also we shouldn’t forget the two further squares of the same size (each of which is split into smaller ones), one of which is shown in the diagram above.

Our previous total was 14 and now 14 + 16 + 2 = 32.

Finally there is the second set of 1×1 squares, the smaller ones.

It’s trivial to see that there are 8 of these.

Adding this to the last figure of 32 we get a grand total of 40, slightly above both 24 and 25.

Perhaps the only thing of any note that this rather simple exercise teaches us is the relation to sums of squares, inasmuch as part of the final figure is given by: 1 + 4 + 9 + 16, or 12 + 22 + 32 + 42 = 30. Even this is rather spoiled by introducing the intersecting (and interloping) two squares that are covered last in the above analysis.

Oh well, at least now I never have to comment on this annoying “puzzle” again, which is something.

## A William Tell moment?

3 July 2012

Disclosure #1: As is inevitable for any IT professional, the author has used Microsoft’s enterprise products at many points during his career. As is inevitable for any sentient inhabitant of planet Earth, he has used their more broadly targeted software on a daily basis for longer than he can remember (many of the images on this site were created via the combination of Visio supplemented by the non-MS – and horribly old school – PaintShop Pro). He has no direct holdings in Microsoft, but undoubtedly must have some interest in the company indirectly via pension or investment funds; something that would probably also hold for all of Microsoft’s main competitors.

Disclosure #2: Beyond this, the author has been featured in a Microsoft Business Intelligence video; but this did not relate to the endorsement of any Microsoft product.

Disclosure #3: The author can proudly state that he has never owned any Apple product, but does periodically use a corporate iPad and has occasional access to an iPhone owned by someone else (doesn’t everyone?). Rumours that he has three stars at all levels of Angry Birds Space have not been independently verified.

Disclosure #4: The author has neither seen directly, nor further still touched a Surface – though if Microsoft wanted to remedy this situation, he would at the very least guarantee them a thorough (and professionally neutral) review.

It’s somewhat odd to report that I am rather excited by an announcement Redmond’s finest (with apologies to Nintendo America). Like many people I have had a love / hate relationship with the Washington behemoth for more years than I care to remember; having lived through the hype and subsequent let down of every MS O/S since 95. Come to think of it, as my girlfriend suggests, that would be a great slogan: “Microsoft – disappointing expectant millions since 1995!”

Maybe my general take on the firm’s recent output was best summed up by another noted industry commentator:

“My new computer came with Windows 7. Windows 7 is much more user-friendly than Windows Vista. I don’t like that.”

However, having had to put up with umpteen technology industry commentators sycophantically parroting Cupertino’s “the PC is dead, long live the tablet” mantra over the last few years, it is gratifying to think that there may (and I stress may) soon be a tablet available that is also a proper computer; i.e. one that you can actually do useful things on, rather than fashion accessory cum entertainment centre with a bad browser and support for only for the type of games that you can play equally well on your Facebook page. Please don’t get me wrong, as I mention above, I’m as much a fan of Angry Birds as the next guy, but as a lapsed gamer myself I can hopefully tell the difference between a gaming platform and an amusing diversion.

The ubiquitous iPad has been touted as bringing computing to the non-technically literate masses. Instead it has brought a grossly watered down ability to conspicuously consume at the expense of any support for creative activities. In my opinion, the oft repeated phrase that “there’s an app for that” tends only to work when “that” is a pretty narrow range of activities. I’m on my iPad; I want to update my Facebook status – tick; I want to upload an un-edited photo I just took – tick (on some models at least); I want to tweet something (maybe even including a URL I have copied from elsewhere) – tick (fiddly as this might be); I want to write a lightly formatted blog post without too many typos and which includes a couple of images I have either lightly-edited, or created from scratch – um…

That’s where most types of tablet seem to hit their limit, Android as well as iOS (and undoubtedly Amazon’s offering as well); casual surfing (be it browser or other app based), checking mail, watching a movie, working out what street I am on, simple social medial interactions. These things are all OK and all are light on content creation. Anything else (even a lengthy e-mail – something I specialise in) quickly becomes a chore. Pointedly, all of the things that I have mentioned working well on tablets, also work at least to close to as well on a decent sized smart ‘phone, which also has the benefit of actually being portable and also (at least in most cases) of being a ‘phone.

So, given my zeitgeist-busting lack of whelmedness with tablets, where does that leave Ballmer’s latest offering. Well, let’s discount the ARM-based, “me too” version (with apologies to my fellow inhabitants of Cambridge; East Anglia, not Massachusetts) and focus on the Ivy Bridge-powered Surface Pro. This is (as far as can be discerned from the [limited] information that Redmond have thusfar divulged) where the real attention will inevitably focus. As the BBC’s (oft lampooned) technology correspondent states:

“At one small business this week – my excellent local optician – I learned that the owner plans to replace all his PCs with Surface tablets when they come out. Why not go straight to iPads, I wondered – only to learn that just about every ophthalmic application was Windows-based.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-18626087

I.e. there are an awful lot of proper, grown-up applications out there which only work on the dreadfully uncool WinTel platform. Indeed, outside of the creative industries (like other parts of industry can’t be creative?) and parts of science that rely upon tuned-up versions of graphical software that emanates essentially from the former (or which were provided “free” back in the day by those awfully nice Apple chaps), most business-focussed software (that is not already web-based) is WinTel based.

The idea of a proper computer that can (as far as we can tell at present) support all of the above, plus coming in a conveniently portable tablet-like package; but – crucially – with adult input devices like (shock-horror) a keyboard and track-pad and (even more shock and even more horror) a DisplayPort port for those tasks (like many of mine) where at 10” monitor is way too small and (Nightmare on Elm Street levels of horror) a USB 3.0 port; sounds awfully like the tablet concept coming of age (or, for those with an historical bent, fulfilling the vision that Bill Gates originally outlined for the device, long before the late Steve Jobs imbued it with his irreplaceable and inimitable coolness).

Many much wiser commentators than me have stated that the Surface will live or die based on the quality and extent of the app ecosystem it develops around it. For me the Pro has all the apps you could ever need, the Windows ones that people use to actually do things.

Of course the devil is in those (perhaps worryingly as yet undisclosed) details. What will the precise specs of the Surface Pro processor and RAM be? What is the screen resolution? How long will the battery last? How good a keyboard substitute will the Type Cover be in practice? Why on Earth does the RT come with Office and the machine set up to run it properly apparently doesn’t? Will Metro be pleasurable to use in those (infrequent) moments when all you actually want is an entertainment platform? These will all become clear in time no doubt, and there is obviously more than enough scope for Microsoft to disappoint me again. However, at present I am holding on to the glimmer of hope that this time they have got it right. If they have, the Surface could be very good indeed. As Don Maclean never sang:

 So bye bye to my Pad with an ‘i’ Get a Surface in to yer place Won’t you give it a try Those Angry Birds may may just have to fly Singing this could be the tablet I’d buy

1 May 2012

I quite like WordPress.com’s latest data visualisation tool, which allows you to see the spread of people reading your blog. The data only goes back to February 25th 2012 and presumably a number of hits can have no country attributed to them, but it’s still a nice addition and interesting for me to see the number of different places that readers come from.

Perhaps we’ll gloss over the Mercator Projection and also how annoying and fiddly the WordPress app for iOS is; then things are always harder on iPad – right?

## What should companies consider before investing in a Business Intelligence solution?

27 August 2011

The following is a lightly edited transcript of a reply I posted to a question asked on the LinkedIn.com Business Intelligence Group. This was entitled What should companies consider before investing in a BI solution?.

I suggest some of the following:

2. Within these, what questions do people want to ask and what action will the answers lead to?
3. Why can’t these people get the answers today, or – if they can – what is wrong with them (incomplete, inaccurate, not detailed enough etc.)?
4. What is the business impact of the lack of these answers (poor decision-making, missed opportunities, inefficient processes, poor monitoring, lack of tools to manage people’s performance)?
5. If these questions were to be answered, broadly speaking, which different data sources would need to be brought together (assess different country / divisional systems and different types of systems – sales, Finance, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, complaints, external data, others)?
6. How aligned are the various different elements within these (e.g. customer records, products, territories etc.)?
7. To what level is the data required to answer the questions identified above captured (are there gaps and does new data need to be entered)?
8. How accurate is this data (does it actually reflect business events)?
9. What is the overall quantity of both historical and current data that needs to be looked at and how much of this regularly changes?
10. How frequently will users need to ask questions and how up-to-date does the answer need to be?

## Tiny Trilogy

17 August 2011

The last in a series of mini-posts, normal (aka more prolix) service will be resumed soon.

Although tinyurl.com was a pioneer in URL shortening, it seems to have been overtaken by a host of competing services. For example I tend to use bit.ly most of the time. However I still rather like the tinyurl.com option to create your own bespoke shortened URLs.

This feature rather came into its own recently when I was looking for a concise way to share my recent trilogy focusing on the use of historical data to justify BI/DW investments in Insurance. There is something satisfying in thinking that the following will persist as long as tinyurl.com does:

It is nice to make a [semi-] permanent mark from time to time!

## You have to love Google

17 August 2011

…well if you used to be a Number Theorist that is.

It’s almost enough to make me forgive them for Gmail’s consider including “feature”. Almost!

## Wager

20 July 2011

Introduction

I have used this column to write about my favourite sport, cricket, on a number of occasions[1]. In general my articles that have referenced cricket have also been related to some other business-focussed issue.

For example in Accuracy I compared a lack of precision in cricket journalism with analogous concepts in both Twitter and Business Intelligence. In The Big Picture I contrasted cricket all-rounders (people who both bat and bowl) with the general tendency to pigeon-hole people as one thing or another (in particular details people or vision people – some people can do both).

There have been a number of other cricket-related postings, but each has been used to shed light on what might seem an unrelated area. This piece may well prove to be purely a cricketing one, but I suppose that the reader will have to get to the end of the article and make up their own mind.

Some background

As in earlier posts involving cricket, this margin is too narrow to contain a comprehensive overview of this most complex of sports. If you don’t know about it already, then try The Font as a place to start, or find a friendly ex-pat Brit or Indian to help you (or someone with any of the nationalities appearing below).

There are nine nations that play in the top tranche of Test Match Cricket (international matches that are played over five days – for US readers think about a team visiting a city for a series of games in baseball). In total these account for 25% of the world population; a list appears below.

 Rank Team Matches Points Rating Population (m) 1 India 32 4,001 125 1,210.1 2 South Africa 21 2,469 118 50.0 3 England [2] 32 3,759 117 62.2 4 Sri Lanka 23 2,486 108 20.2 5 Australia 27 2,692 100 22.7 6 Pakistan 23 2,132 93 170.6 7 West Indies 23 2,039 89 36.3 8 New Zealand 19 1,485 78 4.4 9 Bangladesh 11 144 13 142.3 Total 1,718.8

There are an additional 36 affiliate nations – including some surprising names such as Japan and the USA – and 60 associate nations – including Afghanistan[3] and China – so, while the top flight is mostly confined to countries previously in the British Empire, cricket is a pretty global sport.

Speaking of being global, cricket is close to religion in one of the world’s most populous countries, India. The above list is of the Test-playing nations by their current ranking (a score derived by a rather labyrinthine algorithm, with which I will not bore readers) and India is currently number one. This is after what seemed like an eternity of domination by an Australian team that contained some of the sport’s greatest ever players; but which is now laid low by the twin curses of retirements and less able replacements.

India has been a perennial underachiever in Test cricket, its performances not consistent with the vast pool of human capital available to it. However, in recent years, this performance had come more into line with both demographics and the expectations of a billion Indian cricket fans. The current team’s achievements in both the ODI and Test arenas have been built on the foundation provided by a crop of truly great players, in particular that of Sachin Tendulkar, who is viewed as a demi-god by his compatriots.

 Sachin Tendulkar Rahul Dravid VVS Laxman

Sachin would be in any cricket fan’s fantasy team and is arguably the greatest batsman the game has ever seen; unarguably he is in the top two[4]. The current Indian tour of England may be the last chance that people in the country have to see this legend of the game play “in the flesh”. The glowing star that is Tendulkar is however surrounded by a constellation whose members are not much less bright. It is possible that India will face the same challenges so recently experienced by Australia when Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman (all now in their late thirties and cricketing twilights) retire over the next few years, or even months.

Ranged against these batting titans is what is becoming a rather formidable England batting line-up. This features the current number 4 and 5 ranked[5] batsmen (Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott sporting averages since the start of the 2010/11 season of 115.6 and 79.1 respectively). Sachin is currently above both at number 2, but India’s only other top ten batsman is the inured Virender Sehwag. England’s captain Andrew Strauss also comes into the match on the back of scoring 187 for once out against the tourists in their warm-up game.

But perhaps of more relevance is the fact that England also have the number 2 and 3 ranked bowlers in the world in the shape of Graeme Swann and James Anderson respectively.

England, have had a chequered history in Tests in the last few decades, but are currently on a positive trajectory. In particular they just beat the declining Australians in home and away series; something that is very dear to the hearts of all England supporters. This means that quite a lot hangs on the result of the England vs India series that kicks off on 21st July. Given that the number two team, South Africa, does not play Test cricket again until November 2011, the England / India games could have a profound impact on the ranking of Test teams; something that is illustrated in the table below[6]:

The fact the tomorrow’s first England vs India Test Match is also both the 2,000th ever Test and also the 100th between England and India adds piquancy; as does the fact that Tendulkar currently has 99 International centuries (scores of 100 or more) spread between Tests and ODIs and is poised to become the first person ever to have a century of International centuries.

The Wager

Given the high-profile of the series that starts tomorrow, it is not surprising that it has been the subject of conversation between supporters of both teams. As well as discussing cricket with Indian friends (or friends of Indian heritage) in the UK, the debates also have a more international flavour. For me in particular, there has been some [mostly] friendly banter between myself and Ajay Ohri (@0_h_r_1) of decisionstats.com.

Ajay and I have never met – we are entirely virtual friends. I have had virtual friends before (see the preamble to New Adventures in Wi-Fi – Track 1: Blogging), some of who have become real-life friends as well. The non-cricket element of this article (tenuous as it may be) is that the friction associated with forging such friendships with like-minded people is now lower than ever before. Ajay may correct me, but I recall that we first came across each other via Twitter, but now are connected on LinkedIn and Facebook as well. In part due to the explosion in Social Media and the related formation of global communities coalesced around certain specialist subjects (information in all its various guises for Ajay and me), it is now not only feasible for people to have friends across many continents, it is becoming quotidian.

Anyway the result of our discussions was a small bet between the two of us. If England win the series, then Ajay has to write and publish an article extolling the virtues of the superior team. If the unthinkable occurs through some freak of nature and the outcome is reversed, I will have to post a similarly congratulatory piece, devoted to the victorious Indian team here. Social media truly reflecting life!

Let the games begin!

Explanatory notes

 [1] Regular readers may wonder what happened to rock climbing, the activity in which I am currently most engaged; well I’m not sure that rock climbing really a sport, more a way of life. [2] Actually England and Wales, though effectively the UK, Ireland and (or so it seems of late) South Africa as well. [3] Afghanistan is currently the highest-ranked associate nation. [4] Supporters of Don Bradman might argue that his record stands alone: 52 matches, 6,996 runs at an average of 99.94; compared to Tendulkar’s 177 matches, 14,692 runs at an average of 56.95 (as at the date of this article) [5] A full list of world cricket rankings may be viewed at: www.relianceiccrankings.com. [6] To the bafflement of many, although Test Matches are played over five days, they may still result in a draw.

## LinkedIn does what it says on the can

12 July 2011

An analysis of peterjamesthomas.com traffic based on linking site

I suppose, given that this is a essentially professional blog, I should not be surprised that LinkedIn dominates traffic for me, dwarfing even the mighty Google and Twitter (incidentally Facebook was in 13th place, below Microsoft – a verdict of “could do better”, but then Facebook is only semi-pro for me).

It is also worth noting that traffic from all WordPress blogs (not included in the 4% WordPress figure above) amounted to 3% of traffic. Adding in all other non-corporate blogs got this to 5% and notional 4th place).

It is also notable that StumbleUpon outdid all other social bookmarking sites, with Reddit next in a lowly 23rd place.

Some selected top threes…

Please note that the only criteria here is quantum of traffic.

The Social Media “Big Three”

Vendors

1. Microsoft
2. SAS
3. IBM

Blogs

Social Bookmarking

1. StumbleUpon
2. Reddit
3. Delicious

2. Netvibes

Technology News / Communities

Media

I should point out that the figures presented above are all-time, rather than say the last six months. It would be interesting to do some trending, but this is a bit more clunky to achieve than one might expect.

## Four [Social Media] Failures and a Success

9 July 2011

Introduction

The internet is full of articles claiming to transform the reader into the Social Media equivalent of Charles Atlas. I have written some of them myself (though hopefully while highlighting that that things are seldom as simple as ticking a set of boxes). Bearing in mind the old adage that you learn more from your mistakes than your successes, here are some thoughts on Social Media failures; the first three are mine and the fourth a failure that seems very widespread. Lest this article becomes too depressing, I will close with a more positive piece of Social Media news.

Failure 1 – Thinking that you can dip in and out of Social Media

I recently came across Ken Mueller’s blog via a LinkedIn Group (see the segment of New Adventures in WiFi that relates to LinkedIn for some thoughts on groups). In one of his articles he lays out what he sees as the factors that have led to him tripling his blog traffic. Foremost amongst these is consistency:

I’ve been doing this every day for about 2 years now. Some of the growth that I’m seeing is due to just plugging away and forcing myself to blog every day, hopefully creating good, relevant content that people want to read. If I take a day off, I notice a drop in traffic. In fact, I always see a drop in my November traffic because I go away for Thanksgiving to an area with no Internet access.

A quick look at the above chart, which shows the number of articles I have published each month since founding this blog back in November 2008, will reveal that consistency hasn’t been my middle name.

For a variety of reasons, I have had periods where I have sustained a high output of articles (without, it is to be hoped, quantity compromising quality) and periods where my writing has slowed to a barely perceptible trickle. To take an ultra-prosaic example, I started writing this piece while commuting by train and my recent output is highly correlated with my method of transportation.

Coming out of some of the troughs in writing, I have sometimes felt that I could simply pick up where I left off. This is probably the case with some niche readers who may visit this site; this is precisely because at least some of my content is directly pertinent to them from time to time. However, after a while, even they may have looked elsewhere for their regular fix of the topics I cover here. Beyond this, there is equally likely to be a second cohort of casual readers who will quickly move on to pastures new if the grass here does not re-grow apace [note to self, I am meant to be restraining myself from overly liberal use of analogies, must try harder!].

Even if an author has written several articles that have proved popular with a number of people; after anything more than a few weeks’ lay-off, it can almost be like starting again from scratch. To employ a too widely-used phrase, you are only as good as your last month’s (or maybe week’s, or maybe day’s) output.

Disregarding for the moment my own parenthetic advice from the end of the paragraph before last, this feels rather familiar. It seems to be very like what it feels like trying to get fit again after an injury or time away from a sport. It doesn’t really matter if you had attained a certain level of fitness a year ago; what is relevant today is your current level of fitness and the gap between the two. Sometimes recalling just how long it took them to achieve a previous standard can be quite de-motivating to an athlete returning from a break. Once fit, it is a lot easier to stay fit than is is to regain lost fitness. The same applies to audiences and this is why – as Kevin suggests in his article – at least periodic blogging (assuming that it is of a standard) is essential.

My learning here is both to make time to write and also to re-engage with my readers.

[Perhaps ironically this article itself has been in gestation for a few weeks]

Failure 2 – Assuming that what has worked before will work again

I have a specific example in mind here and it relates to a blog post that precedes this one. In turn this goes back to a survey of senior IT people that I carried out predominantly via LinkedIn back in January 2009. This related to their view on the top priorities that they faced in their jobs. Recently I thought that it would be interesting to update this and – no doubt naturally – I also though that I would adopt the same modus operandi; i.e. LinkedIn. I even targeted the same Group – that of CIO Magazine.

Sad to say, while I had dozens of responses last time round, there was been little or no response at all when I attempted to refresh the findings. I have been thinking about why this might be. Of course my musings are pure speculation, but a few ideas come to mind:

1. The output of the last survey was not of much interest / didn’t tell people anything that they didn’t already know and so it was not worth the effort of replying again.
2. The people frequenting the CIO Magazine LinkedIn Group back in 2009 were a very different set of people to now. Back then we were in the aftermath of the global banking crisis and perhaps a number of good people had more time on their hands than would normally be the case. Today, while the good times are not exactly rolling, I hope that a large tranche of these people are once more gainfully employed.
3. It could be (as I have mentioned before) that the wild proliferation of LinkedIn groups means that people’s time and energy is spread over a wider set of these, with less time to devote to specific questions. I have no access to LinkedIn statistics, but would like to bet that while overall Group-based activity has no doubt increased, activity per group may well have decreased.
4. Variants of the same question may have been asked so often that people have grown tired of answering it.
5. This could be one of the early signs of general Social Media fatigue.

By way of contrast – and perhaps tapping into my thoughts about variants of the same question having been asked many times before – the same Group has a thread asking members to state in one word what their key challenge is. Although many of the replies are somewhat trite and there is a limit to how much information a single word can convey, it is instructive to think that an innovative approach (and one that requires little time typing a response) has been successful where my attempt to repeat a previous exercise has failed.

My learning here is to think of new ways to approach old material, rather than simply believing that your can repeat past successes.

[UPDATE: I posted on the original CIO Magazine Group threads to change its status to publicly available and started to receive new thoughts on this. Another thought - perhaps people are just more comfortable contributing to discussions that others have already engaged in, rather than being the first to comment?]

Failure 3 – Ascribing [as yet] unwarranted maturity to Social Media

I religiously refrain from blogging about current work projects, however the following was 100% in the public domain of its very nature.

I have recently been doing some recruitment and – given both the increasing use of LinkedIn by recruitment firms in their work and that I have a pretty extensive network – thought that it would be worth trying to leverage Social Media to reach out to potential candidates. I did this via a status update, rather than taking the perhaps more obvious path of using the various job sections. My logic here was that I would potentially reach a wider audience in one go than via several postings within pertinent groups. I was also pursuing my recruitment through more traditional channels, so this idea could simply be viewed as a Social Media experiment.

As with any honest scientist, it is important that I state my negative results as well as positive. In this case, though I was contacted by many recruitment agencies, I didn’t get any feedback from actual candidates themselves at all. It could be argued that the failure was in the way I approached the experiment, or the narrowness of the channel that I selected. While both of these are true observations, the whole point of Social Media in business (if there is one) is to make either organisation-to-person, or person-to-person contact ridiculously easy and immediate. Regardless of my level of ineptitude, it wasn’t easy to achieve what I wanted to achieve and I abandoned my experiment after a week or so.

My learning here is to not to refrain from business / Social Media experimentation, but not to expect too much from what is after all an emerging area.

Failure 4 – Vendor employees not “getting” Social Media

I have often used this column to talk about my opinion that your choice of Business Intelligence tool is one of the least important factors in a BI/DW project. In the article I link to in the previous sentence, I quote from an interview I gave in which I compare the market for BI tools with that for cars. There is no definitive answer to the question “what is the best car?” and in the same way there is no “best BI tool”. Going further than this, there are many other areas of a BI/DW project which, if done well, will come close to guaranteeing your success regardless of which BI tool you select; but, if done badly, will come close to guaranteeing your failure with any BI tool.

I highly recommend Object Explorer Studio+ for all your BI needs

- Joe Blogs

Particularly where one click reveals that Joe Blogs is either employed by the owners of OES+ or a consultant whose company seems to exclusively do OES+ implementations. I hate to single out one vendor, but a particularly egregious reply to one of these “Which BI Tool?” threads that I saw recently consisted of one word:

Microsoft

- Jimmy Blogs

As I say, on the very same thread there were examples of employees of many other big and small BI vendors doing just the same, but most of them at least provided more than one word. In the cause of balance, the same thread also contained some thoughts along the lines of:

I can heartily recommend Oracle BI, OBIEE+ is great because [sales pitch deleted]. If you would like to know more drop me a line at jeff.blogs@oracle.com

- Jeff Blogs

I still wonder whether Jeff got any e-mails. At least he flagged his connection with Oracle, I don’t recall many other vendor employees being honest enough to do the same.

Lest I be accused of bias there were also not too dissimilar postings from people strongly associated with SAP, IBM, QlikTech, Pentaho and a sprinkling of BI start-ups. I should perhaps also note that SAS was not a culprit (at least to date), but then maybe this was because the question was about BI, something they abjure. Microstrategy was also honourably notable for its lack of replies containing naive self-promotion, but perhaps this was simply an oversight.

The above rather bizarre behaviour leads to two questions:

1. Why do the people making these types of posting think that they will be taken seriously?
2. Why do the vendors themselves not offer better guidance to their employees about avoiding crass and counter-productive social media advertising of a sort that is more likely to tarnish reputations than enhance sales?

Maybe here again we have an issue of social media maturity. Many people are perhaps struggling as much to get their message across effectively as they did with say the advent of television advertising.

My learning here is that I should curb my rather obsessive compulsion to “out” vendors promoting their own products under the guise of neutral advice-giving.

[not sure that I am going to take much notice of this one however]

Success – The Accidental Search Engine Optimiser

After covering three of my own failures and one of the BI vendor community (though I am sure the phenomenon is not restricted to BI or even technology vendors), I will close with one of my successes, albeit an unintentional one. I noticed a strange result the other day when looking at the following (I was actually looking for something else believe it or not):

I believe that my elevated ranking is probably correlated to recent changes in Google’s algorithms that take greater account of social media. Certainly I don’t recall placing on the first page for any Google search before, let alone rank #1. I suppose that I might have a degree of technical satisfaction if this was as the result of months of assiduous search engine optimisation. However the truth is that the result appears to be the unintended by-product of doing lots of things that I wanted to do anyway, like writing about topics I am interested in and trying to engage with a wide group of people in a number of different ways. In a sense the fact that this achievement was accidental (or at least collateral) makes it more pleasing. Maybe the secret to Social Media success is simply to not worry about it and just get on with expressing yourself.

My learning here is that providing content that is of interest to your target audience and being clear about who you are and what you do is going to be an approach that trumps any more mechanistic approach to SEO.

Closing thoughts

I believe that I have leant something from my three failures above (and that vendors should learn something from the fourth), but the single success encourages me to persevere. My aim in sharing these experiences is to hopefully also similarly encourage other Social Media ingénues like myself. I hope that I have at least partially achieved this.

## Consider including…

5 July 2011

Let me get something out of the way straight up. I am a fan of Google. Are their services and products flawless? Probably not. Did they live up to their stated objective of “do no evil”? Well I guess the Chinese difficulties didn’t exactly paint them in the best light, nevertheless I can think of less savoury technology companies. On the plus side, I have used Google’s services and, in particular, their cloud-based e-mail – Gmail – for years and been very happy with them. If I explain that my smart phone is a Nexus One, you will probably get the general idea.

Image edited and truncated to fit page - click for full version

However, Google have introduced a “feature” into Gmail which leads me to question what on earth they were thinking. This is the “Consider including” function. When you type an e-mail, Gmail comes up with a list of people that you may like to also copy it to. Let’s pause and just think about this. You are writing an e-mail, generally the first thing that you do is to type in the address of the person (or people) you are writing to. Gmail has a useful feature that scans your previous mails, so typing “Pe” will bring up “Peter Thomas” as an option. So far so good. But then, based solely on this first e-mail entered (not even on the subject), the bar highlighted in pale yellow appears above with a list of people that you may consider including on the mail.

Google’s algorithms may be great at figuring out which context-based ads to display alongside the advertising-supported Gmail (though I must admit to never having clicked on any of these and to generally mentally filtering them out), but how does an algorithm know better than me who I want to send an e-mail to? I suppose we could give the geniuses at Google the benefit of the doubt, maybe they do know.

Sadly empirical evidence is that the software doesn’t have a clue. In the example above, the contacts “J”, “L” and “R” (the names have been anonymised to protect those irrelevant to the context) have nothing whatsoever to do with the e-mail recipient (again anonymised) that I started writing. Aside from perhaps once being cc’ed in an e-mail sent to the person whose address I typed in, they have no relation to either the intended recipient, or indeed to each other. As to content, at this point there isn’t any, so it is anyone’s guess how Google generates the list; an even more worrying question is why do they?

Not only does the feature fail to work, it is also totally asinine. It might make some sense for say Facebook to suggest people with whom you might want to share a link. However, there are people who you might e-mail twice a year for very specific purposes, that still get suggested in a “Consider including”. Google plainly doesn’t know better than me to whom I actually want to send an e-mail. A worry is that a stray click and a lack of attention could send an e-mail to someone who is not intended to see it. Given the fact that many small businesses and sole-trader consultants rely on Gmail, then – in extremis – this could lead to commercially sensitive (or indeed personally private) information being sent to the wrong person. The feature is clearly ill-advised and – worst of all – you cannot (at present) turn it off.

In searching (via Google) for tips on how to get rid of this truly abysmal piece of functionality I came across two things: screeds of people just like me asking what Google was thinking and the an article entitled: Gmail’s Most Ridiculous, Idiotic, Intrusive, Useless Feature Ever by Zoli Erdos, which covers the problems and potential implications of “Consider including” in more depth. Here is a pithy quote:

I’ve never thought the day would come I would write the words utterly ridiculous, iditiotic, intrusive, with absolute certainly about a Google feature

This “feature” is bad enough to have merited me writing to Google asking them to remove it, or at least make it optional. Their support forums are full of people saying the same. It will be interesting to see whether or not they listen.

[Disclosure: I have more than one Gmail account and also use Google apps from time to time, as stated above, I also use Feedburner and have a Google smart phone. Other than this I have no commercial relationship with Google and have never bought or recommended their services in a business context]