Predictions for the next 10 years

2020 predictions vision of the home video media center family roomBack in 1999 I went to a conference at the Field Museum in Chicago called The Next 20 Years (sponsored by ZDNet, I still have the button that says Believe in Technology).

Now that we’re rolling over the odometer to 2010 I can honestly say that none of the predictions about string theory have come true.

It was an interesting idea though, to think about what is possible now and in the future and speculate in ways that may inspire people to do more, make things better and improve life.

I have been thinking a lot about this decade ending in the last few weeks and aside from an obvious comment about how blindingly fast it went by, I’m skipping the recap and these are some thoughts for the next ten to twenty years.

Disclaimer: These are just my ideas as one person, who analyzes things for a living, and I don’t have a lot of data to prove any of it. Take it with a grain of salt or as entertainment only.

1. Photo Recognition will be big. And I am not talking about face recognition software. But with smartphones we mostly have decent cameras at our disposal that are connected to the internet 24/7. I have been thinking I’d like to be able to redeem the coke-points my husband collects by snapping a picture of the cap rather than entering the number on a form online (boring and slow). This is the exact stuff that QR code readers are used for that work for UPS tracking and a whole bunch of other applications. Expect them to be used as the new coupons, contests, offline-online gaming and a whole bunch of other stuff. Then maybe by the time all that is common place facial recognition of images will be working online.

2. You will probably work in an industry that does not exist yet. Continuing education is a must. I say this because my life is an example. I work in Online Marketing and data tracking for ad agencies and this didn’t exist as a job or a technology available to most companies in 1999. I have to make sure I spend time learning on the job and off the job each year because things change a lot. This does not make having a family easy and we have no idea if we will do that as a result, but it means that you have to be curious about new stuff and be willing to investigate it and you may end up the local expert when you’re the only one with that knowledge. And learn a lot of math.

3. Taxes will go up. All this BS about lowering taxes to stimulate business and rich people spending will go away since we can’t fund the programs required, can’t borrow any more as a government and we would still have the lowest taxes for those rich people to pay when compared to other developed economies. Interest rates and inflation may follow, and of course oil prices crunching a lot of people out of the middle class. Someone will finally do the math proving that investment in hiring new people at a company and creating jobs is inversely related to lowering taxes on the rich and everyone else.

4. There will be a whole new batch of media mavens that we listen to and we will like them because they are curators not experts. No one person will be able to create enough content or be syndicated to as many channels, mediums and messages as would be possible in this fragmented media world. The people you will look to for advice are blogging now, looking at thousands of sources of information, knowing how to process it, evaluate what is good-bad-meaningless and just filter down to the good stuff. We need people like this because the big media push to produce new stuff 24/7/365 is too much for one person to go through and we all still have jobs/families/houses to attend to. And not everyone wants to spend every day plugged into a screen reading constantly. We just want those wow, aha moments. Eventually maybe this 1000 cable channels, commercials every 10 minutes, 100 blog posts a day, constant content model will streamline due to lack of popularity of most of it (no ROI) but as there is more digital space available someone will put something on it, with no guarantee of quality because people seem to randomly stumble upon things still and listen/watch/interact with amusement/laziness/procrastination of their day job. 

5. Expect more digital sensors everywhere. And this could mean in our clothing, in our fridges, on the roads, in our homes. There is a lot of bandwidth for transmitting data and ways are improving for processing data and analyzing it (without human intervention, or programming needed). I foresee more real-time data on traffic and alternate routes in my car guided by my voice requests (like Knight Rider’s Kit?). I foresee clothing measuring weight and texting me that I shouldn’t eat any more calories today. I foresee my fridge telling me the milk has gone bad again and there is a cracked egg leaking all over it. We may spend all day responding to automated messages. These may be an upgrade fee kind of thing but I think at some point the regular cost will include it because the data will be so valuable and targetable for marketers. The recent privacy discussions prove that people are becoming more aware of ad tracking as well as digital capabilities and the younger generations don’t want to go back to a time without it. But we do need better security options for this to work or an opt in policy for managing what companies know and how we want to get/share/target this info.

6. We’re going to get a whole lot more competition from China, South America and Africa for jobs. Companies are going there for operations now and not just to supply their own regions with goods and services. All the Bill & Melinda Gates (plus Oprah, Warren Buffet & That Facebook guy too) funding health/education programs in Africa will create a continent of healthy people who have jobs that used to be here related to their natural resources and possibly other areas as well. China will continue to be a leader in growth and the US needs to define itself. I always wonder why there is such an emphasis on making sure all the other countries have the help they need to solve their problems by these foundations and not the ones with people starving/not getting educated or employed in the USA. Also Immigration, population growth and birth rates in the US will all drop by 2020. (based on what I saw from the census in 2010)

7. The market will continue to be tumultuous. Up, down, sideways. It isn’t connected to real people or the economy as we know it anymore. We’re not sure how to gauge it or if it will make any positive growth in 10 years. With higher interest rates in 2012-2013 CDs may be the hot investment again.

That is it for now, but I may have more ideas later. One thing is for sure, let’s get out there and party like it’s 1999.

rolling over the odometer 1999 2000 2010 100000 miles

How to create a webtrends custom report

webtrends menu
the webtrends menu in my old company login, new one isn’t as nice.

First off I am going toclarify that I am working in WebTrends self hosted software version 8 and that I have administrator access to do this. Without those factors you won’t neccissarily have the same experience setting up custom reports.

I have already had the developers add tags to the site to track custom events (SDC tags, DCS MultiTrack events) and I don’t work with the actuall tagging on the website so I will not address those concerns here.

I’m starting from the point where the tags are live on the site and I need to set up this custom report so we can start gathering data. If you need retroactive data because the tags were placed on the site months ago and you didn’t create the report, it is only possible if you create the report and re-process all the data from scratch for that time period and this is usually done in a new profile. This takes a long time (sometimes weeks if you have years of data) and the people maintaining the servers and data for your webtrends setup usually hate you if you ask. So, let’s stay out of that area and go build a report that will collect data in a table from this point forward.

One of the most frustrating thing about WebTrends is that nothing is connected and it is a bunch of database tables. Nobody in Marketing thinks that way or interacts with a system like this so it is completley foregin. (‘m getting the feeling that the developers feel the same way too) You have to go into several tables in the database behind the webtrends software and create the structure for the report. It sucks but that is the way it works.

For every custom report you need at least three things. A Measure, A Dimension and A Report. (you may also want a filter but that isn’t required).

1. Testing – Some people (webtrends actually advises this) like to create a copy of the profile to test the reports (or any changes to the profile) before they add or change anything for real. This reduces the probablility that you will have some change corrupt or crash your data. If you depend on this data and have a lot of custom reports and data already set in the profile you’re working with, start with a copy profile first and don’t endanger the main data set. Work in that sandbox until you find the right combination of settings, write them down and then go back to the main profile when you’re sure the report exports the right data in the right format. There is a one day waiting period to collect data to test in most cases unless you’re running on-demand (of which most of my advice may not apply to) or you have updates and processing every few hours. Also only select the most recent month’s data in the copy profile, you don’t need all the data to run a test.

2. A Dimension is what most people would call a metric name. It is the data being collected from those custom tags. Just because the tags are in the WebTrends format and live on the site doesn’t mean that the WebTrends software knows that they are there or what to do with that data. You need to create a dimension to name this data and create a table to collect it in. Go to Dimensions in the admin menu. (some systems show custom report menus under reports & profiles others in Admin, check both) Select new on the upper right corner. Name it. Give it a column name for reports. Use the navigation to go through the process steps to finish creating this measure. You will need the actual tag names for this. In my case it is WT.it. Not terribly descriptive but hopefully functional. Do not select to activate across all profiles because you also need to go into the profiles (the main one and the copy) you are working with and enable this dimension there so it knows which profile it is working with. You don’t want to affect everyone elses profiles with this extra data, just yours. They need a drop down within the dimension setup to allow you to select this all at once but of course that doesn’t exist to confuse us more.

3. A Measure is another function you need to set up manually (in a database table?) and tell WebTrends that along with the Dimension you just created a table for, should you count or sum this data? In a system like DART, this is so simple it is a drop down choice on an export menu, here you have to configure the backend system of the millennium falcon to get it set. Silly but true. Go to Measures on the custom reports menu. Select new on the upper right corner. Name it. Give it a column name for reports. Use the navigation to go through the process steps to finish creating this measure. You will need the actual tag names for this. You must also go into the profiles (the main one and the copy) you are working with and enable this measure there so it is activated. Ditto about not selecting all profiles on the measure setup so that this works. For my purposes I had the WT.ti (page title tag) and 4 parameters that were possible when that tag was used. (ShareThis: Facebook, Twitter, Email & MySpace) and they all got created as additional measures also. This will give us more granularity in the data showing us not only which pages had share this activity but which site it was shared to.

4. The Custom Report finally! – After about 4 hours of setup for the setup you can finally go do what you originally set out to do. Go to the reports link under custom reports.

The menu for setting up the report asks for the info about the dimensions and measures you just set up as well as how you want the data compiled. I always allow for sorting ability but you don’t have to if you want to save space and if you just export it all anyway it may not matter.

The setup for the report makes more sense having seen everything we’ve already talked through. It is also worth noting that if your template for webtrends software doesn’t have a left nav bar location for the custom reports you have to find the template being used now for your back-end-interface then you have to go into that version of template and add custom reports to that list. I found mine under report configuration, report designer in the report and profiles section of the menu. See screen shot at left. Click the top line of the left nav in the template to deselect the chapters already there and add a new report and list it in a new chapter for custom reports.

You also need to enable the report in the profile itself. Each version of WebTrends has a slightly different menu, but in the edit-report menu of the profile there is a reports tab that lists all the custom reports set up in the system and you select the ones you want to enable.

After this your data in the test copy profile should work, then the trick is repeating it all over again in the main profile and remembering all the steps.

Last Day At Job Checklist for Work

Today is my last day at the company I work for. I have a new job starting next Tuesday that took 6 months to find. I’m excited to be moving into a cool new job but there are loose ends to tie up here first. This made me think about the process that we use to exit jobs that aren’t because of a layoff or a company shutting down (these take much longer). These are the things I’ve been doing that I realized weren’t things I had thought about before:

1. Distribute the knowledge – I’ve spent all week training people on what it is that I mysteriously do to create the reports I have been doing over the last 4.5 years. Also training a new person this week on how to do analysis from scratch has been a large chunk of the time spent.

2. Clean out personal stuff – I took home all my personal stuff yesterday and then I have today to look over things again in case I missed anything.

3. Distribute valuables – in a controlled economy like the office, good monitors, good chairs and the nick knacks that amuse us are all in limited supply. Distribute these items to those who have been gracious to you over the years and could genuinely use them.

4. Summary Goodbye email – say something witty and genuine to the office or department and leave your contact info for them if they need it.

5. Tie up all paperwork – COBRA insurance paperwork comes in the mail but they may need a paper copy of  your resignation letter with a signature to officially process things. Check when your health insurance ends, mine goes through the end of the month if I don’t opt for COBRA although I probably will until I’m sure that the new insurance will be set up and active. 401K’s can stay put, this one doesn’t charge to stay in the plan so I’m keeping it where it is at the moment.

6. Take any last pictures if you want to remember it. I have a view of Chicago from the 31st floor so I took a lot of pictures.

7. Go out drinking one last time with the gang. And take pictures.

Did I miss anything?

I’m sad that I’m loosing my view of the beautiful yet grizzly city. I’m sad I’m going to miss some great people. I am also dissapointed that I am loosing my great insurance.

I’m happy I’m moving to a manager role. I’m happy to jump into new projects. I’m happy to delve into consumer marketing after 10 years with recruitment marketing and media. I’m happy to never do data entry again or see another media matrix. I’m happy to learn more about webtrends and do more SEM work again. I’m happy to cut my commute time in half, gain my NPR back in the mornings and never ride a diesel fume filled METRA train again.

As you can see the positives out weigh the negatives. So, I’ll be blogging from a much lower altitude in OPRF as of next week.

Bounce Rates on Google Analytics

google analytics bounce rate pages exits ratesI was just discussing what Bounce Rates were in Google Analytics and thought this could be a potentially confusing term and would be helpful to blog about. I also work with WebTrends .

We have a client that has a site with us that had a high bounce rate and a high exit rate. (50% for some pages) Anything above 20% would be something worth looking into in my opinion, but the differences change depending on the site, product, sales process and design so everyone has their owne level of normal as a benchmark and you try and improve from there.

They wondered if this Bounce Rate was an issue, as many clients would.

The thing is, it may not be an issue to have a high Bounce Rate because if people land on a product description page and then click to buy (or in our case, apply) is this really bad?

Well the qualifier for a Bounce Rate is that they viewed that one page and left. This does not include someone clicking on a link on the page to buy/apply. That would be an exit. They would not have viewed any other page on the site or interacted (clicked) anything else either. This bounce would be from hitting the back button or clicking the x button on the browser.

Exits from the site are considered people who have viewed more than one page and finished their visit. They may click to apply/buy or they may x-out of the window or they may reload the home page. (just a few of many examples) One tricky thing is when someone gets a site that launches a new window for a page you click on. That is typically an exit and new site visit. 

So, is this good or bad? For this client I think it is ok, because they are very stringent about who they are looking to hire and when people see the extensive requirements I am pretty sure most people would realize whether they had a shot at the job or not very quickly and either click forwards in the path to apply (on an Applicant Tracking System application site, (don’t ask, too many sites linked with too many processes)) or back out. It is very straight forward and very few other options are on the page.

How do you reduce bounce rates?

I never hear people talk about strategies to get more qualified traffic to these pages, I just hear about providing more info on the page to help them convert. That is a great strategy and if you can link exact search terms to the appropriate products/jobs with a page designed for one clear desired action then you are doing well. If you can suggest other related alternatives on the same page, maybe on the right sidebar, you are doing even better. If you have an email sign-up that says, not what you are looking for? Sign up here and we’ll email you when new ones come up. Great. But if you have a lot of traffic bouncing even then, you may want to look at the source. What words are your pages optimized for and why do those keywords not match what you’re providing or asking people to do? Maybe search is also not the right medium to find people based on the Google Insights search volume for that term and you are getting similar searches/clicks but not for what you offer. Maybe reel in the search efforts and go for more qualified means of finding these specific people like email, targeted display ads (by content/interest, behavior or location) or offline communication. (gasp!)

Remember Google Analytics (or any analytics package) is not just about a bunch of numbers and bunk. If you can’t figure out what the human behavior is behind the numbers or what the actual user/customer wants they don’t mean much of anything except that your site is up and running.

Blog Template Redesign

I just noticed that WordPress had some new template CSS designs available and I decided to update around here a bit. I hope you like this clean white bright design from their library of options, I thought it looked cool.

I am in a bit of a blog catch up month since the wedding is past and work is now the crazy part of my life. I hope that by month’s end (Aug 09) I will be updating my collection of blogs more than once a week. (each!) I know its a challenge but I really enjoy how different Blogging is than my regular day job in data analysis of online advertising. Sure numbers are cool, but sometimes you need a break from all the format requests for millions of little excel tables in minuscule fonts. (that are of course needed all on the same day and only with 24 hours notice or less).

All in all I am tired, but blogging still excites me and I am happy to have a job in the current market, even though I get frustrated just like everyone else at some point. So, I will hopefully be more active on the Protagonist5 blog again soon.

ps- Why does WordPress come up as a mis-spelled word in the spellcheck of the WordPress.com editor?

Can ordinary people manage the risk in the stock market for their retirement?

I am beginning to think there is no way an average American can invest in the market and make any money for their retirement in a 401K. I was reading this morning that 5 and 10 year returns in the portfolios of most mutual funds are negative now when they calculated in the huge losses from recessions in 2001 and 2008 and the beginning of 2009. (Q1 hasn’t been kind) 

As an investor (for my 401K) I look at that and say: yuck! Why would I put my money in something that has no long term value?

My fiance sent me this article saying that now 20 and 30 years are the benchmarks for best overall performance in mutual funds and stocks in the market. Yikes! 20-30 years? Who has that much time before retirement? Who can invest for that long anyway?

When you consider that most people’s salary starts dropping when they reach their 50’s (because employers don’t value old employees and can’t spend time/money updating their skills) you really have 25 years max to work with as far as investments for retirement.

You start your first real paying job with a 401K at age 25 and you may not be fully employable by age 50 although you will likely live to the age of 80 or 90.  There’s your 25 years to save and invest for 30-50 years of retirement.

I also think there is something else going on here affecting the 20-30 year market profit numbers. The US Markets benefited from a long term technology/innovation and growth curve from WWII to the 1980s. Personally, I think that was a one time deal and we will never see that kind of long term prosperity again.

Why? 1. Because we don’t understand enough about technology to innovate on that level again to create that much growth. 2. Because the US has higher paid workers than anywhere else in the world and everything gets manufactured and produced (and serviced) somewhere else. 3. Because we’re too complacent and have too much entitlement as a country of workers. Work creates wealth, not shell games with securities.

That brings up another point: We’ve been playing a shell game with our economy since the 1980’s. De-regulate, re-regulate, stimulus, fix, fund, trade, outsource, sell, leverage, whatever… It’s all a shell game to us worker bees and the internet has been the only significant improvement in technology to create new industries and jobs in the last 20 years. We need more than that to survive and prosper as a nation and a world.

I don’t know about you but I can’t stand to take that much risk with my money. I have some in a 401K but mostly my retirement is locked in a 5 year CD IRA at 5.25% that was a promotion this fall when banks wanted more cash reserves. I changed companies in 2006 and rolled over the old 401K to a bank in 2007 because I knew the 10 year recession was coming soon and I didn’t want to risk timing it.

There will always be people who game the market and come out ahead, but those of us without finance degrees, huge money to invest in undervalued markets or inside scoops will never really profit on the whole. Many of us will get out exactly what we put in and maybe less considering our lack of  investment prowess. So, in that level of risky why not just put it in the bank? Positive 3-5% sounds a lot better than negative 40%.

I hate the inflation argument that says that 3-5% isn’t enough to make money after inflation. Guess what? Inflation has been very low and inflation doesn’t stop when you have negative returns either. I’d rather have some money dependably than none at all when prices are higher. 

You may be asking why I want more innovation and less investment in the market? Doesn’t investment in the market lead to more innovation?

NO. Most of the mutual finds and stocks you can buy that are highly rated are in huge old (one trick pony) risk averse companies that have already peaked and can’t figure out how to do anything new. They sell shares to raise cash and then have old people make decisions like the old days. Venture Capital,  new small businesses and Universities are the place where innovation happens. If I could invest in those, I would. But then again I don’t have millions of dollars and apparently I won’t any time soon.

What are the best proven ways to fund your retirement and create wealth then?

1. Have a side job for extra income you can save (part-time weekends or evenings a few nights a week)

2. Own rental property for extra income (you need to live near it for this to work)

3. Have fewer kids if you’re contemplating having a family (ok we don’t always control this, and we love kids, but nobody is going to debate that they are expensive) 

4. Own a smaller home (smaller mortgage = smaller amount in interest paid (lost) to the bank)

5. Don’t go into debt on credit cards or car loans (hello! 25% interest, MONTHLY! on some cards)

6. Live frugally generally, keep your cars 10 years, don’t buy new clothes every month and don’t buy big ticket items like TVs and Computers every few years. Spread out the expenses over the long term.

7. Share what you have with others. Seriously, knowledge, help with projects, donating time and donating items you no longer need, as well as hand me downs between families help kids and neighbors live better within their means and help the community live better too.

8. Take care of your health. Eat less junk, lower fat, lower salt, lower carbs. Exercise daily. Take vitamins. Don’t work in an industry that has a side effect of cancer. Visit the doctor regularly and if something comes up treat it early, it will cost so much less in the long run. Heath issues start in your 30’s and get more frequent in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Expect to pay more every decade for health costs in your life/budget.

These are all real tactical changes we can make to save more money monthy and yearly that will get better returns than the stock market and help prepare for inflation. What else do you think can help?