O.D.ing on Analytics: Notes from the Berlin X Change


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As I write this, I am making the great swoop over the upper reaches of the North as I fly home to San Francisco from Berlin. X Change Berlin is over – X Change Los Angeles lies ahead. It was a great pleasure, as always, to be there and we’ve come a long way in a single year. This year’s X Change was, I think, better in nearly every respect. We had a larger group. We had more practitioners. We had more and better conversations. We had a better hotel. We even, though I cannot suppose this will continue to improve every year, had better weather.

For me, at least, X Change is an arduous journey. Enjoyable but deeply exhausting. The Web analytics equivalent of a crazy weekend in Vegas. It doesn’t help, of course, to deal with the inevitable pains of trans-Atlantic flying. I arrived in Berlin mid-afternoon after missing my connection in Amsterdam (late out of SF) and had the pleasure of seeing Matthias Bettag again. There’s no better greeting to another country than the face of a friend.

I was so tired I had a hard time staying awake till dinner and collapsed not long after to the expected first night’s troubled sleep. Monday, unfortunately, is my hardest day at X Change – Think Tank Training day.

I did my current favorite class – The Analyst’s Toolkit. It’s a compendium of analytics methodologies that we’ve developed over the last fifteen years: everything from Functionalism to Digital Segmentation to Site Topology. What I particularly like about the Toolkit class is the opportunity to show a broad range of analytic methods – I think it get’s folks thinking about which method is appropriate when and provides a broader grounding in the discipline than any other class I’ve done. I followed that with a very POPULAR course in attribution. We had sixteen attendees – which is a lot for a Think Tank. Paul Legutko and I have developed the class and it works its way from basic concepts of attribution (what is attribution, simple methods) to measurement infrastructure (stacking and warehousing) to more advanced concepts including a walk-through of building an actual, time-based full, stack attribution model along with concepts for extending the model. Going through the actual model building is hard – stretching my abilities as a teacher for sure.

Afterwards it was down to the InterContinental’s lounge for the reception (okay – I had time for a quick swim in the gorgeous pool). Quick swims seemed to be my theme this week, and at the reception I got to take a quick swim into the world of gaming measurement. We’ve only done a tiny bit of work in this fascinating industry but I got a great chance to talk with Alexandra Paun, an analyst for Wooga, and get an education in the state-of-the-art. Lots of interesting cohort measurement, really fast and agile development cycles – less segmentation than I think is likely optimal – the lack of which seems to be driven by the very short life-cycle of so many games. Fascinating stuff and definitely worth contemplating as a future Huddle topic. Most of us aren’t doing game measurement, but there are definitely learnings to be had there.

By Tuesday I was feeling at least reasonably normal, but I still skipped breakfast to get the extra time abed before the Keynote panel. We had four EU founders of analytics technology companies: Christian Sauer from Webtrekk, Simon Burton from Celebrus, John Woods from iJento, and Matthieu Lorens from AT Internet. Each of these guys has at least ten year’s experience in digital analytics and each has faced the inevitable frustrations, challenges and joys of entrepreneurship. It was a pleasure to hear these guys.

The most surprising moment was probably when Christian declared that being an analytics technology company would be a bad place to be in ten years. Which certainly got my attention – especially since the rest of us were quite optimistic as to the size and import of our current third wave (PCs, Internet, Analytics). His view was less dire than I at first supposed – more around the dangers of directly competing with Google Analytics – than about the future growth of analytics. He must be optimistic – Webtrekk has just entered the U.S. market with a presence in San Francisco. That leap across the Atlantic is huge and challenging, as I have good reason to know.

Then it was off to Huddles and their unique delights. There’s nothing quite like a Huddle – each is unique – even when the same leader hosts the same topic. You will never have the same discussion twice. There are so many I would love to do – so many I have to pass up. I try to balance topics, needs and sessions where I might be useful – and, inevitably, I get drawn into leading one or two due to sickness or late cancellation. I don’t mind – I enjoy it. I’m not as good as some at drawing people out, but I think I put more structure into the conversation than most. That first day, though, I was able to relax and let other’s do the leading.

Tuesday night is the big event. Matthias had found the Golf Club – perched riverside it gets its name, apparently, from a full golf simulator (you smack the ball for real and the machine figures out how far and where it would actually have gone). I managed to miss the bus (they came back for me), got chewed out by the bus driver, and arrived in the mood for a beer.

Not being much for golf, I mostly hung out by the river in the lovely, soft, summer evening air. Work, companies, old jobs, new analytics theories, tools – you will hear it all at an X Change dinner. It gets dark late in Berlin and the evening can be deceptive. Collectively, we didn’t head back till almost midnight. The young may still head to the bar but I need my rest.

By Wednesday it starts to feel like the homestretch. A nice late 9:30 start is certainly appreciated – that’s something we’ve learned over the years. Besides, you need time to enjoy a German breakfast properly. I survived filling in for Alex Schultz on Re-Targeting Metrics – a Huddle just a little bit outside my normal comfort zone. After the exotically named 4D Pie Chart Visualizations (a good bit of which we spent delving into the practical minutia of choosing scales, building motion charts, getting conditional formatting right and other core visualization choices), it was off to the close.

At the top of the Intercontinental reception afterward I finally got a chance to catch up with the “English” mob – some of my favorite folks in analytics. It’s hard to believe, but we were still talking analytics. Real-time, Asia, career-paths and, of course, X Change Los Angeles.

I hope I haven’t forgotten everything I heard. With so many measurement conversations, it can produce a kind of analytics “Hangover” – like the guys in the movie, I may have to re-piece my week together with the help of my phone. Well…I remember enough. I’ve got plenty to blog about including my next post. It comes from my very first Huddle – a Huddle that really got me thinking about the impact of Mobile and other channels on the way we build metric frameworks.

But for one day, at least, I had no desire to do or talk analytics. Thursday we took Matthias’ kids to the zoo and I got to déjà vu on chasing little kids around a playground, ogling black bears, watching hippos swim and eating bad zoo food. That was pretty sweet too.

To get your own taste of X Change – register now for the September X Change at the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel (greater Los Angeles)…

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Gary Angel
Gary is the CEO of Digital Mortar. DM is the leading platform for in-store customer journey analytics. It provides near real-time reporting and analysis of how stores performed including full in-store funnel analysis, segmented customer journey analysis, staff evaluation and optimization, and compliance reporting. Prior to founding Digital Mortar, Gary led Ernst & Young's Digital Analytics practice. His previous company, Semphonic, was acquired by EY in 2013.


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