Women in Tech: The Link to the Future

In the last year, I have been to three major conferences and numerous smaller gatherings and meetings. The one thing they have all had in common is that women were completely outnumbered by the men. The amount of women attending never exceeded the 30% mark and was often much lower. An essential ingredient for a successful gathering of the talented and the interested is good coffee and good wifi, but I would argue that the most vital ingredient would be a greater amount of women in attendance.

The question has to be asked why there are so few women in technology? In societies all around the world, women are seen primarily as the home-builders, so it is not expected for them to run their own businesses as well as run a family. They are the CEOs of the home and it has been determined that they should rule no further.

It all starts at school. Women don’t choose science subjects at school because maths and physics are not presented as being relevant. The problem is that neither technology nor science are made to seem appealing as subjects to study or careers to pursue. They are not hard subjects. In fact they are fun, but it is rare that they are portrayed in an attractive light from a female point of view. Science is clean, logic-filled fun and isn’t owned by anybody. Of course, you could argue that it is for women themselves to cast the obstacles aside and stride forth unimpaired. But for many women who also want, and have the right, to have a domestic life, it simply becomes another battle on too many fronts.

The role models are there but there are few and far between; Caroline Porco, Gina Trapani and Marissa Mayer are a few of the more well-known. Also, there are women like Jenny Rohn, whose work on fighting cutbacks in government spending by being the organiser and energiser behind the campaign “Science is Vital” have been featured in a previous article, “Scientists Take to the Streets“. But it’s not enough, and we shouldn’t be assessing accomplishment in terms of gender anyway. There is much more that needs to be done.

Of course, not all men are unsympathetic to the difficulties that women face in the workplace. However, we all operate under cultural assumptions about gender roles that constantly need to be challenged. Nevertheless, you would not think that in the highly-educated science and tech community that you would expect to see anything like the cover of last month’s edition of Wired.

The image on the front of the magazine only serves to add insult to injury. As a woman working in the tech sector, you get used to things and there is just no point in whining: no one is going to listen anyhow. However, this current cover takes the biscuit and it is disappointing that Wired magazine would want to alienate one-half of their potential customers. A stupidity, actually, from a business perspective. Their sheer arrogance is reflected in the publishing of a cover that looks like a soft-porn magazine. Fine if they are selling porn, but they are selling tech. This is just one of the reasons why so few women stay in or pursue work in tech. There seems to be a blur now between the tech and porn industries, neither of which treat women suitably, favourably or fairly.

Cindy Royal also makes some great points in regard to Wired’s poor treatment of women in her article “An Open Letter to Wired Magazine“. The most telling failure of Wired’s unjust behaviour is that it has been fourteen years since they had a woman on the cover that actually featured in an article. A lot of things can change in a decade and a half, but unfortunately it has not been the role of women in the workplace or in science and tech.

It is not just Wired magazine who are guilty of ill-treating women in this respect. Facebook itself is a platform that was built on rating females – not unlike the rating system that seventeen male accountants at Price Waterhouse Cooper used which leaked via email to the press recently.

If we start to tolerate the behaviour towards women and accept it and say it is OK for them to be continued to be objectified, what does this say for future possibilities and equality in the workplace? Will it become only further out of reach? Is the possibility of equality an illusion – a myth in the workplace?

There is somehow the perceived notion that women are less valuable then men in the workplace – that maternity leave is seen as “time off” and men seen as superior. That deep down, women are only really as valuable as good as they look on their ‘hot or not’ ratings. It is ironic that women not only have to work twice as hard – but they get paid less for it. Women in the workplace also come under more scrutiny than their male peers, especially if they are in top positions.

I have given talks to girls at high-school level who are starting to give serious consideration to what they are going to do with the rest of their lives. When I advocated science and technology as a possible career path, their responses were impassive at best and rarely enthusiastic. It simply was not on the agenda. Since we know there are no intellectual reasons why women can’t succeed in science, the answer has to be in the culture that surrounds us. The problem is that computer science is not made to seem an appealing subject to study or career to pursue.

If there is to be a fundamental shift towards an increase of women in tech it needs to start at the primary school level. The negative associations of tech and women need to change – unfortunately the woeful current Wired cover doesn’t help much. What younger girls need is more influential role models – either male or female – and also all the support and encouragement that they can get.

The big loser in all this is human progress. We have so many challenges facing us and so much to do, and it needs all of us – men and women – to make as much of a contribution as possible in order to come up with the solutions we need so urgently. A lack of diversity always causes problems in the end. It will take both genders to make a difference. Men need to learn to share and women need to step forward and claim what they have a right to. It is the impact of all contributions that will help make the world a better place and have a positive and constructive impact on society.

Interview: Krishna De – Perspectives on Having a Social Media Presence

Krishna De was a speaker yesterday at the “Turning Online Networking into Real Business” conference organized by HPSU Skillnet. Krishna has been working in the Social Media field for the last six years. Before that she has worked at senior levels with Guinness and Diageo. Her talk was a step by step guide to developing a Social Media laid out as a 30 day strategy to make it convenient to understand and easy to remember.

Krishna has been working in the Social Media since its earliest days and we took the opportunity to ask her how things had changed since she began.

“It’s great to see so many more organizations looking to embrace it and use it. If I look back about three years ago the organizations that were making most use of it were small businesses. One of the reasons we saw smaller organizations use it was very often they had recognized they needed to market their businesses for the recession. They had limited budgets, they didn’t have to have lots of forms of approval to be able to do it. [Social Media platforms] were free and they were easy to use and had a very low barrier for entry.

“Larger organizations at that time, and some still are, were nervous around things like, “What happens if people say negative things about us?” and “Not sure how we get started,” and so on.

“Platforms changed and became easier to use. When things like twitter became available you started to see journalists using it and the media using it and it became more mainstream. That got more people starting to think about it. What we see now is that a lot more organizations use these platforms, embrace them and put them in as part of their communications engagement plans and marketing plans.”

Has people’s approach to Social Media changed?

“It’s all about telling a story. I think we are going back to some core roots. There is a lot we can learn from story-telling. That’s what effective communication and marketing is. We remember the stories. I guess some of the people attending today would have remembered the stories today rather than the facts.

“What we need to do is go back to is, “What is the message and what are we trying to communicate and who with and how are we going to make this of interest to other people?” Then, “How might we use these different platforms to be able to do it?”

“The big questions are, “How does this make a difference to my business in terms of my communication, my engagement, my PR or whatever their measures are?”

“I wouldn’t disregard good old traditional media at all and that is why I like to think about Social Media as an integrated three hundred and sixty degree marketing approach because social proof is hugely important. We are influenced by our friends and we are influenced by traditional media. I wouldn’t forget those things. They are hugely important and we should integrate them where we can.”

How do you see the things developing and changing in the future?

“I think it is becoming much more simple for us to use these technologies which is fantastic particularly for somebody like me who is not a highly technical person. I think the way we can publish content so quickly and so easily is fantastic.

“There’s a few things I see happening. A lot of us have got smartphones now and we can search for information on them. We are kidding ourselves if we don’t consider the web as mobile. From a digital perspective you have to know how your core website renders for people looking at it on a smartphone of some description.

“I think the thing that is going to grow in the year ahead is video. It is becoming easier and easier to do. People will always cite YouTube but there are many other sites you can syndicate your content to and of course host your own content as well.

“Podcasting seems like a forgotten thing but a lot of people do love audio. I can multitask with audio. If I were driving and watching a video I would be in trouble.

“How do we build longer term relationships? If I look further forward there’s a couple of things I would look at like social commerce and social customer relationship management. The smarter companies are already moving into that. Anybody can get a coupon once but they may never come back to you. “How do you build a lifetime relationship with that person?” I think that’s a question for us in terms of marketing, engagement and communication.

“One the areas where Social Media is hugely under utilized is to enable better engagement inside the organization. The first people to use it were the marketeers but now you are starting to see other functions of the organization using it and it is now being linked into the sales processes and so on.

Employee engagement is absolutely critical in terms of making sure your people know what they need to and how to represent your brand. They are your brand as well. I think there’s a huge opportunity to get your organization to be more efficient inside.”

You can catch up with more of Krishna’s activities at BizGrowth News

Cisco’s Carlos Dominguez: “Cooperation Is The Killer App”

The most remarkable thing about meeting with Carlos Dominguez, Senior Vice President at Cisco Systems, was how we met. I was in Galway, Ireland and Carlos was in New Jersey in the United States, but it felt as though he was sitting across the table from me.

The technology we used for this meeting was called Telepresence. The experience was overwhelmingly real but at the same time so natural and unobtrusive that minutes into the interview I had quite forgotten that we were, in reality, separated by thousands of miles of Atlantic Ocean. At one point I became concerned that should I jog the table I might knock over a coffee cup (visible in the picture above) which Carlos had placed close to his computer. There was nothing to fear as the cup was empty but the feeling that I could have a direct physical effect on someone else in another country remained.

Cisco has over 900 of these Telepresence sites across its network and they are starting to appear in locations where members of the public can have better access to the technology. The JW Marriott Grand Marquis has recently opened a Telepresence site in its hotel in Miami which it rents out by the hour. A major advantage of Telepresence technology is that it saves travel time, airfares and room rates – which for a team of people can mount up very quickly. It also saves on travel induced stress.

This is something Carlos knows about from personal experience, “If I go back to 2006. I travelled almost a million miles on airlines and if you do the calculation that’s almost traveling every single day for 365 days. Some days I traveled more than once. It took a tremendous toll on me.

“In 2010, I’m traveling 70,000 miles maybe 75,000 miles but here’s the punchline; I am seeing two to three times more customers and it’s the technology that’s enabling it.

“The question that comes out all the time is, “Oh, well, but nothing replaces a face to face meeting.” Well, true, it’s great to see you to shake your hand or maybe we’ll get a cup of coffee, a dinner, a lunch or maybe a glass of wine or a beer… and nothing replaces that bonding. But the experience of doing [Telepresence] is very, very different.”

Video and video-conferencing are not exactly new technologies so we asked Carlos what had changed?

“As a young man I remember going to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York and AT&T had the Picturephone. A telephone that had video on it. I remember being amazed and that was fifty plus years ago that they demonstrated that technology. In the eighties there was video-conferencing everywhere but the challenges there was that the quality of the video wasn’t very good. It was very hard to operate. You needed a whole staff of people to do it. People were zooming in and out, the quality of the audio was horrible. It was horrific.

“So when we set out to design this we said, “What are all things about video[-conferencing] that we dislike and how do we change it?”

“We took all the bad things away. We have super high quality video. We’ve taken into consideration the lighting, the colour… We spent months just analyzing the colour of the wood so it gives you a very natural reflection. We went to Hollywood to work with designers and lighting designers to make it all very simple.

“But I think the reason why it is so powerful has to do with physiology. We had body language before we had language. I spend time with people, coaching them, and I know exactly what they are thinking. I can see every little part of your face so I know if you are connecting with me or you are not. Those are the things that I think are really transformational in the way we are doing this and why this technology is so powerful.”

Telepresence is scaled for different price points with different unit sizes and is available for different budgets and different needs. There is even a Telepresence system for the home called Umi which is being rolled out in the US at present but should be arriving on European shores soon.

A very useful facility that Umi has is the ability to email you when a video voicemail has arrived. All you have to have with you is the ability to run Google Video. You can check your video message while in a cafe or a bar or while in transit.

“It’s all about video.” Carlos says, “In order to collaborate you have to have the underlying technologies to collaborate with and I think video is one of the really strong enablers that allows that to happen. Now we see dramatic changes inside the company on how we do things by leveraging video and cooperating differently.

Cisco also has a service called WebEx Connect which gives you the ability to have online meetings where you can share your presentation via a small video window.

“Cooperation is the killer app.” Carlos explains, “One of the challenges right now for Social Media is when you are talking about Facebook and Twitter and large corporations. Last number I read is that 54% of Fortune 500 companies block Facebook and Twitter. It’s alarming to me that such a powerful tool is not being embraced. But I hope that with technologies like Quad we can bring them into businesses and show them that there is extreme power in doing it.

“We’ve been using a lot of social media technology…If you look at the power of Social Media and those technologies and what it allows you to do – to be able to share and to be able to communicate with people – they are better tools than most enterprises have. Most enterprises are very reliant on email. Email is very antiquated. 90% of email is spam.

“So, what we started thinking about three years ago is, “How do we leverage the power of Social Media and bring it into the enterprise where it is safe and secure. And also put on some bells and whistles which are very pertinent to a business user.””

Cisco Quad is an internal social media service that allows for collaboration within a corporate structure. It was developed by an R&D team led by Mike Conroy working out of Galway, Ireland. We plan to devote a subsequent article to talking to Mike and finding out more about how Quad works.

In the final part of the interview we asked Carlos about his views on future developments.

“Technologies allow a vast majority of people to really collaborate on something. The more diverse a group of people that are collaborating is; by age, where they live, religion, culture; the more varied those dimensions are – the better the group is at solving complex problems.

“Information evolves with the tools as one person sees it and someone else from a different background sees something else. That information, every time it goes through a person with a different background becomes more and more valuable.

“The pace of change is going to accelerate. I think in a world that is moving so fast I think embracing change is very, very important and I think experimenting is very, very important.

“I talk to a lot of CEOs and really senior people and they always ask me, “How do I keep up with everything? What do I do?” I always tell them you have to experiment. You have to set up a culture that is constantly trying all these things.

“When you experiment you learn what works and what doesn’t. And when you learn you eventually get to Utopia which is [where] you get leveraging.”

It’s a four step process:

  • You embrace change
  • Experiment
  • Learn from the experiment
  • Leverage.

“You can’t get the leverage unless you go through the process. In a world that is changing rapidly you have to start being open to all the things that are going on.

“The good news is that as technology gets more and more sophisticated it will get much easier to use. The technology will learn how we operate.”

Results of Prize Draw for Museum of Communications and Computing, Galway, Ireland

A couple of weeks ago we did a short blog and made a small video which previewed the opening of the Museum of Communications and Computing at the Digital Enterprise Research Institute located in Galway, Ireland.

As a means of raising interest Brendan Smith very kindly put an ipod up as a prize in a draw. Contestants simply had to identify the computer (above seen from a less oblique angle when originally presented,) and email in their answers.

Out of nearly thirty participants only three got the right answer which is the Dragon 32. The name, Dragon, refers to the fact that the computer was built in Wales.

If you would care to know the identity of the winner and the extremely fair way we went about making the choice please watch this short video.

Thanks to everyone who sent in their entries and also a special thanks to all those people who contributed their old and computers and other bits of gear to enable the Museum of Communications and Computing to provide as comprehensive a timeline as possible in its exhibition.

Social Media: Only a Part of the Marketing Equation – A Reality Check

Social Media, over the past few years with all its services and platforms, has changed the way we behave and relate to each other on the Internet in ways unheard of before. Millions and millions of people are now using social media to talk, share, communicate and collaborate. People share content out via social networks for friends, families and also for their businesses. Social Media is used for educating, entertainment and building community online.

We have discovered through working with our clients that while Social Media works well for reaching out and building community it is not as well suited for selling and marketing by itself. Social media despite all the experts on the Web is not enough on its own to warrant the time and money that is being spent engaged in marketing campaigns on it in its present form.

The fundamental reason for this that in their rush to get away from old school means of doing business the enthusiasm for the idea that technology will solve all our problems one day is that the baby has been thrown out with the bath water. Marketing ideas that have been successful for many, many years have been rejected wholesale for the sake of the shiny and the new.

Presently we find that there are three main concerns that our clients come to us with:

  • Time: Social media marketing strategies take time. Content needs to be created. From updating Twitter to creating a one minute YouTube video effort and thought is required. Also, it is not a one off deal. Updating needs to be constant, regular and reasonably frequent just to stay on people’s radar. In practice the very least amount of time a small business should spend maintaining its online presence is about an hour. We regard this as the minimum amount of time required to maintain a viable online presence. However, an hour a day spent managing Social Media is a huge chunk of time for a small business.

    Social Media channels can be very noisy places. It is a challenge to maintain a presence there and another challenge to distinguish that presence and make it more noticeable. On top of that all the noise that is coming at you as a business has to be handled and responded to when appropriate in a timely manner. There is a need and an urgency to show that you are dynamic and alive within the community.

  • Despite what many social media experts claim, for a small business to keep their online web presence social media requires interactivity. You don’t just switch it on it on and leave it to its own devices. You need to engage, update and enter into debate with others leaving comments and also be aware of new content that’s constantly arriving to find out what’s relevant to your business.

    • Fear: Despite their being hundreds of millions of people on Facebook and tens of millions of people on Twitter there is still a great deal of reticence with small businesses to invest in an online marketing programme. They see the money involved and the work required but it is hard for them to see how social media can bring more people into your shop or sell more of their stock online. They cannot see the immediate return on investment for their efforts. There is also a learning curve for many small businesses have to take into account to acquire the skills to manage these new technologies and this is something else, while not difficult, still takes time.
    • There are plenty of examples of successful online presence management but despite all the metrics available to us it is still hard to correlate activity with results. The famous expression accredited to David Ogilvy, “I know half my advertising doesn’t work; I just don’t know which half?” coined more than half a century ago still applies to the modern internet.

      • Implementation: As already suggested, Social Media is not a passive tool and requires constant engagement. By itself it is a commitment hungry machine demanding of one’s constant presence and there is little evidence that Social Media tools are enough by themselves to determine the success of a genuine marketing strategy. However there is a great deal to be learned from so-called old school conventional approaches.

        While viral videos grab a great deal of attention mechanisms still need to be in place to convert eyeballs into actual sales. Just doing something cool and amusing is not enough. There is, however, a great deal of value that can be obtained from an integrated marketing approach. Combining tried and trusted old school techniques with the possibilities for experimenting with new ideas made possible by the internet.

      • For social media to work it needs an ideal marketing mix of the traditional with the new. Despite social media tools being free there is a high energy and commitment cost. But being flexible in the choice of one’s marketing tools and getting mix right is how marketing campaigns in the Social Media environment can increase the potential for success for any kind of campaign.

Top Ten Recommended Reads on the Web

We try to keep our thinking as original as possible at Technology Voice. After all, our primary area of interest is the cool stuff that is coming at us from just over the horizon. We see our job as to identify what is important and to try and make it as understandable and as relevant as we possibly can.

We have the words social media as part of the title of our publication, but we don’t use it to define the range of stories in the space we look at. Rather, it reflects the idea that in social media terms, more and more services and facilities pervade so much of our cyber and physical space. This gives us the huge advantage of having a remit that allows us to cast our nets far and wide for the stories that interest us and hopefully you.

However, we also like to know what our contemporaries are looking at and what they find interesting. What is fascinating is how we are all looking at this huge social media space using different lenses to focus on particular areas.

No one site can claim to have such a comprehensive view of the world and its contents that all other comment is redundant. That would be a bit loopy and definitely very boring. But combining the aspects revealed from the information gleaned from each of these sites, one can form a reasonable, patchwork-quilty view of current affairs and present thinking.

In no particular order, we would like to share ten websites that we find useful, entertaining and edifying.

  • Mashable: Occasionally, other people (definitely not us) refer to our efforts as being a kind of an Irish Mashable. Not even close. At some point in the summer of 2010 they turned the corner from being just another news source to being an important news source. They have broadened the range and type of their articles and whoever is doing their web design must be due for web awards, medals, whatever they hand out for those sort of things. They are on a mission and it will be really interesting to see where they go. But still, after a little while here I always feel the urge to go and read something on Wired.
  • Social Media Today: Has a tendency to the social media marketing, social media expert and PR side of things. If there’s a new buzz word you will hear it here first. But good to be able to see all that sort of thinking in one place. Despite themselves the articles can be quite insightful sometimes.
  • Tracked.com: This is where I get my news from. Initially it looks like a financial tracking site and I only stayed with it because I knew Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures was an investor and I wondered what he saw in it. But as you feed more and more names in of people and companies that you are interested then the news stories it returns seem to be so timely and relevant. I have no idea how they do the aggregation but it works.
  • Read Write Web: A reliable source of information for those interested in technical matters but not necessarily technically inclined.
  • Techmeme: An aggregator of cherry-picked blogs and posts. As aspect I really appreciate is that you can see the writer’s byline clearly. More often that not it shows better here than it does on the original site. Discovered some interesting people to follow here.
  • Lifehacker.com: All sorts of gadgets and helpful tips about things I never knew I needed help with. It is very good at talking about the integration of technology and lifestyle.
  • Nieman Labs: Does the neat trick of being about journalism without being inside-journalism. Always something interesting here for those with curious minds.
  • Harvard Business Review: This used to be dire to say the least. But over time they have shaken of the dust and cobwebs of academic worthiness and provide very accessible material while neatly dodging any accusation of dumbing down.
  • New York Times: It was either The Gray Lady or The Guardian for best newspaper site. But the NYT wins simply on scale. It does so much more great stuff. The quality of internal sites such as the Lens Blog are phenomenal. Someone told me recently they actually publish a newspaper as well. I think they were pulling my leg what would be the point of that?
  • Silicon Valley Watcher: Tom Foremski is an ex-Financial Times journalist who took the very brave step of setting up shop for himself in San Francisco. So much good stuff. I have no idea how he does it but highly recommended.

Lists like these rarely please everybody. If you think we have made some terrible omission why don’t you let us know.

Debategraph: A Web of Understanding Built on Argument Visualization

Debategraph allows individuals and groups of people to explore subjects and topics by taking and breaking them down into their particular and constituent issues. It offers the opportunity for deep and nuanced dialog in an age where so much debate is polarized by the mainstream media.

The Debategraph service is essentially argument visualization via the web. It provides the opportunity for transparent and reasoned exploration of a given topic by revealing the ideas and trending thoughts of participants and enabling both them others to take an informed and intelligent position in relation to those ideas and thoughts.

By surfacing all of the thoughts about a given subject a collaborative map is built of all the ideas that people could have about the subject. Other people can come in and join the work and the map is then expanded in a process of collaborative moderation. The map is alive and is constantly being reshaped by its community of users as ideas become pooled together.

The project was started four years ago by David Price, (pictured left) who has a Phd in organizational learning and development, and Peter Baldwin an ex-Cabinet Minister of the Australian Government with the brief for Health and Employment. (He is also responsible for the coding of the debate graph site which makes him a somewhat unusual politician.)

Driven by the perception that the current way that we handle complex problems is not up to the complexity that we are creating them as a society David and Peter came to share the same vision: Taking maps of knowledge and putting them on the web in a way that people could build them collaboratively. Together they could rate and sift ideas and open up a new type of communication.

David explains further, “If you can open up the thinking of everyone in this way then everyone can explore the ideas that other people are thinking. The nature of the map allows you to add responses immediately in context as opposed to a stream of comments on a blog where you have a linear sequence of text. The site is a little like a wiki. The idea is that both the structure and the content of the map are completely fluid so you can start anywhere with any particular issue and then expand out to cover particular topics.”

Debategraph is being used by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Office in the UK and at The White House in the US. The Independent newspaper has also commissioned a series of graphs covering a number of subjects.

Christiane Amanpour, while still at CNN before moving to ABC had a debate graph made of her last interview series. For instance, in the ongoing story of Afghanistan on separate occasions she interviewed Hamid Karzai the President of Afghanistan, Hilary Clinton the US Secretary of State and General McChrystal who was in command of American military forces int the country at that time.

In a conventional series of interviews, regardless of how interesting each individual one maybe, there is no cumulative sense of knowledge gained or lessons learned. By using Debategraph it is possible to link ideas in a virtual space that may separated in the real world both physically and temporally. Points of agreement and contradiction can now be distinguished readily and directly in a useful and determinable manner.

David adds, “With the map you were able to see how the next interviewee discussing the same topic could bring their ideas together with previous ideas to form a bigger topic with the inter-relationships of these ideas clearly defined. By the time Christiane’s series finished the map contained over 3,000 ideas.”

“What you are trying to do is to collaboratively organize people to distill a picture of a subject. You are doing that in a transparent way where people are working together on it. There can be a shared negotiation of the meaning of different parts of it. As that process unfolds the map both deepens, expand and is iteratively restructuring towards the best collaborative expression of the group that is working on that of the topic that they are exploring. It can be tremendously powerful in that it can draw every contribution into it and you can see the way it goes together.

How the maps relate to the graph

“We are cultivating not just the individual maps but each map is part of a single graph. An idea on one map can be linked across to an idea on another map. You’re looking to see which place is the natural centre in the graph for the particular topic. It might be a subset of a larger map or it might be a complete map of its own.

“You might start with an issue and a new topic will be introduced in the context of that and as you begin to work on that it something which is quite substantive in itself and can be split off to make a new map but can still be linked across to the original point. So you are only expressing any given idea once in the context of the whole graph.”

Other applications for Debategraph

Debategraph has applications for education as David explains, “In the context of a flow of knowledge in a university; currently you have a very inefficient process. Each year you bring in new set of students. You get them to write the same essays on the same sort of topics which is good for individual learning but there is no cumulative public good coming from that activity. Whereas if people work together collaboratively building maps the next iteration of students can come and build on from that process and learn from that process. Those maps are contributing to this public map of understanding.”

Creating this web of understanding has a vital role in helping society progress by reducing the waste of useless iteration and pointless repetition and being able expand and build quickly, efficiently and effectively on productive new ideas as they surface.

Debategrpah also has a role in mediation, conciliation and conflict resolution. By allowing people to express themselves it is possible to create an environment where it is possible novel solutions are able to emerge. It is a kind of listening technology because instead of people talking past each other the space that Debategraph offers allows voices to be heard.

As David points out, “Because you capture the ideas that people are saying and you put them in context people can see that their idea has been heard and if it has not been expressed correctly they can refine it. There is no guaranteed with this process that it will lead to some fabulous consensus at the end of it but what it does mean is a deepening understanding of each other’s perspective.”

Now that can’t be a bad thing.

GlobalStats: The Value of Analytics

When it comes to dealing with facts and their interpretations the use of statistics has always had a bad press. This is often summed up in the sentiment reflected in the phrase “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” But the internet is made up of trillons up trillions of bits of data and the only possible way of getting a proper understanding of what is going on and be able to make useful sense of that information is through statistical analysis.

Statcounter GlobalStats is a free service which shows through a series of graphs which are updated four to five times a day key metrics, both regional and worldwide, that are of tremendous practical use to webmasters and other interested parties.

The original Statcounter service began in Ireland as a result of a conversation that the founder Aodhan Cullen had with a client in which he was asked, “The website’s great but is anyone looking at it?” This was 1999 before Google Analytics was available. Aodhan couldn’t find a cost-effective solution for his clients so he built one himself. At present, Statcounter monitors 3 million websites which receive more than 15 billion hits per month.

We spoke with Jenni Cullen (pictured above) from Statcounter and asked her why their business was not killed off when Google Analytics eventually came along.

“What Google Analytics did was alert many people who didn’t know about analytics that they existed. We, in a weird way, got a bit of a boost from it because people didn’t know what Statcounter was and they would say, “Oh that’s a Google Analytics alternative.”

“We have quite a few advantages over Google Analytics as well. One, being that we are real-time so you see instantly what’s happening on your site. Two, we provide full customer support where we can help you [directly.] Whereas with Google Analytics you are left alone to look at their knowledgebase or find someone else who knows what to do. Also, we are user-friendly. A lot of people say they couldn’t get their head around Google Analytics. They don’t have that much time to spend on their analytics and ours are easier and quicker to digest without having to have a Phd in statistics.”

So how did GlobalStats come to be?

“GlobalStats came about because as a web analytics service we have all this global information in house. This global information is the aggregate of all the information we collect on all our individual sites. We would look and see that Firefox was putting up a good fight against Internet Explorer or whatever. It just came to us one day that this information as well as being of interest to us could be of interest to people outside as well. So we decided to make as much information as we could available to other webmasters.”

Jenni explains further, “[With Statcounter] you put the code on your own site and you get information about what is happening and you can get it immediately. You can monitor if your advertising is working. How are people finding you. Are they finding you via the search engines and so on. If you’re not getting any Google referrals maybe you need to look at the the SEO for that particular search engine.

“The problem is with many people when they are launching their site is that they don’t have the information yet. You need something to guide you in the first instance, so this is where our GlobalStats comes in.”

How would people make practical use of this service?

“You can look at the popularity of different browsers in different countries and regions. So, if we are talking about Ireland you can see which browser versions you need to optimize for. For example, many older sites haven’t been optimized for Firefox or Chrome and as can be seen (below) they are a substantial part of the Irish market. Those websites need to be updated so they are correctly visible and properly rendered in those browsers.”

“You can check out which mobile browsers are popular. In the mobile browsers for Ireland the Blackberry isn’t really significant whereas it is quite significant in the UK. So if you are an Irish company and thinking of moving into the UK market you will need to make sure that your site is rendering OK for the Blackberry in the UK.”

“If you look at our Social Media stats one of the things we have noticed is how significant in Ireland Stumbleupon is. It’s not one of the websites you think of when you think of the top Social Media sites. In terms of referring traffic it is second only to Facebook.”

“Twitter is one the very popular sites at the moment but it seems that people aren’t clicking the links from Twitter to the same extent they are on Facebook and Stumbleupon.

“[Stumbleupon] has been neglected. At certain times Stumbleupon has appeared higher than Facebook. It seems to be a really key resource in terms of referring traffic. If you don’t have a Stumbleupon button you should probably think about getting one.”

We asked Jenni about the most important metrics she thinks people should be keeping an eye on.

  • Referring information in terms of which search engines you are ranking in. If you are only getting referring traffic from Yahoo and it looks like you are not in Google you should sort that out.
  • Exit links: If you have advertisers on your site you can check how many people you are sending to your advertisers. That is useful information for being able to renegotiate your rates if you are sending your advertisers a lot of business.
  • If you have paid text links you need to know how they are performing.
  • If someone has just pasted your link on a forum or board they then go to that forum and engage with them there. For example, you can then post a 5% discount coupon to maximise the traffic from that community referral. That is only really works if you are getting your stats in real-time.
  • A key one that a lot of people don’t look at is converting key words. Let’s say you are selling a product. You might get a thousand people who come to your site but only a hundred buy then it’s the key words for those people who buy your product that are really valuable. If you can find a trend of keywords that actually results in purchases you can focus your ad budget for optimizing for those converting key words.
  • Download statistics: You can see what people are interested in by seeing what they are downloading. Your brochures, your pricelists and things like that. If people are downloading the order form but you are not getting any orders then ask what is going. Are the prices not right, etc.

“There are still so many people out there who still don’t know that website analytics exist. Everyday of the week we have people contacting us. There is still a vast untapped user base that could use analytics information. So we are trying go focus on reaching as many people as we can as well as improving the service for our members.”

You can also follow GlobalStats on Twitter: