Month: January 2011

Metrics To Track In Online Operations

This is not really proper post, it is a collection of points I have repeated to many people (last posted in a Hacker News thread). Figured it would be a good idea to have it put up somewhere.

What it is a list of metrics you need to track when you run an online operation and the importance of each element:

The metrics

1. Page views: Track overall growth

2. Page views per user: Track engagement

3. Visits: Track overall growth.

4. Unique visitors: largely useless metric since every tool out there disagrees with each other on the number.

5. Revenue per user: Track user segmentation.

6. Revenue per page view: Track infrastructure costs.

7. Active users: Finer measure of engagement and churn.

8. User acquisition/retention cost: Track cost of marketing/outreach.

9. Conversions: Free to registered, registered to paid.

10. Off-site: Notification emails, Newsletter subscribers, open rates, Twitter followers, Facebook fans.

Their importance

(1) Important for selling inventory on CPM.

(2) Needed to get the mix of organic growth with existing users to increase, while keeping a different focus on acquiring new users.

(3) Needed for the ad sales pitch. No point getting a million visitors if you can't retain them, but sales needs inventory.

(4) This has always been ~10% off between different tools. Can be an indicative measure of engagement.

(5) Helps keep ceilings in place for acceptable cost per user.

(6) Helps make decisions on infrastructure where you need more than what you can buy.

(7) Possibly the only user-related metric that should matter internally.

(8) Can help you understand why bidding on that $5 CPC keyword does not make sense when what you make per user is $3.

(9) Helps you fine tune monetization.

(10) Helps you cover all other external delivery platforms.

Filed under: Advertising, Industry, Internet

Introducing Market Vision

This is a post that should have been made a while ago, but, as the saying goes, “better late than never”.

Market Vision is the first proper full blown product that I am building as the first step towards realizing the vision behind Frontiernxt. The aim with Market Vision is to engineer fine product experiences in the financial domain and the website is the beginning of what is, hopefully, going to be a great journey. The market for what we are looking to do is big enough, but it also comes with the challenge of being extremely fragmented. This is not a segment that can yet support a big sized play and monetization is hard if you are going to play only for the consumer market.

Hopefully, by going on a more measured path we should be able to handle the challenges a lot better, but we have to learn and adapt constantly. This is already seen in the fact that we have had to change our business model twice along the way, even before we had launched. Some of the market segments we were hoping to exploit, on a closer examination, turned out to be areas with negligible growth prospects. I am glad we could do a course correction at this stage than later when it could have been much harder and costlier.

My partner in crime for the project is Deepak Shenoy, who has been in the financial domain for a while now and has a primary background in technology with the cherry on top of being a two-time entrepreneur. He is a well recognized voice in the financial community in India and he drives the core of the project. I got to know Deepak through Twitter and his blog and much to my good fortune he is someone who is a real pleasure to work with.

In the model that Frontiernxt looks to follow, I tend to keep an eye out for domain experts (in places other than technology) who can benefit from having with them an enabler in the internet domain. This can often be a dicey proposition if the fit is not right between the parties involved. There have been many half-starts, conversations etc before this and I can now see how important it is to find the right person/team to work with.

The website currently is very much a work in progress. It can even be called an alpha, but a start up that is at the stage we are it, labels are only of academic interest and there is a premium on sinking or swimming fast than to see how elegantly we can do it. We are focussing mostly on pushing out quality video and textual content at the moment; in the days to come we will sort out the various niggles in the user experience department.

Take a look around and let us know what you would like to see, what you don't like and even what you like about it.

Filed under: Frontiernxt

A Social Reboot

When I got off Twitter (I do log in there every now and then) and disabled my Facebook account, it was not meant to be a permanent thing. I had a massive backlog to run through when December 2010 came around and cutting off these two were one of the many steps I had taken to ensure that I don't lose focus. It is now close to two months since I have posted anything on Twitter and almost a month since I disabled my Facebook account. Surprisingly, I don't miss either all that much.

Before I go any further, I should clarify that some of my observations regarding usage of these platforms are very specific to me. It may or may not apply to you (chances being more of the latter). I have also been off instant messengers (with the exception of Skype for work) since 2008, making me very old school. Email and phone have been the best ways to reach me for a while now.

Usage

Twitter: My typical use of Twitter has been a 60:40 split between sourcing information/links and conversations. I don't follow a lot of people and have always tried to keep the number under 100 since anytime it has gone above 90 the noise just completely overwhelms the signal for me. I also don't have the bandwidth to handle any volume greater than that. But I do reply to pretty much every tweet that addresses me (well, save some of the endlessly repetitive #ff tweets).

Facebook: I am most certainly the 20 in the 80:20 creation:consumption ratio on Facebook. I rarely post anything there, but browse a lot, 'like' the odd artifact or two and keep up on what friends are telling others what they are up to these days. Facebook used to be the third persistent tab on my browser (the first two being Gmail and Google Reader), though I could rarely understand why. Guess it was more of a habit – command+3, command-r.

Value

Twitter: To say I have been completely off Twitter would not be true. Other than regular lurking sessions, there is an experimental site that I run (now very broken), which picks up the links from my Twitter timeline, crawls the links, excludes some that I don't like (Techcrunch, Foursquare) and throws a RSS feed at me that I follow in Google Reader. The value I have gotten from Twitter as an interest-driven content source has been excellent. It augments my Google Reader subscriptions well. Only if I could de-duplicate, cluster and classify all these sources into a single feed..

How much do I miss Twitter? On a scale of 1-5, I think a 3 is an ideal representation of this. It could have been higher, but over time I started having fewer conversations that were more than just chatter and I was getting more into broadcast-only mode. Yes, I could prune and change my follow list to address it, but I don't have the inclination to do that. And Twitter does not help matters much by having a horribly broken discovery mechanism. The 'similar people' feature is a joke.

Facebook: If one word could sum up my usage of Facebook it would be 'timesink'. Facebook is almost entirely personal contacts for me, so there is little professional value for me from it. The third tab has been my favourite source of distractions and as a product Facebook excels at that. My real value from Facebook has been birthdays. I am awful at remembering these things and in the previous layout of Facebook it was easy to see them. The day they changed it, one of my major reasons to use Facebook also disappeared.

How much do I miss Facebook? On a scale of 1-5, it is probably zero. The first few days I had to fight the habit of opening the third tab and key in 'f' and wait for auto-complete to do the rest of the magic. After a week or so, I did not even remember the reasons as to why I was there in the first place. I do like having more time on my hands to read things I like (books, for instance) and not hang out on the computer blindly clicking away at links.

This, by no means, is not representative of most people I know. It is actually representative of the problems I have. I have a personality that is very prone to addictions like those. A normal addiction grants you something valuable – a rush, a fix etc – but for me most addictions just grant a pattern or a habit to break the monotony. It is what I call the anticipation rush – the rush that when the data loads on your system, you feel you'll find something exciting there. This dies as soon as the page load is over.

What Next?

I do spend a fair bit of time on Quora and Hacker News. I jump in on the odd thread where I feel I have something useful to contribute. They are not beyond the flaws mentioned about Facebook and Twitter earlier in the post, but they work much slower and there is an inbuilt incentive to not contribute in both places unless you have something of use/value to say. I have to admit, I quite like that.

At this stage, I don't see myself activating my Facebook account again. I simply don't see what do I stand to gain from it. Twitter – I may get back on it, but I want to try something else before I do that. Over time, I have been increasingly wary of not owning the content and conversations that I contribute. I don't want to own all of it, but I don't like this current situation where I don't own most of it. Also, I want to see if I can patch together some of these on this blog and my personal domain. Yes, I won't ever probably go viral (not like I ever have), but I kind of like that better.

A smaller audience, better quality conversations and ownership of the context/content – sounds like a workable plan to me.

Filed under: Social

Agenda For 2011

The end of 2010 was quite a hectic affair for me. I was involved in a challenging build and a much-needed restructuring of the company at the same time. Eventually, the build ate up all of my time and I start 2011 having to work out a strong plan for what I want to do with Frontiernxt. Somewhere during the build I got off Twitter (I log in to read up once in a while, but rarely), disabled my Facebook account and shut down my many other distractions. I have done something similar a while ago, but nothing that has lasted this long a period of time.

When I reviewed the past two years, what I discovered was that most of my problems could be easily interpreted through three things:

1. Clarity: How clear are you about what you are doing. It may mean five different things a couple of years down the line, but what does it mean right now?

2. Execution: How well can you execute on the clear vision/idea that you have.

3. Closure: One you start building/planning something, finish/close it.

Looking back, I see way too my unclear ideas, things half-built and products that were not completed. There is only one underlying theme to 2011 – which is to change all of that.

Filed under: Frontiernxt