My first thoughts in IWMW13: Empowering the key and seriously, what is the price of Mooks?


Just thought I would quickly write my thoughts about IWMW13 as having been thinking about since coming back on Friday. And are two main points that I keep on returning on:

Stand alone online learning (MOOKs):
(Whats a mook? 56 seconds in)
It was great having such advocates on open learning and data looking at the subject. Talking to people through the conference it was obvious that a lot of time and effort has already been put into this field and I have changed my view somewhat with the input of others. I am obviously for learning to be expanded and am as excited as anyone about the potential of online to do this, however, my concern is the long term future modeling for these courses:

The one thing that still stands out, from a purely business view, is a workable pricing model for everyday UK institutions for stand alone online learning. Currently, the project is either seen as an experimental loss leader ( or more positively marketing tool for the institution which would later confirm itself in greater brand recognition) or the institutions are just making sure they are involved so that they don’t miss out on the next big thing.

My concern is the production and creation of these courses are still dependent on grants or the goodwill of academics and institutions. Although the larger university world brands can see these projects cost as incidental, this is not a viable long term strategy for everyday UK institutions. Over the past few years institutions have become more and more required to justify the spending of penny by viable outcomes, my fear is it will only be a matter of time before these activities are seen as superfluous for most UK institution, which would be a real shame. Leaving it those brands big enough to deal with such costs. Hence the revolution, like so many other online content strategies will fail by the lack of a proper costing model.

Education needs to learn the lessons of the past and have a proper joined up strategy to finance the MOOK dream. I still think an IP geographical pricing model could work. This cold, (billion?) dollar equation is what it will live or die on. what do you think?

Empowering is the key:

Although I agreed with the core of Paul Boag’s talk that Institutional change must occur from within. There were some points that I think were pushing it a bit:

Firstly, in my experience universities are not much different to any large company in that there is managerial structures that stops progress moving as quickly as should be possible. Indeed, there are several household commercial companies whose internal structure from experience are far worse than universities. To castigate universities as the only organizations where non-web people are making the ultimate decisions about the web is not right, it is a truism for all, apart from a start-up, that ultimate sign-off will be by others then the developers.

Secondly, I don’t think there wasn’t a web manager in the room who wasn’t aware of the structures they face day in day out and what they need to do to address it.An alternative argument to you simply saying “F you !” and do it anyway is that it could alienate online from the university. Ultimately, online must have the humility to understand that it is just a method of communicating the university core message to a wider audience and not the end itself for the university, therefore stakeholders need to be brought on board not antagonized at will? Push them when you need to, but, all out war?

Our experience of the sector over the last few years, in this brave new world of the education is groups such as PG and faculties have been more prepared to listen if a coherent case has been made than ever before. Or is that just our clients??

No, it is not perfect, but if you look at the changes in core pages for most universities over the last few years you can tell the change that has occurred. Slow? Yes. Hopeless? No.

And finally, to put my spin on Neil Denny’s “Art of not knowing” talk: Online has a lot of answers, but if it listens to the rest of what is being said elsewhere in the organization and understands its limitations, online teams at universities will make a better, more bespoke case for their own justification and position in the university.

Amazing life expectancy graph

What a amazing graph on life expectancy from 1840 from the ONS, see the massive dip in the median 1916-1920 of men due to the WW1.

Really interesting difference in the modal and median across the board.

Screenshot 18:12:2012 05:30-5

Facebook: Saturated with Ads?

With “suggested posts”  in the central panel on both traditional and mobile forms,along with the sidebar which traditionally had ads,  the Facebook page is becoming saturated with ads.

For the final quarter for this year  many companies have been using Facebook over Christmas seeing if it is a viable advertising model, so it will interesting to see if:

a. It works for companies in particular when comparing to Google Adwords display Advertising and

b. If this saturation of ads leads to lower engagement by users.


Article on Social Media measuring and Government

This was an interesting article on Government social media activity and whether you should measure, have a read also of Ranjit’s comment:

Yahoo/Facebook search partnership? Yes please !


There was a report in the Sunday Telegraph online that caught my eye, it was about Facebook and Yahoo being in serious talks about linking up with regards to search. A very interesting proposition that I thought I would scribble down some thoughts on as the more I thought about it the more it made sense for customers, the companies themselves and online digital marketing generally.

For customers if, and it is a very big “if”, the two companies could combine the Yahoo search expertise with the detailed data gained from the information investment  the Facebook space has  gained from its 1 billion users it could create a level of smart search that could be a game changer. A simple example; that you have”liked” news articles previously from The Guardian, your next news search could automatically promote the Guardian search results, the consumer wins by getting the article they would prefer without the trawling, the Guardian would be more willing to advertise to those they know are interested in their material and the value proposition of the search offered by the companies would be greatly improved. (In essence, this was the reason Google+ was created to supplement Google search.)

From the companies prospective, Yahoo’s woes and need to change are well documented and Facebook for all its vastness still only gets 7% of the advertising revenue of Google . Facebook site ads are well known in the industry for their generally low conversion scores whilst “Sponsored Stories” have been offering better success for online advertisers, they require far more work in creating relevant, interesting material and can only be seen  in the more vague brand awareness bracket rather then sharp ROI statistics that are so compelling for Google Adwords.

The bottom line is that the Google Adwords model of advertising still is the one real very successful model of monetising web activity without appearing too intrusive or causing user to leave. If Facebook could layer their social information on to the Yahoo search they could replicate this revenue model, with Yahoo gaining traction from the Facebook traffic juggernaut.

The size of the Facebook user base is well known, with the latest findings showing 66% of Americans use Facebook, however, Yahoo still has in its favor massive online real estates; still being a major player not to mention the likes of Flickr, Monster etc. Together they could command a huge chunk of the online world to funnel the searches. What Yahoo must learn from its last deals with Microsoft is that Google has become such a “go-to” guy for search this will only work if they could provide a “better then” or at least a “good as” Google search service meaning the users would not need to remove themselves to Google to search, then they have a powerful proposition,with the online marketing dollars following.

Finally,  for Online Marketers online search advertising is for all purposes a monopoly. Comparative research is  made between online search and online display advertising that is not Google run and of course with offline, but this cross platform comparison has its obvious limitations. What the market is screaming out for is a viable search competitor so that they are able to drill down to the keywords per segment and compare the ROI. This is needed I would argue to keep Google honest, (I must not be the only one noticing the cost of Adwords has ben going up drastically over last few years!), but also would be a healthy stimulus to give consumers better products and online advertisers value for money.

All in all, this is one tie up I think the online search market needs and therfore should be wishing to see ?

The flip side: 

Our concern is that using Facebook Ad service, for a company lauded for its data gathering is incredibly bad. The ability to segment data, drill to a date for paritcular dimensions, is not great at all , so it would require a sea change in how its advertising is positioned now for it to work, Yahoo, also is way behind to Google Adwords as providing a comparative service.

The Privacy issue could raise its head through personlised seach, but can see if the search is done within the Facebook Page that no privacy issue could rise.


Ranjit Sidhu @rssidhu


Big Data, Big Waste?

Data from Connotate asked 800 companies about their Big Data expenditure- a massive $4.3 billion last year.  It has been touted the story here is  60% of companies that have spent big on Big data don’t know if it is worth it yet (see graph), which is pretty damning.  Our interpretation of the data is slightly different and perhaps more damning;  that 80% either don’t know yet if it is worth it or will never know if it is worth it. If we forecast on those who already know, 50% of Big Data projects will never be able to justify their spend.

For awhile we have been expounding to anyone who would listen that this “Big Data” fad, could be counter productive as it is blinding people to the fundamental principles that must accompany data projects; clear deliverables and  concrete outcomes for projects with incremental achievements. This fad is making organisations, both profit and non-profit, jump into spending big on projects in a desperate attempt to get on the bandwagon without clearly working out what the project will deliver and what are the  testable success outcomes.

Why is this important? Couple of reasons:

1. Any data project can get very messy, very quickly. Data projects, perhaps more then anything else a business can do, can easily lose itself in its own magnificence so that before you know it you are navel gazing at the data with its original purpose too vague to be remember,end up as a terabyted terror that everyone is too scared to remove.

2. There will be a day that the budget decision makers, who signed off on the expenditure will come back and ask for tangible benefit to the organisations, if, as this report mentions, a potential 80% of companies are unable to justify the expenditure in ROI, the only language the budget decision makers will understand and this will fundamentally change how data projects are seen by the organisation.  We have been here before, tech is very good at making vague promises on technology advancements, anyone old enough can remember how the large investments in the earlier part of this Noughties came back to bite as its value proposition was to vague.

I hope this is taken as a word of caution to all those embracing “Big Data:”, I hate that phrase, it would be much more constructive to use “Intelligent Data” or “Deliverable Data”.

(Will be writing a cheat sheet on creating ROI for data soon….)


Article by Business Insider here



Interesting graph: Google Ad revenue v Print

Source: via SiD on Pinterest

Re: Cookies and new ICO guidance


Thought I would let you all know about the new ICO guidance about the EU cookies and privacy law as per the earlier conversation on Jiscmail – see below.

The good news is that common sense (and some, no doubt, massive lobbyingby Google et al) has lead to a light touch interpretation of the law. The ICO document downloadable at is never going to win a plain English award, but the crux is that it is really repeating what we highlighted the guidance said six months ago with a clear mention of the analytical cookie:

1. p12″Check what type of cookies you use and how you use them”, in other words: Do a site audit! WASP is a good free software that allows you to see cookies on a page, but also do an expert ( i.e. manual!) check of top home pages. Reality for Unis is make sure you only have an analytical cookie not some advertising third party cookie on your site,

2. p12 “Check how intrusive your use of these cookies is”. See below email as to the 1 to 10 sliding scale that was mentioned in the previous guidance and repeated here- they really want to check that you are not “creating detailed profiles of an individual’s browsing activity” Page 13 provides a good check list and is also good guidance as what to put in explaining the cookie. In reality if you are using GA as 99% of Unis are you are a 1/2 (max3) out of 10.

3. p14 and p15 are clear examples of where and how to put your cookie statements, to use “plain english”, even though looking at the report the ICO would struggle to do this…

4. p15 This is the key statement “Which method (of consent) will be appropriate to get for cookies will depend in the first instance on what cookies you use” – In other words- ‘we are not making a blanket ban- check what you are doing, if you are not being evil and creating a profile on the user without them knowing with a persistent cookie, then be sensible, do all that we have told you to do and you will be ok. And to confirm….

On the last page (p 27) specifically on “analytical cookies” they say ” In practice we would expect you to provide clear information to users about analytical cookies and take what steps you can to seek their agreement…… Provided clear information is given about their activities we are highly unlikely to prioritise first party cookies used only for analytical purposes in any consideration of regulatory action.”

So there you go…

As a last point as I know there has been a lot of talk on this, and plenty of scare stories peddled by legal practioners in particular, make sure you and your bosses are aware as to the enforcement of this (p24 of the report). The ICO will first issue an information notice if they think the organisation is doing something wrong, then ask it to take an “undertaking” notice which asks the organisation to change some practice to comply or an “enforcement” notice to make it comply,only finally if your organisationtotally doesn’t listen at all will be fined! In other words, it is about the ICO helping organisations comply and improve rather then jumping out of the blue on organisations naming them as illegal and shutting them down. There are some industries this is going to effect badly…newspapers etc.. but honestly, what you Uni’s do in tracking is very, very low in its privacy implications.

My personal view is don’t be scared of this regulation, but embrace it; its raison d’être was an attempt to make the web space less underhand in it’s tracking and less intimidating for those non technical to understand who/what is tracking them. After all, all this analytical tracking is being done to improve the users experience and save money for your organisation by being more efficient and isn’t that worth shouting (in plain english) about ?


Daily Telegraph article

We work with several universities helping them understand the value of their online presence and feel the need to respond to the article in the Daily Telegraph on the 16th of November.

The article in the Telegraph takes one data set;  expenditure on website development and places it as a cost on a single value proposition; student experience, without considering to monitise the other important purposes of the university website. We consider this to be unbalanced:

The article quotes Robert Gordon University that one role of the website is the attraction of international student, but fails to try in anyway to provide a value for this. Our work with universities allows us to estimate that the university website is key to bringing potential revenue of anywhere between £1million to £5 million in applications from international students every month (1). As around 60% of international courses are 2 or 3 years in length the final revenue can be multiplied several times. This revenue generation is equivalent to that of a single purpose commercial site such as a car manufacturer.

The university website also provides a large cost saving to the university in providing online application and information. Although the full benefit of this we have not measured, the basic savings of applications and prospectus being downloaded from international prospective students can be between £5,000 and £10,000 per month(2), a conservative yearly saving of £60,000. Please remember this estimation is just for international students, therefore the total savings will be vastly higher.

In transferring the cost of site redevelopment into the number of current students the Telegraph’s article ignores the amount of information the website supplies to current students and staff. The university site is the equivalent in size (tens of thousands of current students and thousands of staff) to a company intranet that is a multi-national, such as a bank or petro-chemical company. On a yearly basis the university website will deal with anywhere between 12 million and 60 million individual information (3) requests from current students and staff. Even if we were to put the cost of redevelopment solely down to current students and staff information requests and ignore the website purpose as a marketing tool the cost per information request would be at most 1p to 2p and at best a fraction of that, far less than any offline cost. In our opinion this give a more realistic value spend on student experience than that given by the article in the Telegraph.

To summarise: The university website is rather unique in its scope as a revenue generating tool equivalent to a car manufacturer, as a provider of forms equivalent to a central government body and as a provider of information similar to a multi-national companies’ intranet.  If we compare it to the similar cost of these other websites they provide remarkable value for money.

We are spending many hours helping universities understand and optimise their web presence as well as working on new methodologies to calculate real value. In no way are university websites perfect and the student experience needs to be improved, but proper analysis of value and cost should take in the whole purpose of the university website rather a simplistic analysis on only one area.

Ranjit Sidhu

(1) here we have used several methodologies, but the main basis is to take the number of applications online and forecast through previous years a. conversion rates and b. revenue. These figures are further broken down by a. individual country, b. non EU/ EU revenue and also c. Indivudual departments fee structure and length of course.

(2) this measure is the saving in offline costs in both printing and the individual postage to the seperate countries.

(3) Visits for information from current students or staff

University of Bedfordshire

What has proved particularly useful for us is constant benchmarking on which campaigns have been driving the most traffic. This year, we’ve enlisted the help of SiD (Statistics into Decisions) to help us, and they’ve done a truly fantastic job of collating all of our data and turning it into something meaningful where we can see what is working for us, our prospective student’s overall journey, and exactly where, why and how an application to us took place.

Paul Fryer, Digital Marketing Manager, University of Bedfordshire.
Full blog here

Nordic Life


SID has been an integral part of our companies success over the last 12 months. What they bring to the table is absolutely essential for any business in todays competitive and online driven environment. There ability to clearly track, break down and interpret the data has allowed us to jointly create a very targeted marketing plan. We would not be where we are today with out Statistics Into Decisions. A Big thanks!

Tracking of customer centric data is a vital ingredient to any company’s marketing plan today. SID have the experience to tap into this data and turn it into a successful marketing plan. Their methodical testing approach has lead directly to a very targeted marketing campaign with a clear and positive effect on ROI. Not sure where we would be without them?

Rhodri Lewis, Owner of Nordic Life


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