Things 108: Mix Shifts, Skrekkogle, 109 Children vs Real Madrid

Previous Puzzle: Guns & Banjos
Previously in Things I asked how a banjo and gun website could see conversion in its individual sections improving, but overall conversion decline. Xuan pointed out that visits to some part of the site not counted in either section could see an increase in non-converting visits and so drive the effect, but this is a loophole – even without such a section, the problem can still arise.

The answer here lies in the part of the data not revealed in the setting: the underlying traffic trends. In particular, if you have one particular section (or segment) that converts at a low rate, and the mix of your traffic shifts towards that group, then that will tend to pull down the overall average conversion, even if conversion within the groups is going up.

To take a simple example, consider the following figures for this theoretical guns and banjos site, with figures in the form [before mix shift | after mix shift]:

Banjo section visits [10,000 | 20,000] – lots more traffic
Banjo section sales [100 | 220]
Banjo section conversion [1.0% | 1.1%] – conversion increases!

Gun section visits [1,000 | 1,000] – same traffic as ever
Gun section sales [100 | 110]
Gun section conversion [10% | 11%] – conversion increases!

Overall conversion before:
(100 + 100) / (10,000 + 1,000) = 1.82%
Overall conversion after:
(220 + 110) / (20,000 + 1,000) = 1.57% – overall conversion has decreased!

In practice you will rarely see an effect this strong. On the other hand, you could well see mix shifts drive a significant part of an overall shift in conversion rate. So watch out for that.

Puzzle: Mix Shift Visualisation
This is a really tough one, but I know the Things recipients are up to the task.

Given that mix shifts as described above can be difficult to spot, how might you visualise your website’s data in such a way that any such effects became obvious?

(I have an answer for this, but I feel sure a better answer must exist).

Everyone seems to be linking to this surprisingly weakly curated collection of Steve Jobs quotes. One part that I did like expressed something I’ve been thinking for a while:

Steve Jobs: I have a very optimistic view of individuals. As individuals, people are inherently good. I have a somewhat more pessimistic view of people in groups.

Or as I’ve tried to distill it: humans don’t scale.

These guys make cool stuff, even if their website is slightly too clever for its own good.

It’s too easy for imagination to be constrained by what we already know exists. That’s why I like things like this video, which help remind us that many more things are possible. It’s not particularly well edited and there are no particular highlights, so feel free to skip through and enjoy the general sensation of weirdness, which is after all what we generally look for on the internet, and indeed in life. Or maybe that’s just me.


Things 87: Hacked Kinect, Technology vs Poverty, Robot Kid

Now that the Xbox Kinect is out, people are playing with it (a $3,000 prize was offered for the first person to provide an open source driver, and it’s gone crazy from there) and doing a lot of cool stuff. Here’s my favourite so far (stick with it to 42′ when crazy stuff starts happening):

Can technology end poverty? An article by Kentaro Toyama, a man with years of experience in the field, points out that:

“Technology—no matter how well designed—is only a magnifier of human intent and capacity. It is not a substitute.”

Since people in developed nations already have a great deal of intent and capacity, we tend to overestimate the absolute benefit of technology and get overexcited about the field of Information and Communication Technologies for Development, which ultimately fails to deliver on its promise. Well worth a read.

In relation to the above article, over on BoingBoing, commenter dragonfrog observes:

A quote from Bruce Schneier I think is applicable here:

“If you think technology can solve your security problems, then you don’t understand the problems, and you don’t understand the technology.”

If you leave out the word “security” I think it remains just as valid.”

15 years ago I was playing Tomb Raider (the 21st game I ever completed, according to my records. Current count: 103. More on that later). Years later, I read one of Jollyjack’s observational-comedy-style ‘How To Play’ comics on DeviantArt, and while all his observations strike home, one thing in particular was unexpected:

This was something I did frequently, without really knowing why, and some of the comments said the same.

The question is, why do people playing Tomb Raider (and no other game that I’m aware of) feel driven to do this?

If I was a parent and I could make this kind of thing come about, I definitely would:

Tim Link
The above image is the first one I posted to a new Tumblr I’ve created to queue up images to draw every day, Now Draw This. My attempts then appear on Sleep or Draw. As mentioned in Things 84, I’m mainly saying this here to reinforce my perceived obligation to stick to the schedule, which seems to be working so far.