Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Interview with Marshall Sponder - Part II

Continuing the interview with Marshall Sponder, here is part II of the 2 part interview. You can read the part I at http://webanalysis.blogspot.com/2007/09/interview-with-marshall-sponder-part-i.html

What, if any, education or work experience helped you in making this transition?

A couple of things helped me that I’d like to share. In 2002, after 9/11, I was out of work for a while and really depressed and broke. I briefly studied Robert Allen’s Internet Entrepreneur training and even managed to hire a life counseling coach, through Robert Allen’s Mentorship Program, for several sessions to help me with my career. It was very tough time for me but the Mentorship helped me and ended up getting me to accept challenges and then landed me a job at IBM when no one was hiring anyone, where I still am. Since the life coach training I have been “driven” to do more, be better, be the best I can be.

Also, my art training is constantly being used. It’s often said that Van Gogh looked at a blank painting and was feeling intimidated….. Until he made the first step, put down the first brushstroke – before the first stoke the very whiteness of the canvass is intimidating. It can almost be said that a painter, upon seeing a landscape, aka Paul Cezanne, my favorite painter, doesn’t know how to paint … the painting materializes once the first brushstroke is taken – then next strokes are then suggested by the previous steps. I find my web analytics work happens much the same way. I often take on a new client, a new stakeholder and listen to what they want (trying to envision what they really want) and then starting at the blank canvas and wondering what I am going to “paint” in. Once I take the first steps, the rest starts coming into place and I know what to do.

All that came to a point of synthesis when I stood in front of Cezanne’s mountain, Mount Saint Victoire in Aix en Provence, earlier this year (and before, in my imagination) I saw my life as a Web Analyst and my life as an Artist running in parallel. There’s a lot of visual data, a lot of web analytics data, but it takes an Artist to decide which data to use, which information is meaningful to the story being told– the story the client needs to see and hear, or the Artist needs to paint.

There’s also another quality of Art as it applies to Web Analytics – in Cezanne’s painting, one sees the whole painting at once and then the details appear; the painting itself is painted “all at once”, stoke by stoke. In that “at once ness” is a sequence of events the eye follows – that appears to alternate the more you look at the paintings. As Delacroix once said, the art of unity is what distinguishes Great Art(ist) from a mediocre one.

While Web Analytics reports are presented serially, much alike a novel or book, the concept is realized “all at once” and yet the order of insight and work comes in a sequence, as an intuitive flash, much as Cezanne, viewed Mount Saint Victoire and saw the great mountain, all at once, as in a hyper real dream. Often, I visualize myself as John Smith, the psychic from the Dead Zone, a USA Network show. When John Smith touches an object he sees its history and what its likely future is. When I “touch” the web analytic data, I often get flashes, like a detective, on what the meaning of that data might be. I then draw upon my left brain to get the data I’ve seen and my right brain to pull all together and make meaning out of it.

Finally, what is known as the 80/20 rule or 90/10 rule applies to both Web Analytics and Painting. I’ve learnt 80-90% of a painting, for me, is done, at least conceptually, in the first hour I work on it. The rest of the painting, the other 20% is hopefully adding to what I put down and tying it all together – and then I stop, and I know exactly when to stop – and I’m done.

Earlier in my life, I didn’t know when to stop – did not know how to complete anything. Often I drop by my studio and see painters doing the same thing – painting and then destroying what they just painted – because they lack trust to believe in their own initial vision and feelings.

I see the same in Web Analytics reports, where data is thrown at the audience without first deciding what all means. It’s the Web Analyst’s job to give the data meaning – to be the story teller for the organization.

Cool this is one of the best description of Web Analytic that I have heard. Now I can see how an artist thinks different from an Engineer like me.

What education is lacking, education or experience that would have helped in your job?

Hmm, I guess some SQL database programming might have been helpful – at least, that seems to be what is typically asked for. I noticed that Omniture, for example, often creates large data files that need to be dumped into databases just so you can open the whole file and process the data. I suppose more advanced Excel skills would have helped, as would presentation skills of all types.

What web analytics/online-marketing books have you read and/or own?

All the main ones including eAvinsah Kaushik's book on Web Analytics; however, I find that most Web Analytics books are tough to read though for me, most technical books are. I’m more” hands on”– I need first hand experience with something and then, I find, reading about it after first playing with it, is much more helpful to my learning style.

Which book(s) helped in your job?

A lot of good books out there, and I’ve bought my fair share, but most of what I need is within me, and you can’t really get it in a book. I could rattle of a number of books I’ve read or attempted to read, but none of them seems to have helped me get a new job – because most of the experiences in a book are too generic to the technical situations you need to know for a technical interview.

As I’ve matured, I’ve tended to see books as interesting and helpful when they reflect certain aspects of myself – to confirm what I already know – or inform me about something I wondered about and didn’t know.

What were the major challenges you are facing in this industry?

I believe Web Analysts need to be given a “Seat at The Table” with decision makers; we need to be in organizations that report directly to the business owners, people in charge; not put several rungs away.

I also believe making Web Analysts a commodity is an ever present danger – we must constantly improve our skills and value to those we work with and for or else we can become easily replaceable.

For Web Analytics Vendors, the problem, as an industry, is lack of standardization between platforms and no two Web Analytics Platforms will come up with exactly the same numbers or count visitors, uniques and pageviews the same way based on raw data. In fact, the situation Web Analytics faces reminds me of the situation that Unix faced when I worked in the field – there was an overall standard for Unix, but each vendor implemented it their own way to take advantage of custom hardware and software, making each Vendor Implementation of Unix somewhat different – it cut both ways, being a source of strength for certain tasks, but often made it hard to have interoperable environments.

I think Web Analytics faces the same kinds of problems with the various platforms that really are built around Vendor Solutions.

I know you have several blogs, tell me about them? What kind of article do you write?

I write to 4 or 5 blogs, the most well known is Webmetricsguru.com, which I author entirely, and ArtNewYorkCity.com. I also write for smartmobs.com/ and biggreenblog.com.

I write about anything that I have an opinion about but do try to stay within the theme of the blog I’m writing to, often changing my “persona” as I switch from writing on one blog to another. On occasion I’ll write about a celebrity if I think I can inject enough Web Analytics insight into a buzz topic to make it relevant, because I want the traffic; and often these posts do very well (my Iron Man Trailer posts is an example of stretching myself to capture what I know is popular and yet tie it into Web Analytics, if I can. The Iron Man Trailer was previewed at ComicCom in July and was in great demand my many enthusiasts – I knew this when I wrote my Iron Man Trailer post).

Lately, I’ve used my “abilities” and knowledge to drive phenomenal traffic to my blogs – my intuition showed me how and my reason followed up. Just today, September 10th, 2007, www.Webmetricsguru.com received its 500,000th visitor; my traffic now moves between 2,000 visits a day to 20,000 visits a day, depending on what I write about and the way I use my Search Engine Insights on my Blog postings. (Even a Blog such as Artnewyorkcity.com, not nearly as popular as Webmetricsguru.com, got to be in the top results for keywords like “New York Conceptual Art)”. Part of ranking on the top is for the sheer challenge – to know I can do it, such as my positioning for “Blog Authority”, where my posting is currently #5 out of 83 million pages; Blog posts can rank well very quickly and yet be treated as normal WebPages, an unbeatable combination.

At webmetricsguru.com , I see my self through the lens of a Web Analyst while at artnewyorkcity.com , I become an artist and art critic/reviewer. My mind seems to shift, and even my words and thinking. But I do try to arrive at a synthesis of both Art and Web Analytics and I’ve managed, at my best, to contain both within at the same moment of time

What is your advice to web analysts to keep learning and growing in this field?

  • Join the Web Analytics Association and work on one of our Committees – that will “stretch” anyone and also give the Web Analyst more contacts – and contacts can often end up as one of your future jobs.

  • Become a Blogger and read about your subject; form an point of view and express it often by interacting with the Web Analytics opinions of peers. Increasingly, being part of the “conversation” is necessary; you become part of the conversation by interacting with your peers and stating your position, standing apart, standing out.

  • Be willing to do more than you’re asked to do by your clients, stakeholders and managers – strive to add one extra thing that makes your work better.

What is your advice to aspiring web analysts?

Be yourself, after you figure out what that is. Remember that, at the end of the day, it’s not what you know that matters; it’s what you can do and who believes in you and what you can deliver. It’s your reputation, your integrity, that’s what you need to grow and work on all the time.

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If you are in web analytics field and would like to interview for my blog please contact me at batraonline at gmail.com.