Monday, May 7, 2012

From WAA to DAA - what's in a name change?

This is a guest post from Joseph Carrabis, a mentor and friend who occasionally provides an unbiased independent and always very interesting view of the web digital analytics industry. One of his previous posts, "the unfulfilled promise of online analytics", written over two years ago, is still very relevant to this date - you might want to start there and come back. At the time, his views sparked a truckload of comments and I nodded Joseph in a previous post.

You Say Tomato, I say "Irrefutably demonstrate that you are different than what I recognize as a 'ToMAHto' and I'll call you a 'ToMAYto'".

Dan Linton Interviews NextStage CRO Joseph Carrabis on the Web Analytics Association-Digital Analytics Association rebranding.

(My thanks to St├ęphane Hamel for his editorial guidance and to Dan Linton for helping to continue the myth that I'm intelligent. All opinions expressed are mine. This post is dedicated to Charles, NextStage's CTO, who periodically tells me "You're such an academic.")

In March 2012, the Web Analytics Association changed its name to Digital Analytics Association. In this article, Dan Linton interviews NextStage CRO Joseph Carrabis regarding that name change, what it means and whether it is likely to affect the Association's present and future.

Q1: How significant is this name change to you?

While I appreciate the question "How significant is the name change to you?", I'm not the audience that needs to answer it. To me, personally? Not much. I recognize that the world is changing and that rebranding is a simple strategy for claiming relevancy in a changing world, but rebranding purely to demonstrate relevancy without adaptation to the environmental changes (and this goes beyond indicating "we do mobiles, too!") is change without remissioning ("re-mission", as in "change of course", "recognition of new goals, new meanings, new purpose, ...") and is a futile endeavor.

Aboriginal societies rename (rebrand) individuals to designate status changes within that society and often the individuals will rebrand themselves based on life changes.

Whether aboriginal or modern society, rebranding only occurs when status changes. An individual or organization with a very strong brand (name identity) won't rebrand unless there's environmental (market) pressure to survive. That's evolution and any evolution is an indication the original organism is ill suited to the new environment.

Thus the greater question is "How deep does the rebranding go?"

Q2: Is "Digital" so different from "Web" really?

About five years ago, maybe. Between 2005-2007 the meanings were different and significantly so. Now, not so much so. If a recognizable difference exists it's probably a holdover from the first ten years of this 21stcentury and even then, only in the minds of luddites like myself - the "web" is what you get on your desktop's browser. "Digital" is what you hold in your hand. I mean, that's what "digital" relates to; your digits are your fingers, hence what you hold in your hand. This hearkens back to my statements early in 2007 that the history of technology is the placing of the most power in the most people's hands economically.

But the distinction I make in the above is one of device and by extension presentation because the presentation will be constrained by the device n which the information is presented. Device constraints are obviously a major consideration and the demonstration of this is the big selling points on successive generations of mobile devices - screen resolution, color density, speed and connectivity for example.

Those distinctions are the same ones that were touted ten years ago, twenty years ago and so on.

Now if the question is "Do people within the industry recognize a distinction between "web" and "digital"? then we're asking a completely different question and this leads to your next point.

Q3: Insiders mostly think "web site analytics" is far different from "mobile/web/app/social analytics" but from an outsider's perspective, do those two words really mean something different?

Note that Justin Cutroni wrote Radically Rethinking Web Analytics and it's an interesting read that answers the question from a branding perspective, not a use perspective (a la Defining "Definition" and People as "Programmable Entities" ). Identifying an activity (specifically, identifying one's self with an activity) is not the same as demonstrating the outcomes of an activity (specifically, demonstrating that one's activity produces specific outcomes). There are lots of people who can see a rocket launch and identify it as "rocket science" and the number of people who can get a rocket to launch is much smaller.

This difference between seeing and doing could be the divide Justin mentions re web vs digital analysts. But then membership numbers become confusing. Daniel Waisberg shared that the official WAA-DAA enrollment is "over 2,000". LinkedIn reports 11.5k or so members in the DAA Group. These numbers are after an eight year WAA-DAA history. Place those numbers against the number Justin offers for Google Analytics accounts (even counting inactives, multiple accounts, et cetera as was explained to me by ClickInsight's June Li ) and a social disparity appears - the active population is too small to sustain itself in anything but a highly networked world. The collapse of geographic boundaries is the only reason this "analytics diaspora" could maintain itself, and even then several other socio-cultural factors had to exist (many of them reported in the Unfulfilled Promise series).

But now another problem appears and it is demonstrated in Justin's post and the recent WAA-DAA rebranding: small cultures don't survive population fragmenting. Everybody knows about the great cultures of history, few know about the once thriving but too small to be sustained cultures of the Andean Blue Men, the GoatMen of Aguirra, the People of the Elk, ... Our only knowledge of them is from the scant oral and few written accounts of the Marco Polos who encountered them in their travels.
So while renaming et al is a fascinating exercise, the real goal should be population based (recruitment, unification, defragmentation, ...). The DAA should capitalize on its WAA roots as much as possible (as indicated in Justin's post) rather than completely rebrand. The situation reminds me of the chicken-or-the-egg question that exasperates semioticists; "What came first, the chicken or the egg?" is an illogical question. /Until someone pointed at some thing and said "That's a chicken." then there were no chickens to lay eggs that would hatch chickens, hence the chicken had to come first. The DAA was hatched from the WAA. It's first port of call should be all those web analysts Justin writes about.
Now, to answer Dan Linton's question...

The answer is within the question and the demarcation is between "insider" and "outsider", not between "web" and "digital".

I contacted forty individuals worldwide via email, Skype and phone; people whom I knew were in the online analytics field and who were involved in the WAA in some capacity or other (about half took part in The Unfulfilled Promise of Online Analytics study). The other unifying element of my sample was that their peers provided consistent evaluations of them as people (note that. I was evaluating by social status, not analytic ability). More specifically, I was separating "loyalty to the dollar" and "loyalty to the truth". "Dollar" is objective and binary, "truth" is subjective and analog.

One of the simplest ways to translate subjective, analog data into objective, binary data is via The Chinese General Solicitation : Does person A think person B is more apt to follow the dollar or follow the truth? People B who scored over 90% "truth" were those I interviewed.

Thus to the point of whether "digital" is so different from "web" and according to a fairly diverse group (whose only commonality was that their peers thought them a) truthful, honest people b) whose opinions weren't influenced by who was paying them), no, not really. The great rush, it seemed, was to catch up to where the industry was already going. All but a few people interviewed said that the industry was already "digital" and the majority of people were already doing "digital" so the name change was merely cosmetic.

It was at this point that those interviewed provided an internal demarcation regarding "insiders".

A few offered that the name change would allow for a rebranding of tools and trainings, requiring recertifications perhaps, but not because the tools were actually doing anything differently. They may be monitoring mobiles instead of websites but that was only a difference in access, not intention.

With this piece of information one can wonder who the insiders really are because the people actively doing the analytics have been adapting to the changing analytics ecology for a while. Thus if the name change represents nothing more than a new marketing opportunity, expect little real change - remissioning - to occur. You teach a WA course, correct? Has there been any discussion of teaching DA courses? And if so, is there any functional, operational change in what's being taught? How it's being taught? What actionability comes from the results?

The answers to these questions answer your Q3 question.

Dan Linton Responds: To my knowledge, those changes will come eventually but UBC like many academic institutions is a bit slow when it comes to the change approval process. The reality is though that the content already is inclusive of "digital" so I don't foresee any major changes.
The courses are mostly online reading with discussion forums and a few assignments which the tutors (like myself) mark and offer advice upon. The courses are more about "how to think about analytics" as opposed to any kind of technical training. I've always thought they needed to supplement them with far more tactical things like how to properly set up a dashboard in Excel, which is pretty basic but shocking how few people know how to do it.

Q4: Does the word "digital" reflect any piece of data stored on a digital medium (which is virtually every piece of data in the world now)?

Hmm...Within this context? Hmm... The question as phrased is fascinating. It indicates two-dimensional thinking. "Stored" relates to two things interacting with each other and can only be measured as an indication of existence. Something either exists in a given medium ("is stored") or not. There is no information regarding that thing's value, purpose, intention, function, et cetera. All we know is that that thing is interacting with the space bounded by the medium and that the interaction is "exists within". Ultimately these kinds of measurements are binary because all we can do is determine "Yes, it exists" or "No, it does not exist". If 50,000 people live in a city we've only summed 50,000 pieces of "Yes, it exists". We have no knowledge of what they're doing in that city. And if the only data we can collect is binary in nature, we need an enormous amount of binary sets to extract even the simplest information and make decisions.

Another fascinating element of the question is the use of the word "data", not "knowledge", "information" or "wisdom". Data is neutral in nature. Data in context is information. Knowledge provides structure to information, hence direction. Wisdom helps us decide if we want to go in that direction (actionability) or develop another structure, a new framework for that knowledge (applicability).

(image from

Of course, wisdom doesn't come until you've screwed up lots of data, but there you go.
So if the basic form of the data is a series of existences, then yes, "digital" does reflect any piece of data stored on a digital medium. Should the WAA/DAA ever have to deal with social probabilities (where logical calculus rules) and neuromathematics, be prepared for big changes because "exists" is no longer the basis of the measurement. I use to get drink after drink after drink in bars because I could flip a coin and continually call the outcome (I discuss how to do this in Reading Virtual Minds V2: Theory and Application, by the way). Eventually I discovered I could make money by teaching others how to do it. What I was really teaching was a specific application of social probability theory.

But now we're discussing social, and most people doing social analytics are still taking binary measurements, so again, rebranding without remissioning. No new knowledge or wisdom, only new labels and titles.

Q5: Do you feel that the name change is simply cosmetic to refresh the WAA brand?

Dan, thank you for this lovely can of worms. How nice of you to hand it to me. The question is "Is this a renaming rebranding or a remissioning rebranding?" and in either case, change is always worth investigating. Change is adaptation is evolution.

This rebranding came to my attention when I received an invitation to a meeting. Normally invitations to any meetings quickly go into my trash bin. I hadn't received an invitation from this source in some time and my first thought was "They must be trolling their old email lists." Then I noticed the invitation had been rebranded.

Sort of.

All meetings that had once been WAA branded were now DAA branded. I'd also been told by a few people that what once were WAWs were now going to be DATs. The social-anthropologist in me kicked in. A fundamental concept in neuro- and psycho-linguistics is "If what you're doing isn't working change anything" and here in my Inbox was evidence that there had been change - a psychological and temporal distancing. The renaming was one thing, the changing dates (by some, I learned, not all) was real evidence of the latter's desire to separate from the former.

However, as often happens, exteriors had changed and not much else. The same people, the same purpose, the same goals, the same activities. The emperor had changed his clothes but still ruled the same way.

Was this some kind of splintering? Doubtful, considering the source. Was this a recognition of a fundamental flaw in the organizational logic? Ditto.

But my background is one of perpetual testing. I rarely take statements as valid regardless of source until I've tested them myself. What was this rebranding all about? That's what led me to conduct the survey I mentioned earlier in Q1c.

Organizational change has been necessary for a while. Several years back and at more than one con I openly stated thatthe WAA showed all the traits of a society in decline . Some people asked me what could be done to change that and I offered some suggestions based on historical precedents. Without going into agonizing detail, probably the best known historical precedent of a society in decline that successfully remissioned itself so that the society both survived and thrived is the United States before and after the US Civil War.

Much violence, much death, much destruction and in the end the one thing that linguists and social historians point to is that the change was conceptual; prior to the Civil War it was "THESE United States" and after it was "THE United States". The country went from a collection of individual entities who thought of themselves as "individual entities who were part of a group" to a single entity that was "the group". There's an old Greek proverb that fits this well, me thinks, "A civilization flourishes when people plant trees under whose shade they will never sit."

The WAA as I knew it and the pre Civil War US were suffering the same problem - lots of individuals who wanted to be recognized as individual parts of a group. The evidence of this was that people self-identified based on job title and company during casual conversation at conferences, nobody self-identified as some function or relation within or to the WAA. There is no organization until people are willing to self-identify with that organization. Likewise, how people self-identify demonstrates what they value. There were and probably still are a few people planting trees and I don't know if there's enough of them to insure future shade.

But as noted earlier, if the change produces only new names and titles then the emperor is changing clothes, not restructuring his kingdom and shade will neither exist nor long survive. The proliferation of conferences (many of them causing increased splintering rather than unifying), the changing of allegiances and alliances, the once friendly leaders now threatening to sue each other - it's almost as good as Tudor England! Everybody in Henry's court worked very hard to 1) get their way, 2) increase their own little empires and 3) keep their enemies at bay. Keeping the kingdom intact was everybody's stated purpose but only after 1, 2 and 3 were met.

Q6: ...or does it signify significant changes in the organization and the people involved?

There is another rule in neuro- and psycho-linguistics: Nothing changes until it absolutely has to.

Businesses won't bring about any change until they absolutely have to. From social and economic historians we also know that while a business may be a market leader it will not long lead the market because businesses have a remarkably poor ability to recognize internal threats. External threats are dealt with by protecting one's territory and as long as one is protecting, the only evolution that takes place is responsive, not adaptive, and responsive change results in evolutionary dead ends - the organism evolves to respond to a given threat perfectly but when the environment in which these two organisms thrive changes, they can't. They're designed for each other, not the environment, and can not survive in the changed environment. We're currently seeing this in the move to ebooks, except we're learning that ebooks are great for leisure reading and not for research/study reading (students using ebooks don't retain information as long or internalize it as rapidly as those using printed texts). People were planning on a new environment and it turns out that new environment is limited. Oops!

Organizations can bring on change but the only change they'll bring about is that which best serves their community. This is social and cultural anthropology writ large; determine which community best benefits from an organization's change and you learn who that organization serves. In the vernacular, Follow the Money.

I haven't noticed the fracturing of the online analytics community documented in theThe Unfulfilled Promise of Online Analytics trilogy decreasing (based on conversations I've had with those in it daily), and the fact that respondents to my Q3 survey differentiated "outsiders" from "insiders" from "Insiders" speaks volumes, me thinks, and is the final demonstrable answer to your question.

Q7: With this change in mind, do you see the DAA as leading, following, struggling to keep up, or slapping paint on a condemned building?

I recognize two issues at work here.

1) A few years back I was talking with someone very high up in the online analytics community and suggested they use the oncoming directional shift as an opportunity to take the lead. Their response was an emphatic "No!" They would loudly declare where the market is going but only after seeing where it went. This is a safe position but not a tenable one.

People who've taken NextStage trainings know about Towards and AwayFrom. Leading from the rear is an AwayFrom strategy and AwayFrom makes organization, effective communications, strategy making and planning, et cetera, extremely difficult. There are lots of ways to get "away from" a problem state and the (vast) majority of them do not get you any closer to a solution. Lots of money may be spent, lots of activity may occur and in the net result is zero. Success is declared by corporate - or organizational - decree, not by externally recognizable change.

What's exponentially worse is that there's only one way to minimize time and effort if you're an AwayFrom kind of person; go Towards the solution. Such solutions and Towards thinkers are easy to spot. They start where they are and step one step at a time until they've reached the solution. Towards thinkers keep their eyes on their desired outcomes and get there faster, more directly and with minimal expense in the long term.

Leading from the rear is a fascinating strategy and people who lead from the rear can not claim thought leadership. The two are incongruous. But now we're asking, "Is one function of the WAA/DAA is to offer thought leadership?"

In any case, the determination is one of following, not leading.

Next determine if the WAA/DAA is offering organization, effective communications, strategy making and planning, et cetera and providing them from the front or the rear? Is the WAA/DAA
  • Seeing where things are going then pushing their way to the center every time the migration ceases and declaring "This is where we're suppose to be"
  • Out in front and shouting "Everybody stay back until we find out if it's safe"
  • Fearful there's a cliff up ahead, counting the number of heads still on the plateau at the end of each day and deciding whether or not to declare there's a cliff without further investigation as to why there are fewer and fewer heads on the plateau at the end of each day
The United States government is going through the same thing right now. The time it's taking the Republican party to put forth a recognized candidate is indicative of this.

In any case, this determines whether there's any struggling and how much is involved.

2) One well recognized leader in the WAA told me that he's not a numbers person, rarely looks at site numbers and never pays attention to them. Yet this individual wanted help with their site. Another well recognized analyst told me that they don't use any analytics on their own site. How come? "It's not going to tell me anything useful."

These statements are not isolated by type or person and both indicate the leaders in the field have challenges with the industry's claims. Industry leaders demonstrating no faith in the tools of their industry creates amazingly deep problems within any community formed around that industry.

The building may be condemned but rather than rebuild it seems the owners have decided to invest in other real estate when good deals come along.

Q8: How will business outsiders who were vaguely familiar with the WAA view the name change? ...

That depends on their distance. The majority of the planet doesn't know WAA/DAA exists so the name change means nothing. How far outside does an outsider need to be to have a view on the name change? Consider myself. I would never refer to myself as a web, digital or online analyst and was once referenced as "an industry outsider". Yet businesses regularly contact me foradvice on their online analytics budgeting decisions and to recommend analysts to them. My first question is usually "How come my opinion matters?"

I know people in the business and have friends who self-identify as online analysts. I know of people who call themselves web analysts and started calling themselves online analysts years back. Again, this was due to market changes and not ability changes.

I suppose outsiders will view the change as they'd view any rebranding, a "Wait and See" attitude. WAA/DAA and marketing tend to be participants in an arranged marriage between families that still haven't learned how to get along, so "Wait and See" is a good place to be.

Q9: ...How do you think insiders view it? ...

There will be those who view it fearfully, those who view it hopefully, those who will wait and see and those who could care less. These groups will surface when any organization rebrands. Find out what is feared, what is hoped for, what is waited for and why apathy exists and in what numbers and operational paths for change reveal themselves.

There will be those who view it fearfully, those who view it hopefully, those who will wait and see and those who could care less.

Q10: ...What does it signify inside and outside? only signifies something to people who care. Find out who cares and the level of their caring and you'll learn its significance.

Q11: For outsiders, do you feel the new name 'DAA' will resonate more than the old?...

No, DAA will have as much meaning as WAA because acronyms are jargon and jargon is only used to differentiate social, cultural, economic, et cetera, classes from each other. Jargon is why only doctors understand doctors, only lawyers understand lawyers and only web analysts understand digital analysts.

Q12: ...Will it mean more to those who aren't directly involved? ...

The terms "digital" will have more cache than "web" and only until another buzzword takes its place.

Q13: ...Will people more easily understand what we do simply from the name?

LOL! Not likely. Unless they work close to the border of what is being done.

Q14: Who do you think stands to benefit the most from the change?

Ah, more worms. Thanks so much.

There will be a cyclic flow between businesses providing solutions and conference promoters wanting to fill seats. Solution providers will claim "We do [insert buzzword]!" People entering the industry and not being completely familiar with the jargon will ask what the difference between "old word" and "buzzword" (web and digital, for example) is. Conference promoters will claim "We have the Answer! Look! We just created a conference dedicated to BuzzWord! BuzzWord 2012!" People already in the industry will know that jargon has changed. Their time in the industry will determine how much wisdom they bring to assigning relevance to the jargon change and how to respond to it.

This is why there's a rise in "Social Pass" sales to conferences. It's always fun to see friends and play. We did a three year study of how conferences were changing (in many industries). Fascinating stuff that some promoters are using to help create mutually recognized value for both attendees and sponsors. I keep on hoping to publish it someday...

Q15: If you could change one thing about the DAA, what would it be?

Susan Bratton interviewed me a while back . One question she asked was "If you could change one thing about the business world it would be ______?" I responded "If people would stop lying to themselves - not others, only to themselves - that would be the greatest change possible, me thinks." So my response holds for all organizations, not just the DAA.

Q16: Would you expect any unforeseen impacts of the change?...

I've been burned at the stake too many times for accurately predicting outcomes to answer this one without violating my response to Q15.

Q17: ...On insiders or business outsiders?

Ditto. Nothing unforeseen, human/consumer psychology being what it is.

Q18: What do you think employers and businesses will think of all this? ...

Employers and businesses will make up the largest percentage of the "Wait and See" crowd.

Q19: ...Will they notice?...

Employers and businesses will notice if 1) actionability increases, 2) outcomes improve based on increased actionability, 3) accuracy predicting outcomes increases such that there's improved decision making regarding actionability, ...

They'll most definitely notice if they get billed more.

Q20: ...Care?

They'll care if they get billed more and actionability, outcomes and accuracy stay the same or decrease. They'll love it if the reverse - they're billed less, actionability, outcomes and accuracy all improve - occurs.

Q21: What should the DAA be doing next?

Serving its members in proportion to their population, not their dollars. That's a nice response, possibly a popular one and also an amazingly ignorant one. No organism can survive without consuming resources and the consumption rate is dependent on many factors. Two environmental constraints on the DAA are its maximum population and the individual resources within that population (based on a recent "Top 10 Cities" infographic ).

There's not enough people making enough money to support much activity so the organization must either cut down on member activities and programs - and risk a decreasing membership - or take money from "supermembers" (businesses) that will only support the DAA if their needs are met.
That's not an envious balancing act. For anybody.

So I'd guess the first thing would be to decide who is going to be served best and state that openly.
Of course, doing so would bring us back to remissioning...


Susan edited this and added the following:

Reminds me of what's currently happening in IT & "the cloud" - Talk to IT people and they laugh. "We've been doing the cloud for years. It's called 'virtualization of the storage'. Oh, now you want to outsource if so you call it 'the cloud'." (seeIt Might Be Time to Get Your Head Out of the Clouds and Cloud Bursting (Cloud Technology Adoption in 2012))

Talk to people outside the IT world, marketers and such, and they get all excited about this new thing out there that they must have. Talk to people in the know and they could care less.

DAA vs WAA. Talk to higher-ups and they want DAA cause it's new. Marketers go for it to prove to their boss they're up with the latest trends. Web analysts in a company say "we've already got a company doing that" or "we do that now". Their boss says "But we need one that does DAA, not WAA, so the web analysts find a company doing DAA, rebranded WAA, go to their bosses and say "See? I do good!" and everyone's happy. But they're still doing the same old thing just with a different name. Cloud versus virtual storage. DAA versus WAA. It's the same name for the same old dog. The real question is "Can the dog hunt?" Are we just calling "Rufus" "Rex" and now he's a better hunting dog because he has a new name?

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