Technology’s Wonders: What Would I Do Without Adobe Connect, Kindle/Overdrive, Lynda.com, and Coursera.org?

First, let me start out by saying that I’m currently based abroad in Beirut, Lebanon. Yes, far, far away from my native Los Angeles, California. Yet, that hasn’t stopped me from pursuing another master’s degree through the University of Florida or prevented me from checking out books from my local library in the U.S. You might be wondering how this is possible. One word: technology.

Technology is making my life easier and more enjoyable in more ways than one. Let me explain…

Adobe Connect in action during a UF imagery course in Summer 2012.

Adobe Connect: Today, you can find hundreds of e-learning programs that are substantive and of high-quality. This means anyone who can afford it can now get a bachelor’s, master’s, and even a PhD through schools that might have once been difficult to access geographically. For me, it means I don’t have to quit my job and life abroad to pursue my second master’s at the University of Florida, ranked 125th in the world by the 2011-12 Times Higher Education Report. My program employs Adobe Connect, web conferencing software for our classroom sessions, which are all live. It’s truly extraordinary that I’m able to engage with my classmates in real-time as if I’m on UF’s campus in Gainesville, Florida. I can chat with the professor and my peers, turn on my webcam and microphone, raise my hand, ask questions, and basically do everything I could do in a normal classroom setting. My classmates and I have presented countless projects and homework assignments to the class with no real issues, except that since class is live in Florida, it’s usually well after midnight here in Beirut when class meets. No big deal!

Overdrive for Kindle: One aspect that I truly value about being an American is the access I have to lovely public libraries, which are located across every community in the nation. Borrowing the latest books, periodicals, magazines, films, and music at no charge is unheard of here in Lebanon. To make matters worse, this country doesn’t feature massive book stores that carry every possible title like what is typical at U.S.-retailers Borders and Barnes and Noble. Frankly, public libraries are one of the top things I miss about life in the U.S. So it’s no surprise that I purchased a Kindle through Amazon.com and began buying books that piqued my interest. A few years after my Kindle purchase, Overdrive was launched. Basically, it’s the best thing since the Kindle. Overdrive allows library users to borrow Kindle ebooks just as you would with a hardcopy book. You check them out, you return them, and you basically have a virtual library at your fingertips.

Lynda.com

Lynda.com: Want to learn AutoCAD? SEO? Google Analytics? HTML5? Digital photography? Photoshop? InDesign? Lynda.com is a one-stop hub for tutorials on how to use software or learn web skills, and beyond. I discovered this site last year and was amazed at how inexpensive the monthly fee is and how comprehensive the tutorial offerings are. More than that, the video tutorials are super high-quality and have greatly supplemented my University of Florida courses. In fact, I sometimes contemplate whether I should forgo the master’s and just learn everything from the Lynda.com tutorials. It would be cheaper and perhaps faster. But hey, a degree holds more weight so I’ll plod along until I’m done with my grad program.

Coursera.org

Coursera.org: Want to take courses from world-renowned universities like Johns Hopkins University,Princeton University, and Caltech? More importantly, do you want to take courses for FREE? Coursera.org is a website I discovered earlier this summer. It offers nearly 200 courses that are taught by instructors from top universities worldwide (University of Florida is one of them—Go Gators!). Students who successfully complete Coursera courses receive a certificate from the university that facilitated it. So I could theoretically come away with certificates from Stanford, Rice, Duke, and Penn, among many others, which is quite incredible. You’re probably wondering who is running this website. It was started by Stanford grads who wanted to make higher education accessible to everyone. It’s a great premise and while I’m too busy juggling a full-time job and graduate school to enroll in courses, I’m definitely keeping it in mind for when my life settles down.

What technology is drastically improving your life?

A Changing World: The Importance of Tracking Social Media

Once I had immediate family members above 60 years of age constantly sending me friend requests on Facebook I knew things were changing. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, and all the other social media platforms are no longer for a small segment of the population as it once was. Today, everyone from your neighbor’s kids to the president of the United States has a few social media accounts. With the popularity of social media, coupled with the growing access to the Internet and smartphones, there are more channels for marketers to consider. Essentially, today marketers must not only track their website’s analytics but also their social media efforts.

While social media does not equal a conversion outright, it can assist conversions. Meaning, someone may have come to your website to buy something because it of something they saw posted on Facebook or Twitter. Thus, assisted conversions are important. So how does a company go about tracking their social media efforts? Google Analytics, HootSuite analytic tools, Adobe, and a range of other social media tracking mechanisms can help.

What marketers need to understand is why social media analytics is crucial to their business. Sure, they already know that their fans and foes are posting reviews, praise, and backlash about their products, services, and operations, as well as “liking” and “following” content, but they need to analyze this data further in order to get anything out of it.

There is a lot that marketing executives can gain through social media analytics, namely rich consumer opinion. Here are the top benefits:

-Discover new opinions, which are often more sincere than what you might receive in a survey questionnaire.

 -Receive instant feedback on your marketing efforts.

 -Track what people think about your company as well as your competitors

 -Gain more understanding on your assisted conversions and what is working and what needs improvement.

 I look forward to hearing your comments on any of the above but also have two questions on this topic:

 -Should companies pay big bucks to track their social media analytics or stick with the basic free programs out there?  

 -How much mining of social media is necessary and not considered too intrusive on a customer (i.e. do you really need to know their activity on Facebook, Pinterest, Amazon wish list, Twitter, etc. to understand their opinion?)?

Love or Hate: Online Surveys

This week, I am delving deeper into something we all (typically) hate. Surveys. Unless there is an incentive–cash or a chance to win something–or you have a bone to pick with a particular organization related to the survey, you may not be too thrilled to fill out surveys.

I am sure that most people have heard of Survey Monkey and may have even taken one of their surveys at some point in their life. Surveys, whether online or paper-based, can help organizations and companies figure out what they are doing right and where they need to improve. Online surveys can be particularly useful as there are fewer challenges in reaching vast audiences.

Per our blog assignment this week, I located an article (see paragraph three) in an academic journal that made use of online surveys.  In the article, published by the Harvard Business Review, an online survey is the basis for finding out that bribery exists to a high degree in emerging markets. This was obtained by a CEB (former Corporate Executive Board) survey of more than 700,000 employees at multinational companies in over 115 countries over the past five years. Certainly, a polling of more than half a million people around the world would be a nearly impossible feat if this were a paper-based poll.

Thus, online surveys can really help with getting the appropriate number of people, and ensuring that the results are comprehensive. However, on the other hand, since online surveys are anonymous, I wonder how many are authentic? For instance, e-rewards.com allows people to take surveys that they are qualified for (i.e. they meet a marketer’s requirements like age, ethnicity, income level), with the incentive being a small payment. I would think that survey responders may be prone to lying to meet the requirements and their answers would skew the survey results. So my questions this week:

-How can marketers ensure their online surveys are being answered by the right audience?

-How can marketers weed out the survey respondents that look fraudulent?

Web Analytics: A Closer Look

ImageWeb analytics, like SEO, is something I have little knowledge of. So I was happy to see that is the topic of this week’s research methods class. I’m not completely unaware of this subject. I have heard of robots crawling pages and collecting data, but I never understood how important the measurement, collection, and analysis of Internet information is in making a website effective. This week’s reading was a primer on how Google discovers, crawls, and returns searches of web pages.

Basically, Google finds new pages by using robots that scan, or crawl, previous crawl pages which reveals newer ones that have appeared since its last crawl. The information is then indexed, using words and tags. This information then allows Google to match a user’s search terms with the most appropriate websites. For example, if I search “Naseem Ferdowsi”, my name, I will get a return of about 2,000 search results. Indeed, they are not all appropriate and often times unrelated to me. However, there are several that are accurate and directly relate to me. Some of these include my LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+ accounts. This means that Google robots have performed a crawl on these pages, indexed my information, and stored it so that anyone who types in my name will receive a return with the applicable websites, plus a few random ones for good measure.

There is certainly a lot more to web analytics than what I have described, but for now this will do. I think a salient question would have to do with privacy. What pages should be up for crawling? And who gets to choose this? For instance, my Google+ updates are published for the entire world to see. However, I do not remember this being something I signed up for. Nor is there a way for me to undo this. Another question is how can a page that has been indexed be removed from the data base? Today, it seems that anyone with access to an Internet connection can find out too much information about any given person. This has its advantages and disadvantages but for some it is more the latter.

Cyprus Getaway: So Close, Yet So Far Away

My weekend destination. Nissi Beach, Cyprus.

In about 20+ hours I’ll be live streaming a University of Florida course, putting finishing touches on a few work projects, and packing my bags (I love multitasking) for a weekend getaway. Cyprus here I come!

 

The 5 things I look forward to doing over the four-day break from life:

1.  Watch my friends tie the knot in Ayia Napa. I love destination weddings (well, everything minus the high expenses).

2.  Sleep. I will have endured two all nighters in a row so I need to catch up on my Zs (don’t worry, I did take one power nap).

3.  Tan. Of course while I have 70+ SPF on (so American, I know).

4.  Enjoy good company. How often do I get to explore a new place with a group of close friends? Actually, quite a few times a year, but still not often enough so I better savor it.

5.  Get refreshed. It’s going to be a crazy fall season with work projects, grad school, and travel. I need to pack up on R&R in preparation for the storm ahead.

Defining Split Testing and Multivariate Testing, and Revealing Their Many Benefits

Multivariate testing diagram

There is a lot more to running a website than getting the code right. To make sure your website is getting the views it deserves, you need to understand who exactly you need to reach and how to target them. This can be achieved by using several tools.

To be frank, this is entirely new territory for me. Indeed, I have heard of SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, but I was not aware of the many tools that fall under this domain. The two in particular that I looked at this week are split tests and multivariate tests.

You might be wondering what split testing and multivariate testing are. I certainly did. Thankfully, the required class reading filled me in on these very interesting mechanisms that optimize websites.

Split Testing

First, split testing allows different visitors of a webpage to see different versions of one of the individual webpages. Through this technology, a designer can test out changes to their webpage before rolling it out full-scale. For instance, half of visitors will see an existing headline for a homepage, while the other half will see the new headline for a webpage. Now you are probably wondering how anything is actually “tested”.  This part, I cannot explain in detail but what I do know is that software keeps track of which version of a page generates the most positive responses or conversions over a period of time. A conversion is an industry term that can mean anything that the website is aiming to do—have customers place an order, click somewhere, register, or sign up, etc. So now you are probably wondering how this is helpful. Ultimately, you can test two different versions of a webpage and find out which one is more successful, thereby allowing your website to better reach its objectives.

Multivariate Testing

Next, is multivariate testing, which is basically the same as split testing but taken a step further. Split testing can take time to be completed depending on how often a website receives conversions. This is where multivariate testing comes into play. With this technology, you can conduct several tests on different pages versions at once. So if you need to test two different buttons along with different conversions, this is possible.

Example of Google Website Optimizer data

Thankfully, for novice web designers or for people who are on a shoestring budget, testing can be free through Google Analytics, which can perform split testing or Google Website Optimizer, which can conduct split testing and multivariate testing. However, people with larger budgets can pay for more advanced multivariate testing services. These can range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to a few hundred dollars to set-up testing and maintain it.

After delving into this topic I have a few lingering questions. What percentage of websites use split testing or multivariate testing? How accurate is it? When could you justify paying hundreds of thousands of dollars on these testing mechanisms? Would these tests be worthwhile for a portfolio website?

Since I will be taking a second stab at designing and coding my online portfolio per course requirements, I will definitely consider these testing mechanisms. I look forward to learning more and implementing these optimization tools in future designs.