Stephen Baker

The Numerati
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Who answers pop-up surveys?
September 20, 2008languages

I'll have to touch base with people at Platform-A to see how our targeted ad campaign is going. I haven't seen any of the Numerati ads yet. (I guess my Web surfing habits don't match the profile of the typical Numerati buyer. Or maybe the algorithms are so sophisticated that they recognize me as someone who has already read the book...)

In any case, one of the tools they are using(to a limited degree) to test the public are those customer surveys that pop up in little boxes. I was surprised to hear that, because I instinctively shoot those intruders down. And I imagine that most prospective Numerati buyers do too. So I asked the expert at Platform-A about the participation rate in pop-up surveys. Low, she told me, very low. And who participates? According to their analysis, I learned, the most likely to participate are Midwestern women with modest incomes. The challenge, then, is to calculate the statistical correlation between this group and the population at large.

Also, here's a commentary I did on Marketplace last night. I heard from lots of people all over the country who heard it. The idea is that as we deal with more automatic systems, we'll have to hone our personal algorithms, much the way companies have to optimize Web pages to show up on Google searches.

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Who is reading this blog, part II
September 13, 2008languages

Here's a graphic from Platform-A, the division of AOL that's running the behavioral targeting ad campaign for the Numerati. By the way, I hear that the plan is now to run significantly more ads than the 8 million I mentioned last week. Have any of you come across any of the ads yet in your Web wanderings? If so, I'd love to hear where you saw it--and if it was one of the scary ads.

According to Platform-A:

"The Numerati audience is nearly unique in that it consumes arts content highly, such as book and theater reviews, and yet is also reading a significant amount of technology content. The heavy business and finance content indicates a white-collar audience, and the heavy sports usage skews male." (I would also guess that the low gaming and music signal that this blog--for some mysterious reason--may not be connecting with the young. Am I wrong?)

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Who is reading this blog?
September 10, 2008languages

The data is in, and I'm beginning to get an idea of who you are.

That's right. For our behavioral targeting campaign, we placed what is called a "pixel" on this Web site. Most media sites have them. They report on which sites you have come from, and then the analysts (or algorithms) use them to put you into different groups, or tribes. This data is based on visitors in the second half of August (before BW ran the excerpt), and the readership was a modest 2,000. (Here's hoping it rises this month.)

No offense, but I've never seen a more boring list of tribes in my life. No sign of race car buffs or dating sites habitues. No porn. It's all just what you'd expect for a mainstream business and technology site. The biggest group, 41%, comes from "general news." Visitors also visit business, politics, and opinion pages. The Olympics. Yawn.

Some 10% of the visitors come from book reviews. I guess they'll make up one of the two major subgroups for our advertising campaign: arts and literature (ie New Yorker readers).

Even though the groups by themselves are a little drab, it'll be interesting to see which ones respond to the ads. Will The New Yorker readers click the scary ones more or less than the core business tribe? Will a small minority tribe (entertainment-nightlife-dining, 5%) click disproportionately on the ads? We'll see.

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Launching Numerati behavioral campaign: Will deliver 8 million targeted ads
September 5, 2008languages

Over the next six weeks, you may run across some of these ads on your net wanderings. If you do, it will be because the patterns of your browsing, the sites you visit and the articles you read, rank you as a promising would-be reader of The Numerati.

As I explained a couple of weeks ago, Houghton Mifflin is doing a behavioral advertising campaign for the book with Platform-A, a division of AOL. (AOL last year bought Tacoda, whose work I describe in the introduction to the book) So, the idea is that we're using the tools and methods of the Numerati to promote the book.

Now I have some details. The campaign, by industry standards, is pretty small. It will deliver some 8 million targeted ads. The first stage, which starts in the next couple of days, will scatter them to a general audience, people in every sort of behavioral tribe imaginable. Some might be romantic movie lovers, others John Deere aficionados. Some may dwell at length on obituary postings. Platform-A will see if any of these groups seem especially interested in the book. They will also note which ads they click on. Some are cheerfully promotional, others much more scary. (One flashing ad says: Meet The Numerati... They've Already Met You.)

On Sept. 15, they will have the data to launch the targeted campaign. They start out with the hypothesis that the two interested groups will be readers of book reviews (the so-called "arts and literature" crowd. I think of them as New Yorker readers) and those interested in "business strategy." Unless the preliminary tests show that another group merits their attention, they'll divide the ads between those two. The business readers will get about 20% more, since they're a larger group.


A Numerati reader, perhaps?

The person I spoke to at Platform-A told me that the campaign is a little more fractured than she'd choose. In other words, it's broken down into more categories than most campaigns of its size, with more ads and broader targeting. The reason: We're interested in generating lots of data. This is an experiment for us, a new form of advertising, and we want to learn from it.

I got more details in my phone call last night. But I think I'll horde a few of them and break them out as separate blog posts.

I should add here, especially since some of the publicity focuses on the creepy and invasive nature of the Numerati, that neither we nor Platform-A will know details about the Web surfers we track. No names, no addresses, no professions. They're anonymous surfers, each defined only by the pattern of the pages he or she visits.

As I mentioned yesterday, if you have time to take a look at the ads please leave your thoughts about them. Are some of them offensive? Exaggerated? Do any make you want to interrupt what you're doing and buy the book? Of course, if you supplement your views with information about yourself, that will give us even more data to work with... If the two things you're buying this week are a Lamborghini and The Numerati, you might lead us to a rich and hidden vein of potential readers. (I also posted a version of this on

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We are going to target you with behavorial ads--and blog about it
August 20, 2008languages

Here's the idea. The Numerati is about tracking and predicting people by their data. So why not use a domain of that very science--behavioral advertising--to spread the word to the most likely readers?

That's what we're going to do. In the coming weeks, my publisher, Houghton Mifflin, will be running an advertising campaign for The Numerati on the vast network of sites affiliated with Platform A/Tacoda, a division of AOL. We'll be studying the patterns of the people who click on Numerati ads. Which web sites do they come from? What types of profiles do they have? Do some profiles click more on one type of ad than another?

We'll make adjustments, and I'll describe the process, step by step, on this blog. I'll also be sounding out readers on the conclusions we reach and the advertisements we distribute. Maybe you can steer us along a more reasonable path. Or perhaps the data will lead us along a path that appears to defy all logic--but still works.

Are there things I cannot talk about? Only one that I can think of: Money. I'm not privvy to the details about how much this campaign costs. But if I can wheedle any numbers out of the process, I'll do my best to blog them.

Here's how the campaign should work. Our team starts out by imagining the ideal readers for The Numerati. This decision is made the old fashioned way, with the gut. For starters, we'll be looking at two types of people, the datamining types who resemble The Numerati and the arty-literature type crowd that might page through an article about The Numerati in a magazine like The New Yorker. I may have quibbles about those choices. Maybe you do too. But the process has to start somewhere.

Over the first week, the ads will be dropped along the Internet pathways of people who meet these profiles. I'll go into much more detail as this process continues. As Web surfers begin clicking (and ignoring), the data may show that the Numerati/New Yorker types we imagined may be less interested in the book than folks from entirely different tribes. At that point, we'll start tweaking. All the while, the data will be pouring in, and I'll be blogging about it.

Is this the new way to find readers? Our opening premise, based largely on our guts, is that it is. But the data will tell the story. That's the way of the Numerati. (other post about this on Blogspotting)

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