How to avoid web analytics douchiness

I grew up friends with a kid that was a year older than me. We were great friends, even through elementary school where the difference between being in one grade vs. the next was practically equivalent to 10 current-day years of maturity. Never was this more apparent than when I was just starting 4th grade and he was beginning 5th grade. In “after school” (our parents both worked so we were in the after school program) one day early into the year, he comes over to my desk and drops a trapper keeper that must have weighed 15 lbs, stuffed so tight it looked like he tried to fit a medium-sized pet inside of it. As it thudded down to rest, he leaned over and explained to me that I would never be able to handle 5th grade. There is more learning, more homework, more studying, and more paper than anyone is capable of negotiating. 5th grade was going to kill me.

At the crossroads of every stage of life, I’ve tried to consult people who are on the other side. And in almost every case, a large percentage of the people on the other side report back that it’s harder than they imagined, more complex, and they literally call into question the human capacity to handle it. This was the case with 5th grade, high school, many tough college courses (thermodynamics does actually test the limits of the human mind and body), marriage, having children, and I’m sure it’ll be the same with other things. Every time someone has gone through it, they somehow survived, but question whether any other human could handle it (even though most every human for the last several thousand years has somehow survived the same).

This is called douchiness.

Where does douchiness come from?

In a nutshell, I believe it comes from a need to look smart; to feel better than the average bear and to celebrate our success in overcoming a challenge. How do I know this? Because I’ve been douchy many times in my life (and I knew it when I was doing it).

Our jobs are tough. Really tough, in fact. The debate about whether web analytics is easy or hard has been raging on for centuries (ok, maybe not centuries). But like our douchy definitions for the term “web analytics,” our focus on whether or not what we do is difficult is something we have constantly evaluated from our own perspective, rather than trying to appreciate what an outside perspective of our trade should be.

What kind of watch are you?

A metaphor I’ve been rolling around in my mind for a while relates what we do to how high-end wristwatches are designed. I do not have the money for these things, but maybe some day. Maybe I should put a paypal button on here. Anyhow…

Which of the two watches is more useful? Which of the two watches could potentially be perceived as douchier (to some, cooler, but in terms of actual usefulness)?

What we, as analysts, are paid to do is make sure we have an opaque face obscuring the complexity of our jobs. In watches, each feature the watch can handle is called a “complication.” It’s an apt name, because adding the ability to display a date, make that date learn which months have 30 days and which do not, add a chronograph, a lunar phase display, or any other feature significantly complicates its “motion,” or the guts of the watch. Classy watches like the one on the left simply allow that complication to exist in the background, electing to confidently show the user only what’s necessary; what they paid for. Watches like the one on the right are designed to impress. They are actually super cool looking, but to the user, they sometimes just present extra noise around the core message that is supposed to be delivered.

People in our industry believe that because our jobs are hard or complex, we can wave that flag to show the world how smart we are. We want to leave the face transparent to show our organization, our peers, our parents how smart we are. And worse yet, when someone gets into this trade, we tell them how hard it is. We tell them we don’t know if they’ll survive it. We tell people who say SiteCatalyst is complicated that they just don’t “get it”. That the complex, “enterprise” tool is like a Ferrari. Well I have news for you, my mom can drive a Ferrari. She can start the engine, put it into gear (which usually isn’t necessary with Ferraris since they have idiot-proof automatic shifting transmissions), turn on the radio, and drive wherever she likes. If my mom enters a race, yes, the car allows her to adjust camber, downforce, steering stiffness, single-nut tire changing access and all of that, but she can still go buy milk in the damn thing. To buy milk with SiteCatalyst (and just about all tools), you have to rewire a bomb. So don’t tell people they “don’t get it.”

In a nutshell, we slam our 15 lb trapper keeper down on the table to show the unprepared wussies what they are in for and how badass we are.

That’s douchy.

De-douching

(Get it, like de-duping? Such industry funnies!)

What organizations need from us is the appearance that what we do is simple and straightforward, because that makes what we reveal actionable. Business is simple. You have revenue, you have expenses, and you have capital (or assets balanced against liabilities). Those are the only things that exist, relevant to us.

But from that point, the business breaks down into smaller pieces that affect one or more of those things. That’s when it starts to get complex. And we can decide to talk about that those little pieces, or we can simply say things like:

  • We have found a way to make x% more revenue
  • We have found a way to trim y% expenses
  • We have found a way to use our capital more efficiently

These are simple messages; compelling messages. And believe me, when the big cheese starts asking questions and digging into the claim you’ve put forth, there will be plenty of opportunity to look smart. But wait for the digging, for the love of God.

We are paid to make it look easy and have the goods to back it up. Any professional athlete makes it look easy. But they have 10,000 hours behind them that got them there and the confidence to not have to rub that in the world’s face all the time. Let’s do that. Let’s make it look easy. Let’s back that up with everything that exists behind the face, because we do have the goods to back it up. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be running around talking about these amazing business outcomes we can drive.

And finally, let’s be nicer to each other and stop making people feel stupid for saying something complex is complex.

Let’s move past all of this inconsequential tool obsession, let’s extinguish the burning desire to look smarter than the next person, let’s be the classy and incredibly valuable resource the world needs us to be, and let’s reap the rewards. We are one community stuck in a rut, and we are digging. We are better and smarter than this.

With love,

Evan


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8 Comments

  1. Jenn Kunz

    I completely agree that the part that makes #measure people look like rock-stars- giving insightful analysis- should look easy. And I agree that slamming your 15 lb trapper keeper of implementation skill in front of a newby would be a douchebag move- but I don’t feel like I ever see that happen. If anything, the people with implementation skill are shouting “you guys, it’s really not that complicated. You can do this!” At which point some whine “but the tool/process is TOO HARD”. Then, if you tell the people that the tool isn’t too hard, that they have the power to make it work, you get accused of defending the vendor and blaming the client. It’s no-win.
    This may come off as antagonistic, which is totally not my intent, but I’ll admit to finding it mildly ironic that a post that started out “let’s not make ourselves douches by making our job sound harder than it is” concluded with “sitecatalyst has a horrible implementation that requires 20 engineers”.

    Posted August 10, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink
  2. Haha, thanks for weighing in.

    As for your first point, I’m not really meaning to say that the trapper keeper slamming is happening around implementations. In fact, this post (if read another day) should read as a much broader perspective on how we represent ourselves to the OUTSIDE world: those outside of our trade entirely. The business consumers.

    But we do the same internally. What I see is people saying “SC is complicated,” and someone replies, “that’s because you don’t understand it, it’s actually really complex which is what makes it powerful.” Well, that’s ridiculous. It’s not ridiculous in the sense that you can always get power without complexity, but it is ridiculous in the sense that we got power with complexity a long time ago, and at no point in the last decade has there been an advancement to meaningfully reduce that complexity.

    So, the post is on 2 fronts.

    As for the totally antagonistic point (just kidding), my point here is to say, “Snap out of it” and quit making excuses for something. When we talk internally, it’s fine to talk about what’s behind the face. I’m not implying we need to always talk about the watch hands, because we all know there is some janky shit happening behind the face. But when we see jank, let’s call it jank. Let’s not make excuses for it. Like Eric said, there has been little advancement. So stop defending something that is needlessly complex and has been in that state for an inexcusable length of time.

    In summary, let’s talk shop constructively among ourselves, and let’s not talk shop to our consumers. Today we talk shop non-constructively by calling GA “simple,” and in turn calling the users and businesses who employ this tool “unsophisticated.” And to make things worse, we claim that the nest of wires that is SC’s implementation is evidence of sophistication. That is totally and utterly ridiculous. It is a sophisticated tool, indeed. But the two topics of sophistication and complication (over the long term) are absolutely not related.

    Many would call me a fanboy of GA. It’s mostly true. But it doesn’t mean that I just sprouted out of the ground last week and found a tool to fall in love with. I have worked with over 100 highly-complex implementations of SC with a good dose of love and hate at different times, and today, there is a clear winner when it comes to many (but not all) aspects of a web analytics tool.

    Posted August 10, 2011 at 10:50 am | Permalink
  3. I should explain that last sentence just a touch: I am not saying that GA is the solitary “clear winner,” I meant to say that GA is in some cases, and other tools are in other cases. I am a fanboy of the right tool for the job, and one tool won’t get it done. A web analytics tool only paints part of the picture, as we all know.

    Posted August 10, 2011 at 10:51 am | Permalink
  4. Posted August 10, 2011 at 11:29 am | Permalink
  5. rebelanalytics

    And don’t forget about the 2008 Douche-off! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fad6eZTDikA

    @Analytics For The Win:

    Posted August 10, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Permalink
  6. Alice Watson

    Okay this post is awesome. I have been using web analytics (95% Coremetrics) for about 5 years now, and have been the power user for a large retail company. I view my role as support staff, i.e. I am there to help other people answer their questions, and remove barriers to answering their questions. Even if the tool is super complicated, most people don’t care. They just want to get their data and get out. Unlike math in school, you DON’T want to show your work. I also found that this is why everyone loves liveview. Even is the data is kind of simple. It’s visual and people can understand and get something out of it right away. Also, I already know I am awesome and smart, and don’t have to prove it to everyone. If I do my job correctly, it will come across without me having to say it. This to me is a big part of avoiding doucheness!

    Posted August 11, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Permalink
  7. Evan: You have a talent for skewering – dismantling SC in an ‘ Emperor has no clothes’ fashion and giving it a wedgie. Hiding behind the veneer of a Ferrari I look at SC as a tool that is better than GA only because it forces you to customize more but – can be horribly bad and unwieldy if set up incorrectly.

    I prefer to start maze puzzles at the end. Not because it makes me look smarter but because it’s the easiest solution to the problem. See you PA!

    Cheers,

    Jim

    Posted August 12, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Permalink
  8. Donald

    An old post but still great subject matter.
    The issue I have is only say 20% of the complexity of web analytics is in the actual tool (e.g. sitecatalyst or GA) the rest is in other analytics/data systems (affiliate, ad serving, CRM), data integration and website architecture (redirects, e-commerce payments). So I am afraid web analytics or should we just say data analytics is still not easy and maybe it is also up to the business people to also understand some of the technicalities more, rather than the web analyst just to have to present a veneer of simplicity.

    The concern I have had, mainly working on projects refactoring botched implementations that have made data inaccurate, is that some consultancies present the veneer of simplicity and then expect the businesses that don’t understand the technicalities to lead an implementation! This leads to “Botchy” and of course extended consultancy fees.

    I hope I have not been too douchy and yes I love GA as I have found it much easier for agile web data.

    Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:52 pm | Permalink