Techrigy — New Kid on the Social Media Measurement Block
When Connie Bensen posted that she had formalized a relationship with Techrigy to work on their community, I had to take a look! She gave me a demo of their SM2 product today, and it is very cool. SM2 is pretty clearly competing with radian6, in that their tool is geared around measuring and monitoring a brand/person/company/product’s presence in the world of Web 2.0. I’m not an expert on this space by any means, although I have caught myself describing these sorts of tools as “clip services” for social media. But, hey, I’m not a PR person, either, so I barely know what clip services do!
I started out by stating how little I know about this area for a reason. It’s because this post is my take on the tool from something of a business intelligence purist perspective. Take it for what it’s worth.
What I Liked
The things that impressed me about SM2 — either enough to stick in my head through the rest of the day or because I jotted them down:
- They brought a community expert (Connie) on board early; on the one hand, Connie is there to help them “build their community,” which, in and of itself, is a pretty brilliant move. But, what they’ve gotten at the same time is someone who is going to use their product heavily to support herself in the role, which means they’ll be eating their own dogfood and getting a lot of great feedback about what does/does not work from a true thought leader in the space. More on what I expect on that on the “Opportunities for Maturity” below…
- The tool keeps data for all time — it doesn’t truncate after 30 days or, as I understand it, aggregate data over a certain age so that there is less granularity. I’m not entirely sure, but it sort of sounds like the tool is sitting on a Teradata warehouse. If that’s the case, then they’re starting off with some real data storage and retrieval horsepower — it’s likely to scale well
UPDATE: I got clarification from Techrigy, and it’s not Teradata (too expensive) as the data store. It’s “a massively parallel array of commodity databases/hardware.” That sounds like fun!
- Users can actually add data and notes in various ways to the tool; a major hurdle for many BI tools is that they are built to allow users to query, report, slice, dice, and, generally pull data…but don’t provide users with a way to annotate the data; I would claim this is one of the reasons that Excel remains so popular — users need to make notes on the data as they’re evaluating it. Some of the ways SM2 allows this sort of thing:
- On some of there core trending charts, the user can enter “events” — providing color around a spike or dip by noting a particular promotion, related news event, a crisis of some sort, etc. That is cool:
- The tool allows drilling down all the way to specific blog authors — there is a “Notes” section where the user can actually comment about the author: “tried to contact three times and never heard back,” “is very interested in what we’re doing,” etc. This is by no means a robust workflow, but is seemed like it would have some useful applications
- The user could override some of the assessments that the tool made — if it included references from “high authority” sources that really weren’t…the user could change the rating of the reference
- Integration at some level with Technorati, Alexa, and compete.com — it’s great to see third-party data sources included out of the box (although it’s not entirely clear how deep that integration goes); all three of these have their own shortcomings, but they all also have a wealth of data and are good at what they do; SM2 actually has an “SM2 Popularity” calculation that is analogous to Technorati Authority (or Google PageRank, to extend it a bit farther)
- The overall interface is very clean — much more Google Analytics‘y than WebTrends-y (sorry, WebTrends)
Overall, the tool looks very promising! But, it’s still got a little growing up to do, from what I could see.
Opportunities for Maturity
I need to put in another disclaimer: I got an hour long demo of the tool. I saw it, but haven’t used it.
With that said, there were a few things that jumped out at me as, “Whoa there, Nellie!” issues. All are fixable and, I suspect, fixable rather easily:
- I said the interface overall was really clean, and the screen capture above is a good example — Stephen Few would be proud, for the most part. Unfortunately, there are some pretty big no-no’s buried in the application as well from a data visualization perspective:
- The 3D effect on a bar chart is pointless and evil
- The tool uses pie charts periodically, which are generally a bad idea; worse, though, is that they frequently represent data where there is a significant “Unknown” percentage — the tool consistently seems to put “Unknown: <number>” under the graph. The problem is that pie charts are deeply rooted in our brains to represent “the whole” — not “the whole…except for the 90% that we’re excluding”
The good news on this is that, whatever tool SM2 is running under the hood to do the visualization clearly has the flexibility to present the data just about any way they want (see the screen capture earlier in this post; it should be an easy fix
- The “flexibility” of the tool is currently taken to a bit of an extreme. This is really a bit of an add-on to the prior point — it doesn’t look like any capabilities of the underlying visual display tool have been turned off. There are charting and graphing options that make the data completely nonsensical. This is actually fairly common in technology-driven companies (especially software companies): make the tool infinitely flexible so that the user “can” do anything he wants. The problem? Most of the users are going to simply stick with the defaults…and even more so if clicking on any of the buttons to tweak the defaults brings on a tidal wave of flexibility. Can you say…Microsoft Word?
- There is some language/labeling inconsistency in the tool, which they’re clearly working to clean up. But, the tool has the concept of “Categories,” which, as far as I could tell, was a flat list of taggability. That meant that a “category” could be “Blogs.” Another category could be “Blogger,” which is a subset of Blogs…presumably. Another category could be “mobile healthcare,” which is really more of a keyword. In some places, these different types of tags/categories were split out, but the “Categories” area, which can be used for filtering and slicing the data, seemed to invite apples-and-oranges comparison. This one, definitely, may just be me not fully understanding the tool
Overall, Though, I’d Give It a “Strong Buy”
The company and the product seem to have a really solid foundation — strategy, approach, infrastructure, and so on. There are some little things that jumped out at me as clear areas for improvement…but they’re small and agile, so I suspect they’ll take feedback and incorporate it quickly. And, most of the things I noticed are the same traps that the enterprise BI vendors stumble into release after release after release.
Mostly, I’m interested to see what Connie comes up with as she gets in and actually road tests the tool for herself and for Techrigy. In one sense, SM2 is “just” an efficiency tool — it’s pulling together and reporting data that is available already through Google Alerts, Twitter Search, Twemes, Technorati, and so on. And, with many of these tools providing information through customized RSS feeds, a little work with Yahoo! Pipes can aggregate that information nicely. The problem is that it takes a lot of digging to get that set up, and the end result is still going to be clunky. SM2 is set up to do a really nice job of knocking out that legwork and presenting the information in a way that is useful and actionable.