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Playing With Data for Fun and Profit

I've been meaning to share this for a while now. I was asked to talk at Howard University to their digital business class, which focuses on the use of Social Media, Mobile Apps & Platforms, Data Analytics, and Cloud Computing as strategic assets to be utilized in business.

I wasn't really sure what to do, so I decided to tell some stories about how I've used data in my businesses.


I also built a demo to let the students learn about and play with sentiment analysis in real-time. It used the Movie Review corpus from Cornell. It's a very primitive keyword based system but I thought illustrated the concept well.

Sentiment Analysis Demo

Can I live and work from anywhere? An attempt at becoming at digital nomad

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My work view, Koh Lanta, Thailand

I have lived in a few countries and traveled to dozens of others. The idea of living anywhere has always had some appeal to me. I have traveled to a lot of places where I thought, I could live here.

There is this fantasy of having the freedom to live and work from anywhere. Coupled with the technology to communicate nearly instantly, a new trend has emerged: the digital nomad. A location independent worker.

I decided to give the digital nomad lifestyle a trial run this year. I bought a round trip ticket with 3 months of time set aside to travel and very little in the way of plans.

Planning

I started thinking about traveling around September - October 2013. I knew that I wanted to skip most the of frigid winter in Washington, DC (which coincidentally, experienced the worst winter weather in my lifetime). However, I knew that I wanted to spend Christmas with my family and New Years with friends. So, leaving in January made the most sense.

The next question was "Where did I I want to go?" I had been to Thailand on a number of occasions and loved spending time there. I also have family that lives there, which makes going without any plans much easier. Thailand is pretty cheap as far as cost of living goes. There are also gorgeous beaches. The internet is ok and picking up a sim card and 3G plan is quite easy. I also really wanted to do a lot of scuba diving and there is some great diving available there.

I also didn't want to travel alone, so I was planning to travel with a friend (although that part of the trip fell through). I ended up traveling alone and meeting a few new friends during my travels.


Diving Site, Ko Haa Lagoon, Thailand

Preparations

Traveling on a budget is definitely possible in Thailand. The flight was the most expensive part.

I wanted to build up a good cash reserve before leaving. I had no idea what all I was going to get into on the journey, where I would to end up traveling or if I would earn any money along the way.

As soon as I decided that I wanted to travel, I started trying to find any sort of contracting work available. I thought that finding clients and work could also prove to be potentially helpful when traveling if I did want to earn money while I was abroad. Luckily, I also have a startup that earns some money, but I can't simply earn money every day by putting hours into it. Or, at least the correlation isn't as direct and immediate as contracting.

I saved up enough money so that I could live comfortably abroad for at least three months (in reality it was probably closer to a year).

I eventually bought my ticket on January 2 to leave on January 21 and shared my trip on facebook. Right away, a friend of mine told me that he was going to be in Japan at the end of my trip, so I changed my ticket. That turned out to be fortuitous because I was flying through Japan to Bangkok anyways to have a few extra days in Japan on my way back to the US.


View from Tokyo Skytree of Tokyo Tower with Mount Fuji in the background.

Home Base

The idea of a home base while traveling abroad is quite appealing. I was in the very fortunate position that I have family living in Bangkok that I could stay with. My initial thought was to travel around to different parts of Thailand. Having a home base meant I could leave a few things (like winter clothes) at my family's house. I also had a standing invitation to stay there. It certainly took away a lot of the stress about traveling to places I knew nothing about. If anything went wrong, I could simply return back to my Thai home.

Actual Trip

Washington, DC → Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo → Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok → Koh Lanta

Krabi → Bangkok

Bangkok → Koh Samui

Koh Samui → Bangkok

Bangkok → Hong Kong (30 days were up on my visa)

Hong Kong → Macao → Hong Kong

Hong Kong → Bangkok

Bangkok → Koh Phi Phi

Koh Phi Phi → Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta → Bangkok

Bangkok → Tokyo

Tokyo → Washington, DC

Working Abroad

My primary concern was always having a reliable internet connection. All the business that I do is on my laptop. So, I spent a lot of time searching Agoda's reviews to find places which specifically mentioned good internet. Bungalow separate from the main building with no wifi? Sorry, that just won't do. Every room I stayed in had pretty good internet. There was a power outage in Koh Lanta for one night which left me using 3G on my phone, but other than that I had fairly reliable internet. Maybe I got lucky? Maybe the hours and hours of reading reviews paid off. Hard to tell. I always booked only a night or two to start off with so that I could have a place to put my stuff down. If I didn't like something, I could always switch after a day.

The biggest issue I ran into was routine and schedule. At home, I work from a coworking space in Washington, DC (Affinity Lab). I wake up, have a morning routine, go into the office and work. I come home and generally keep a pretty regular 5 days a week schedule for work.

Traveling took that routine away from me. I was left with 24 hours of unstructured time per day. I didn't have an office, friends to see or commitments to keep. It was chaos.

I had a couple project deadlines while traveling. None of them were particularly large projects and it normally meant setting aside a day or two and just working. That was the easiest part of working.

The hardest part of working was my own work. I worked on a big article about benchmarking and comparing managed WordPress hosting companies.

That's about the only noteworthy thing I accomplished for my own business while traveling. I initially set out thinking that this would be the perfect opportunity to work on finishing up a lot of side projects which never got finished or polished before. These projects include Domainling, a domain name search engine and suggestion tool. FMK, a Facebook game that works but is horribly designed and needs a lot of polish. I also wanted to finish a gambling odds calculator for scratch offs in Washington, DC.

I didn't so much as open the code for any of these projects. Oops.

I had no routine, I spent a lot of time outside (and underwater). I would often come home very tired and never really planned time to work. So, things kept getting pushed back. Eventually, time ran out and I never made any progress on these projects.

The most productive time I had was probably in Hong Kong when I stayed with my friend. He was working a normalish schedule which pushed me towards his work routine.


What I spent most of my time doing, Diving, Hin Daeng, Thailand

Outcome

I spent three months in Asia and didn't lose money. My napkin math puts me at about even for the trip. A little consulting work went a long way in Thailand.

I met a handful of friends who either came to visit me or happened to be traveling in the same area and we met up. I made a few new (and temporary?) friends whom I probably will never see again. I don't think I created any meaningful relationships with new people.

I earned my advanced open water certification for diving and had a lot of awesome dives.

I started to miss good friends with whom I forged deeper friendships. I also missed the mundane social activities and structure of my life back home in DC. While traveling, I met a lot of people but I feel like I had the same conversation hundreds of times with new faces saying the words.

I realized the dream of being a digital nomad was better than the reality of it. For me, at least in this incarnation of it.


Friendly Manta Ray, Hin Daeng, Thailand

What I would do differently

Just because I started to miss home and wasn't as productive as I had hoped doesn't mean that I've given up on the idea. It just means I didn't get it right. Yet.

I want to do a trip similar to this one again. The biggest change I hope will be not going alone. I have a handful of good friends who all work in careers which would allow them to work remotely. Convincing a few of them to join me would be a step in the right direction.

I also think staying longer in a single location will allow me to get into a better routine. When moving around a lot, I get this urge to see and do everything before I leave. That pushes back other priorities, like working. I also think friends who need to do work can help each other be mutually accountable.

TL;DR:

I chased a dream and it wasn't as good as I had hoped. But I learned a lot about myself and will hopefully adjust and try again.


View from View Point Resort, Koh Phi Phi

Does Facebook Hate Christmas?

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Linkbait title aside. This is the story of a holiday card gone wrong because of Facebook's advertising rules.

Backstory: I work at a co-working space in Washington, DC called Affinity Lab. This happened to one of my co-workers, Mike who works at a company called ISG.

His company created a virtual holiday card and shared it on Facebook. It seems innocuous enough. In his words 'it's a no brainer to boost posts for $5, it goes from 10% to 100% for us.' This wasn't the first time he's done this and he's never had any issues. He just wanted all his clients to see the post.

And then it wasn't boosted.

And then this notification came through.

So the issue was too much text in a holiday card.

So we checked out with Facebook's tool. And it was astonishing how they calculated that it broke the rules. I can imagine a lot of content that is really awesome that you couldn't promote if this rule is really strictly enforced (every infographic ever?). I understand the spirit of the rule, but in practice it seems quite flawed.

GoDaddy Purchased the Domain Name Market Today

Today is an interesting and perhaps historic day in the domain industry. GoDaddy has acquired Afternic and SmartName from Name Media. Name Media is probably best known for the BuyDomains brand. They own one of the largest portfolios of domain names in the world at nearly 1 million domains.

GoDaddy is the largest player on the consumer side of the domain market by a wide margin. However, they aren't the biggest player and/or have serious competition in a lot of the secondary and domainer markets.

Domainer / Secondary Markets

Market Large Players
Domain Registration GoDaddy
Selling Domains (Secondary/After Market) Sedo, Afternic, BuyDomains, GoDaddy, DomainNameSales
Expired Domains NameJet, SnapNames, Pool, GoDaddy
Domain Parking/Monetization InternetTraffic, Google, Yahoo, Sedo, (many more)
Domain name Conglomerates Demand Media, Marchex, GoDaddy, Name Media, Oversee

Why Most Of These Markets Don't Matter Anymore

The expired domain names market is drying up as companies switch to pre-release agreements. With pre-release, the registrar where the domain is kept automatically sells off the domain and there is no competition. As GoDaddy grows bigger, they will capture more of the this market automatically in the long run.

Domain Parking and monetization has seen a pretty steady decline since about 2007-2008. Consolidation is happening, the market is shrinking. The vested interests are large portfolio holders, which GoDaddy doesn't have like all of the other conglomerates.

The Conglomerates with the exception of GoDaddy all have their own domain name portfolios. They are focused around monetizing their assets rather than customers. Almost all the conglomerates have failed to see major growth (Demand Media just turned its first profit in 2012).

What Does Matter?

With GoDaddy's acquisitions from Name Media today they have taken a serious foothold in the secondary market. Afternic is one of the largest markets and GoDaddy is probably on equal ground in terms of selling domain names from Premium Listings (pre-acquisition), although they don't publish any numbers that I could find. If we were to assume Sedo, Afternic and GoDaddy were similar in size, GoDaddy just became the dominant player by 2:1.

Why does it matter?

GoDaddy's strategy has long been economies of scale and cross-promotion/cross-selling products/services. They dominate the consumer side of the market and have the audience to sell products to. Now they own the market for secondary sales as well. They already charge a minimum 32% commission to sell a domain name with them. My intuition tells me they've struggled with getting the best inventory and streamlining the process to their liking. This isn't the first time we've seen them partner up to sell secondary market domain names, they tried it once before with Domain Distribution Network but there hasn't been much talk about the results. There was even a short termination between the companies over the deal. This deal expired on June 7, 2013 according to DNN. I could find no evidence of it being renewed.

Meanwhile, Afternic has solved this problem. AfternicDLS has a deals with many of the biggest registrars: Network Solutions, Register.com, Enom, Moniker, Name.com, and more. This solves the listing and selling problem. Their current Premium Listings only work for domain names at GoDaddy. A lot of domainers don't use GoDaddy and don't want to put their domain names there. Acquiring Afternic solves the technical and business problems that may have blocked GoDaddy in previous attempts to gain more of the secondary market.

What About SmartName?

I am not as sure about the SmartName play for GoDaddy. They could be trying to make a more serious run into the domain monetization space with a parking platform. They could be looking to upgrade their auction platform. Both of these could improve their bottom line, and it makes them more attractive as a larger one-stop shop for domain services.

Conclusion

GoDaddy is now the biggest player in the domain name sales channels both for new registrations and selling in the secondary market. With the upcoming release of new gTLDs, they couldn't be better positioned to sell more domain names and make more money. It doesn't hurt that they offer fairly comprehensive offerings for business owners such as web hosting, email, marketing and more. Economies of scale are real and GoDaddy is taking advantage of them more than anyone else in the business.

Consumers may actually be the big winner here. If this gets executed well, the customers who use GoDaddy will get access to a larger inventory of domain names listed on the secondary market and purchasing them may become as easy as registering a new domain name.

Update

(9/20/2013) I made a mistake with saying the auction platform was Smart Names, it's actually Afternic. Also, someone linked me Godaddy's auction stats. They don't give dollar values, only sales volume. So it's still apples to oranges to pears with Sedo/Afternic/GoDaddy.

I have also received a lot of criticism because of the company in question comes off in a positive light. My startup tracks GoDaddy's reviews and it's overwhelmingly negative. I understand a lot of people don't like them for a multitude of reasons. That being said, the point of this article was to acknowledge a very prudent business move by them. I went into this open minded and came out surprised. I think this is a win for consumers in the short to medium term because it's reducing the friction and pain involved with buying domains in the secondary market. It makes it far more accessible and easy than it ever was before with a brand consumers recognize. Consolidation of the secondary domain market also puts a downward pressure on domain prices if it stays integrated as an option versus buying new registrations. The consumer who is thinking about spending $10 is far less likely to spend $100,000 instead. But $100, $500, $1,000 may be more reasonable and likely to induce a sale on the secondary market.

National Day of Civic Hacking: Exploring Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Data

This weekend I participated in the National Day of Civic Hacking.

The project I decided to work on was working with the CFPB data (and also used some census data).

Background

The CFPB released a large complaints database that contained information about what type of financial products people are complaining about. It also gave information about where the complaints came from, what they were complaining about and resolution information. Some of the data was released literally a day earlier. So I was given a chance to take a look at, analyze and visualize information that nobody has really seen yet.

It was an exciting and interesting opportunity. Since it was very fresh data with little to no previous work, much of what I got to do was more general analysis. I created a handful of graphics (click them to see full size) and maps (click to use the map) which I have included below:

What products are people complaining about the most?

The biggest product people are complaining about is mortgage related products. There is a category for other mortgages that people can choose and it seems most people seem to select that. I wasn't sure why until I looked at the issues people were having.

What are the most common issues people have?

Foreclosure, Loan Modification and Collection. Intuitively, this makes a lot of sense. I probably don't care what type of mortgage it is when they are trying to take my house away. This particular issue dwarfed everything else, so I had to use a log scale to even see what the other issues people were facing.

What are the most common issues people have? (log scaled)

This gives a more in-depth picture of the issues, but the first graphic really shows you the most common and/or pressing financial issue for people.

Which companies had the most complaints?

Then I explored which companies were receiving the most complaints. This data is NOT normalized. That means that just because a company has more complaints doesn't make it worse than one with less. For example, if company A had 10 complaints and 100 customers and company B had 5 complaints and 20 customers, company B would be worse (if we measured complaints as a % of customers). I didn't have easy access to a database with any dataset that would normalize these banks, so this is for curiosity more than any meaningful insight. It probably is a proxy for the largest players in consumer finance though.

[MAP] Where are the complaints coming from in the US? (Normalized for state population)

This map shows where people are complaining the most. DC won that dubious honor. Maryland, Delaware, New Hampshire, California and Florida were also high on the list. All the numbers were adjusted to reflect complaints relative to population of a state. So we can clearly see there are differences and we can probably make educated guesses for some of them. DC for example is probably the highest because of the highest awareness of CFPB (since it's based in DC). Maryland probably has a high awareness too. Florida and California had big real estate bubbles and perhaps were hit especially hard. New Hampshire and Delaware are a mystery to me, although a woman from New Hampshire at my event told me that she complained to the CFPB and told all her friends as well. Perhaps an above-average awareness of the CFPB caused the higher complaint rate.

Top 10 Companies by Complaints and their Disputed Resolution Rates

Next I explored disputed resolutions. Companies alert the CFPB when the matter is resolved and consumers are allowed to tell the CFPB they were not satisfied with the resolution. I graphed the top 10 companies by complaint volume and what their disputed resolution rates looked like. It's interesting to see such big differences between companies but without further information about how they handle disputes, it's impossible to say anything confidently comparing one company to another.

[MAP] Disputed Resolutions by State

Finally, I created a map graphing disputed resolutions by state. There was a surprisingly large variation between states. Alaska, for instance, had a disputed resolution rate of over 26% while Wyoming had a measly 16%. I have no idea why, but it's interesting and worth looking into further.

Conclusion

I had a lot of fun exploring this fresh set of data and there is a lot more to be learned from it. I want to give a big thanks to Ana from the CFPB and Logan from the Census Bureau who attended the event and helped participants navigate the data provided their respective organizations.

Facebook's New Monetization Strategy - Best News for Domain Owners in Years?

Guest Post I wrote for DomainNameNews

I was reading Mark Cuban's thoughts about Facebook trying to get him to pay to reach his fans. It's an interesting opinion and one I can empathize with. The crux of it is this picture:

Brands have spent millions of dollars getting people to 'Like' their brands. Now, Facebook is asking them to pay more to reach the audience they already paid to build. It feels fundamentally unfair because Facebook has changed the rules of the game half way through.

Of course, there is another perspective to consider: the users. They probably don't want every brand spamming them. There is some ambiguity to the word 'Like'. Some would argue it's not a laissez faire situation where brands are free to advertise to every user as much as they want. Facebook's EdgeRank is supposed to improve the user's experience by curating what users see in their feed (and it just so happens that more money greases the EdgeRank wheels).

That's a quick synopsis of the article. Let's get back on topic.

Why is this important to domainers?

Mark Cuban is advocating for brands to maintain more control over the way they communicate with their audience. He's promoting Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and MySpace (no joke!). It's not mentioned in the article, but there is still only one place that the brand still maintains full control: their domain name(s).

I've argued in the past that domains are becoming less necessary as brands opt to use social networks for their primary web presence. Facebook has about one sixth of the world's population as users. It's easier to manage, easier to share content and easier to reach your audience (assuming you have money to spend).

This is a real kick back from brands. Maybe it's just one guy. Maybe not. But it should be a good reminder that when you buy into these social networks, you're potentially making a deal with the devil. They control the rules and you are beholden to them and the changes they decide to make in the future. Your relationship with your fans is moderated by someone else.

In the developer community we worry a lot about building our software on top of someone else's platform. We've seen Twitter take out competitors it didn't like and restricting their API to control what developers can do. Perhaps it's reckoning time for brands. Maybe they will experience the risk they've put themselves at by investing into social media on platforms they don't control and that don't have an established business model.

Let me be clear: I don't think this will stop brands from using social media. However, it may be the first of many tiny cuts in Facebook's business model which moderates how it will deal with brands. Some brands may decide to try to control their fans' experience more and invest in their own domains. At the margin, there may be some increased demand for domain names. Which is good news for domainers and the first good news I've seen in a while for the industry. I think the longer term outlook is still fairly grim for most of the industry, but end user demand is the only bright spot in my mind.

Potentially Malicious Fake Advertiser using Wordpress Plugin (adv.zip)

It starts with an innocuous email:

Hi,

I am sorry I have to write you to e-mail from whois information of the domain. But I could not find contact e-mail or feedback form on your site.
We are looking for new advertisement platforms and we are interested in your site %DOMAIN%
Is it possible to place banner on your site on a fee basis?

Best regards,
Nicolas Gauthier

But it quickly turned strange:

Hi!

Thanks for reply to our proposal!
We like your price.We would like to place 160x600 banner.

To pass to the banner control system follow the link http://webmaster.burgoni.com
To enter use the following data:

login: %DOMAIN%
password: %PASSWORD%

One of the scummiest link building strategies I've ever seen

Posted in

From: Ryan F (ryanf@ggadget.org)
Date: Thu, Feb 16, 2012 at 11:40 AM
Subject: Featured Tech Site Award
To: -------------

My name is Ryan, and I work at Green Gadget -- a PR6 technology and gadget review site located in Austin, Texas.
The reason I'm emailing you today is because we’ve selected you as an exceptional technology site. We would like to highlight you on our site and present you with an official sidebar badge for your site that will distinguish you as a Featured Tech Site.

Our selection criteria are based on several factors that we feel defines a great tech site. We selected you because we feel your website is a great resource that offers exceptional information on technology.

Attached is the html code to insert the badge. We are very excited to have you as a Featured Tech Site and I look forward to hearing back from you.

Best Regards,

Ryan

First off, who mentions their Page Rank (PR6) in a legitimate award?

There is no mention of what my site even is or any indication that it was viewed. It's all probably automated anyway (or should be considering the lack of anything requiring a human to do since nothing is tailored or personalized in any way).

You want to see the 'award'? It's pathetic.

I hope nobody falls for this bullshit but sadly I am sure some people will. This one should go straight to the spam bin.

144 of the Largest Companies Using Godaddy

I took the top 1500 sites from Alexa.com and checked their registrar. Some companies have already said they were moving (Hi StackOverflow!). Huge thanks goes to Mike St John for his help in querying the registry.

Here are the 144 companies using Godaddy as a Registrar :

woothemes.com
proboards.com
stackoverflow.com
alot.com
wowhead.com
xkcd.com
seriesyonkis.com
exoclick.com
flipkart.com
goodreads.com
twitpic.com
babylon.com
bytes.com
opera.com
foursquare.com
r7.com
thechive.com
realclearpolitics.com
yousendit.com
dreamstime.com
justdial.com
ilivid.com
github.com
multiply.com
imesh.com
optmd.com
wimp.com
youm7.com
urbandictionary.com
amung.us
informer.com
pingomatic.com
networkedblogs.com
histats.com
chicagotribune.com
grooveshark.com
infusionsoft.com
buzzfeed.com
trulia.com
yoo7.com
hawaaworld.com
bearshare.com
slutload.com
piriform.com
incredimail.com
noticias24.com
ioffer.com
buysellads.com

Social media, the reshaping of communication and who controls how we talk to one another

The term Social Media refers to the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into an interactive dialogue. Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein define social media as "a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content." Social media are media for social interaction, as a superset beyond social communication. Enabled by ubiquitously accessible and scalable communication techniques, social media substantially change the way of communication between organizations, communities, as well as individuals.

-Wikipedia

WTF does that even mean? The term social media with this definition is truly focused on media - how we are communicated to and are suddenly empowered to communicate back to the powers which use the media.

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