Web Metrics Demystified

Confused about Web Analytics?

How about Web Metrics?

Have you been successfully scared?

Rhetorical questions. Don’t answer. 🙂

Let’s do this one step at a time, first let’s demystify web metrics. We’ll do web analytics another time.

The hardest thing you’ll do in your life as a Web Gal / Guy /
Marketer / Analyst / Researcher / Jack is identify what constitutes
success for you when it comes to measuring Outcomes for your website.

Step two will be to identify the Critical Few metrics to measure those successful company, and hopefully customer, outcomes.

So what makes a great Web Metric? And what are the factors you need
to keep in mind to ensure that your valiant efforts to measure business
success in this first life will be successful? 🙂

This post is inspired from my segment of the WAA’s well received webinar on the newly defined Web Metrics Standards last month.

The intelligent Ms. Angie Brown and the fabulous Mr. Jason Burby
spoke about the tough work that went into creating the new standards. I
spoke about Web Metrics Demystified .

In this post you’ll learn how to find diamonds in the rough, how to
know that a metric you have identified for your Management Dashboard is
actually a good one, and you’ll learn the process you can, and should
use, to keep your web analytics metrics relevant.


Four Attributes of Great Metrics:

Metrics are a dime a dozen. Especially on the web. There are books and blogs full of ‘em.

How do you know which one is your must have darling?

In my humble experience here are four attributes that all great, nay magnificent, metrics possess…

1. Uncomplex

Great metrics almost always are uncomplex.

Because we did not make much headway with recommended metrics
foisted on us, our response has been to create complex metrics. Six
things each with its own unique multiplier / variable predicting the
position of the sun when visitors click on your site.

Here is the thing to think about: Decisions in companies are not
made by one person. If you want action then the democracy needs to
understand performance, the democracy need to make decisions.

Not you. Certainly not your consultant. Or best friend.

uncomplexify (

If you are the only person who understands the metric, the Key
Performance Indicator, then you have just guaranteed that your company,
big or small, will not take action. Because you know the metric, but
not the business.

Don’t sexify, uncomplexify. Solve for the masses making decisions. It is not as easy as you think, try.

2. Relevant

Is the metric you have chosen relevant to your business?

Since we have so many metrics we pick our favorites and then stick
with them. The problem is that each business is unique, even businesses
that seem like they might be in the same business.

In Web Analytics: An hour A Day
I use the example of Best Buy and Circuit City. You might think that
they should / would / could measure their website with similar Web
Metrics. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

relevant to youThe
only thing they have in common is the fact that they sell large screen
TV’s on their website. Everything else is different. Their business
models, their priorities, how each tends to use the web in its
multi-channel portfolio.

The metrics you would use for each company to measure success would be different.

It is ok to seek inspiration from your friends and competitors. In
the end truly stress test that the metrics you identify are relevant
when it comes to measuring the success objectives that are unique to
you and your website.

Remember what works for Jason might not work for Shane. And those two are close! 🙂

3. Timely

A few years back I was interviewing at one of the biggest companies
on the web. They had just closed their quarter, it had been
tremendously profitable. I asked them what the reasons were for that
great success. The rest of this is absolutely positively 100% true.

Them: “We have just kicked off the query against our data warehouse, it typically returns the results in three months.”

Me: Stunned silence.

Granted they were a big business. But still.

I learned a very important lesson on that day. Be on time or die.

That big company’s stock price is a fraction of its price at that
time. While not all of it is related to their ability to measure, you
can imagine how hard it is to be successful in your business (on the
web for Pete’s sake!) if it takes you three months to know what worked
three months ago.

Great metrics can be provided in a timely fashion so that your business decision makers can….. make timely decisions.


I am not a big fan of real-time (see this post: Is Real-Time Really Relevant?
). But between real time and three months there is a sweet spot. Find
out what your sweet spot is and then ensure your data can be collected,
analyzed, and metrics provided with insights in that sweet spot.

Even the greatest metric in the world is useless if takes nine days
to get (with insights!) when your world changes every three days (key
word bids, affiliate bonuses, email promotions, web page updates,

Be timely.

Sacrifice complexity and perfection for timeliness.

4. “Instantly Useful”

I absolutely love this one. Smooch, smooch, kiss, kiss.

I credit my early experience with ClickTracks for that love. Dr. Stephen Turner and John Marshall had eliminated all the non value added stuff from the application so that no matter where I went, what report I opened, it was instantly useful.

It was a combination of the fact that there were fewer metrics but
also the fact that they were presented in a way that made it easy to
understand performance and get the first blush of insights.

Instantly useful is when you understand quickly what the metric is,
and you can find the first blush of insights as soon as you look at it.

Here is a great example, the What’s Changed report in ClickTracks:

instantly useful

Anyone can tell you what your keywords were this month, or last
month. The ClickTracks reports shows you “what you should care about”,
keywords that rose in their importance this month and which ones
reduced in importance.

All the complexity is “hidden”, there is no crap, just stuff you should care about. In front of you.

Now does that not simply kick butt? [Click on the image above for a higher resolution version.]

It will take some nice analysis and time to understand all the
nuances and unlock the mysteries and deep stuff (just like say for
example with your wife / girl friend, less so with your husband / boy

But the first blush is there. As soon as you look at it.

[I think Google Analytics V2
also does this well through use of layout and color and summaries or
things like Compare to Site Average, Compare to Past etc etc. But I
admit I am greedy. Every time I look at a report, current or new, I ask
for more instant usefulness! Phil and the team humors me by making
stuff even better.]

In a data democracy metrics have to meet the bar of being instantly
useful. And not just that, think of your boss, her boss, his boss. How
little they know. If send them a metric and it is not instantly useful
then it will be instantly ignored.

You want instantly useful, no explanations required, because that
will give you the opening you need to show your “deep stuff”, explain
the nuance, highlight your analysis!

Smooch, smooch? 🙂

Example of a “Great Web Metric”:

Let me give you a very simple example that I think will crystallize the methodology above.

I think Bounce Rate is a “great metric”. Here is how it passes the required four attributes test:

Uncomplex? Single Page View Visits. Easy to understand, explain and propagate. Enough said. 🙂

It identifies where you are wasting marketing/sales dollars and which
pages stink when it comes to delivering on the “scent”. Those two
things apply to most web businesses. Bam!

Timely? Bounce rate is now standard in pretty much every web analytics tool, and available in every report. Every day. Nice!

Instantly Useful? You can just look at it and know
what needs attention, what needs to stop. You see 25 – 30% for your
site and instantly you know things are fine. You look at a page with
50% bounce rate and you know it needs attention. You see a campaign /
keyword with 70% bounce rate and you know there is a fire.

Set aside half hour today or tomorrow or at the end of the week and
apply the four attributes test to your own important web metrics. What
do you see?

Three Important Final Lessons:

Here are three lessons that are directly from the front lines (sourced from painful battle scars!)…..

1. Perfection is…. the enemy of good enough.

Data quality on the web is not perfect, things change too fast,
everyone wants a piece of data yesterday, your competitors are strong.
Don’t spend time getting things perfect when it comes to your metrics.result of the prefection quest

If you have 90% confidence in the data (how it is collected,
processed, and presented) then make a decision. Don’t wait for

Too many times we spend too much time being distracted by missing
tags and the hoopla around deleted cookies and more. Follow best
practices, then move on. Go for precision and not accuracy.

As Mr. Stuart Gold says: An educated mistake is better than no action at all.

2. Critical few baby, critical few!

I owe Steve Bennett the CEO of Intuit all the credit for this important lesson.

Steve is fond of pushing everyone to identify their “critical few”. Priorities. Goals. Metrics.

My interpretation of Critical Few: When the proverbial crap hits the fan what is most important.

That statement has a phenomenal clarifying power.

critical few

If your business was on the line how would you know things are going
well or badly? Cutting through all the clutter of data, what are the
metrics that are your Critical Few?

Almost all of us have too many things we measure, too many things that distract us, take away our precious time / attention.

You probably have at most three Critical Few metrics that define your existence. Do you know what they are?

If you have 12 then you have too many.

3. Metrics life cycle process is your friend!

Metrics no matter how great have to stand the test of time. And business changes. Repeatedly.

I recommend this simple Metrics Lifecycle Process…..

web analytics metrics lifecycle process

The idea is quite simple really: Use the four attributes test to
identify your critical few metrics, go measure them, then analyze the
data you collect, take action. Here’s the fork on the road. If you
can’t action anything then perhaps it is the wrong metric for your
business. Eliminate it. If you can take action figure out how you can
improve it further.

Execute the Metrics Life cycle Process in a timely manner, I recommend atleast once a quarter.

Some metrics will stay, those are your best friends, others will outlast their value, give them a warm hug and say bye bye.

There. Web Metrics Demystified!

Not that hard, right? Just a dash of thought, a drop of common sense and a pinch of passion.

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Lessons learned – Avaaz

There’s a particular vocabulary which we use internally as guideposts to where we focus our activism:
Find a crisitunity (crisis plus opportunity) This is why this is urgent
now. Need a moment. Response rates soar when you are dealing with
something in the news now.Tipping point: the world is going to go one
way or another, but if you take this action now, you effect whether it
goes this way or that way.

Actionability: How convincing is it that my action is going to change something.

Winnability: If we go up this ladder, we’re going to get there.

DO: Make it really easy. Get people in the door. You have to be
fast: Men decide whether or not to close an email within 2 seconds,
women decide in 7. The easier you make it, the higher level of
participations you get.
Ladder of participation: seeing and observing first, take them
carefully up the ladder of participation. First impressions matter in
online organising: open rates are higher in early stage. Go gently,
give people easy asks before you give them hard ones.
Polling and consultation extremely useful tool: Avaaz wants to do a
tracking poll every week, take a segment and ask, look for the 30-40%
differences, not the 5-10% ones because changing a few words may switch
those low difference results.
Dissolve the difference between the organiser and the organised. Through your language it should always be US, WE.
Doing cool stuff: Generates attention. Endless quest for the new,
sometimes you get stuck in ruts, that will be killer to your growth and
Following the media spotlight: Public consciousness is very episodic.
Need to be hitting the email boxes when the story is hitting the media.
Wolfowitz as boss in a Youtube video that went viral (same guy that did Hillary Clinton spot)

Staged a protest in Los Angeles, 35 People demonstrating, 34 Journalists, it was the timing.

People can get excited about offline stuff, Oxfam does great stuff.
Treating politics as theatre, capturing people’s imagination. In the
run up to 2004 we set up a site called Voter Call, said wouldn’t it be
possible to pull off voters names and phone number from the rolls, say
a million in low and middle income areas, have people call them and
encourage them to vote. MAde 600,000 calls.
Darfour, lot of activism, not impacting things on the ground.
Fundraised for Peacekeeping forces to have radios and teargas and stuff
to protect women who are going to get firewood. No foundation wojuld
fund that, but our community could.

Call to action: SMS, mobile. Hello Gracie ringtone. Philipinos are
great at text organising, president fell in a coup d’ text. Somebody
recorded a conversation about the president talking on a cell phone
about throwing the election, and they broke it up into ringtones.

More Iraqis voted for the Star Academy (american idol) in Iraq than voted in the election. With their cell phones.

When you are part of an NGO there is a tendancy toward a corporate
voice. There’s a basic principle: a communication to your members
should be like a message to a friend. One of our most viral
communications was an internal message report back. Guy was suppposed
to hand over a petition, ended up actually delivering message to G8
ministers, the guy’s email was so compelling about how nervous he was
and what he said and how exciting it was, we just put it out to our

Big Don’t: Everything we do is about member service: HOW DOES THIS
SERVE OUR MEMBERS. Don’t think about how it servers your campaign or
yourself. But sometimes your members just don’t get it. There’s a
tension between always being led by our own campaigns rather than
looking at your members. Invest in member services.

Who is leading who: we are grappling with how much you open up. I
would love to have us wiki everything, but there are dangers in that.
It’s not just the control issue. riken got alienated from move on when
he went into the action forum to interact with other members and found
people he didn’t relate to. There’s a danger in opening up entirely as
2.0 and giving your members space to express themselves. Communities
have ups and downs, and big families are good examples of how you don’t
always look forward to seeing everybody.

People want leadership. Our core demographic is not an activist.
It’s amiddle aged mom in the global north and a student in the global
south. They heard something that she wants to do something abougt, she
gets an email and can do something aobut it in a few minutes. We treat
our supporters like presidents.

Accontability is built into the DNA of this model.

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10 Most Magnificent Trees in the World

There are probably hundreds of majestic and magnificent trees in the world – of these, some are particularly special:

10. Lone Cypress in Monterey

The Lone Cypress
(Image credit: bdinphoenix [flickr])

Lone Cypress at Pebble Beach
(Image credit: mikemac29 [flickr])

Buffeted by the cold Pacific Ocean wind, the scraggly Lone Cypress [wiki] (Cupressus macrocarpa)
in Pebble Beach, Monterey Peninsula, California, isn’t a particularly
large tree. It makes up for its small size, however, with its iconic
status as a stunningly beautiful tree in splendid isolation, framed by
an even more beautiful background of the Pacific Ocean.

9. Circus Trees

As a hobby, bean farmer Axel Erlandson [wiki] shaped trees – he pruned, bent, and grafted trees into fantastic shapes and called them “Circus Trees.”
For example, to make this “Basket Tree” arborsculpture, Erlandson
planted six sycamore trees in a circle and then grafted them together
to form the diamond patterns.

Basket Circus Tree
Basket Tree (Image credit: jpeepz [flickr])

Circus Tree with Two Legs
The two-legged tree (Image credit: Vladi22, Wikipedia)

Ladder Tree
Ladder tree (Image credit: Arborsmith)

Axel Erlandson underneath a Circus Tree
Axel Erlandson underneath one of his arborsculpture (Image credit: Wilma Erlandson, Cabinet Magazine)

Erlandson was very secretive and refused to reveal his methods on
how to grow the Circus Trees (he even carried out his graftings behind
screens to protect against spies!) and carried the secrets to his grave.

The trees were later bought by millionaire Michael Bonfante, who transplanted them to his amusement park Bonfante Gardens in Gilroy in 1985.

8. Giant Sequoias: General Sherman

General Sherman Tree
(Image credit: Humpalumpa [flickr])

Giant Sequoias [wiki] (Sequoiadendron giganteum), which only grow in Sierra Nevada, California, are the world’s biggest trees (in terms of volume). The biggest is General Sherman
[wiki] in the Sequoia National Park – one behemoth of a tree at 275
feet (83.8 m), over 52,500 cubic feet of volume (1,486 m³), and over
6000 tons in weight.

General Sherman is approximately 2,200 years old – and
each year, the tree adds enough wood to make a regular 60-foot tall
tree. It’s no wonder that naturalist John Muir said “The Big Tree is
Nature’s forest masterpiece, and so far as I know, the greatest of
living things.”

For over a century there was a fierce competition for the title of the largest tree: besides General Sherman, there is General Grant [wiki] at King’s Canyon National Park, which actually has a
larger circumference (107.5 feet / 32.77 m vs. Sherman’s 102.6 feet / 31.27 m).

In 1921, a team of surveyors carefully measured the two
giants – with their data, and according to the complex American Forestry Association system
of judging a tree, General Grant should have been award the title of
largest tree – however, to simplify the matter, it was later determined
that in this case, volume, not point system, should be the determining

7. Coast Redwood: Hyperion and Drive-Thru Trees

Stratosphere GiantThere is another sequoia species (not to be confused with Giant Sequoia) that is quite remarkable: the Coast Redwood [wiki] (Sequoia sempervirens), the tallest trees in the world.

The reigning champion is a tree called Hyperion
in the Redwood National Park, identified by researcher Chris Atkins and
amateur naturalist Michael Taylor in 2006. Measuring over 379 feet (155.6 115 m) tall, Hyperion beat out the previous record holder Stratosphere Giant [wiki] in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park (at 370 feet / 112.8 m).

The scientists aren’t talking about the exact location of Hyperion:
the terrain is difficult, and they don’t want a rush of visitors to
come and trample the tree’s root system.

[Image: The Stratosphere Giant – still an impressive specimen, previously the world’s tallest tree until dethroned by Hyperion in 2006.]

That’s not all that’s amazing about the Coast Redwood: there are
four giant California redwoods big enough that you can drive your car
through them!

The most famous of the drive-through trees is the Chandelier Tree
[wiki] in Leggett, California. It’s a 315 foot tall redwood tree, with
a 6 foot wide by 9 foot tall hole cut through its base in the 1930s.

Chandelier Tree
Chandelier Tree. (Image credit: hlh-abg [flickr])

6. Chapel-Oak of Allouville-Bellefosse

Chapel Oak Tree
Chapel-Oak of Allouville-Bellefosse (Image credit: Old trees in Netherlands & Europe)

Chapel Oak Tree
(Image credit: dm1795 [flickr])

Chapel Oak Tree
(Image credit: Luc Doudet)

The Chêne-Chapelle (Chapel-Oak) of Allouville-Bellefosse is the most famous tree in France – actually, it’s more than just a tree: it’s a building and a religious monument all in one.

In 1669, l’Abbe du Detroit and du Cerceau decided to build a chapel in (at that time) a 500 years old or so oak (Quercus robur)
tree made hollow by a lightning bolt. The priests built a small altar
to the Virgin Mary. Later on, a second chapel and a staircase were

Now, parts of the tree are dead, the crown keeps becoming smaller
and smaller every year, and parts of the tree’s bark, which fell off
due to old age, are covered by protective oak shingles. Poles and
cables support the aging tree, which in fact, may not live much longer.
As a symbol, however, it seems that the Chapel-Oak of
Allouville-Bellefosse may live on forever.

5. Quaking Aspen: Pando (The Trembling Giant)

Quaking Aspen Grove
Quaking Aspen (Image: Wikipedia)

Aspen Grove
Aspen grove (Image credit: scottks1 [flickr])

Aspen in winter and snow
Quaking Aspen in winter (Image credit: darkmatter [flickr])

Pando [wiki] or the Trembling Giant in Utah is actually a colony of a single Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
tree. All of the trees (technically, “stems”) in this colony are
genetically identical (meaning, they’re exact clones of one another).
In fact, they are all a part of a single living organism with an
enormous underground root system.

Pando, which is Latin for “I Spread,” is composed of
about 47,000 stems spread throughout 107 acres of land. It estimated to
weigh 6,600 tons, making it the heaviest known organism. Although the
average age of the individual stems are 130 years, the entire organism
is estimated to be about 80,000 years old!

4. Montezuma Cypress: The Tule Tree

Tule Tree next to a church
The Tule Tree Towers over a church next to it (Image credit: jubilohaku [flickr])

Girth of the Tule Tree
Full width of the Tule Tree (Image credit: Gengiskanhg, Wikipedia)

Detail of knotted burl of the Tule Tree
of the tree’s gnarled trunk. Local legends say that you can make out
animals like jaguars and elephants in the trunk, giving the tree the
nickname of “the Tree of Life” (Image credit: jvcluis [flickr])

El Árbol del Tule [wiki] (“The Tule Tree”) is an especially large Montezuma cypress (Taxodium mucronatum)
near the city of Oaxaca, Mexico. This tree has the largest trunk girth
at 190 feet (58 m) and trunk diameter at 37 feet (11.3 m). The Tule
tree is so thick that people say you don’t hug this tree, it hugs you

For a while, detractors argued that it was actually three trees
masquerading as one – however, careful DNA analysis confirmed that it
is indeed one magnificent tree.

In 1994, the tree (and Mexican pride) were in jeopardy: the leaves
were sickly yellow and there were dead branches everywhere- the tree
appeared to be dying. When tree “doctors” were called in, they
diagnosed the problem as dying of thirst. The prescription? Give it
water. Sure enough, the tree soon recovered after a careful watering
program was followed.

3. Banyan Tree: Sri Maha Bodhi Tree

The Banyan tree is named after “banians” or Hindu traders who carry
out their business under the tree. Even if you have never heard of a
Banyan tree (it was the tree used by Robinson Crusoe for his
treehouse), you’d still recognize it. The shape of the giant tree is
unmistakable: it has a majestic canopy with aerial roots running from
the branches to the ground.

Banyan tree
Banyan tree (Image credit: Diorama Sky [flickr])

Banyan tree's aerial root system
Closer view of the Banyan aerial root structure (Image credit: BillyCrafton [flickr])

If you were thinking that the Banyan tree looks like the trees whose
roots snake through the ruins of the Ta Prohm temple like tentacles of
the jungle (Lara Croft, anyone?) at Ankor, Cambodia , you’d be right!

Banyan tree at Ta Prohm temple
Banyan tree (or is it silk-cotton tree?) in the ruins of Ta Prohm, Ankor, Cambodia
(Image Credit: Casual Chin [flickr])

One of the most famous species of Banyan, called the Sacred Fig [wiki] or Bo tree, is the Sri Maha Bodhi
[wiki] tree in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. It is said that the tree was
grown from a cutting from the original tree under which Buddha became
enlightened in the 6th century BC.

Planted in 288 BC, it is the oldest living human-planted tree in the world, with a definitive planting date!

Banyan Tree which Buddha sat under
(Image credit: Images of Ceylon)

Sri Maha Bodhi
(Image credit: Wikipedia)

2. Bristlecone Pine: Methuselah and Prometheus, the Oldest Trees in the World.

Methuselah Grove (Image Credit: NOVA Online)

Prometheus bristlecone pine grove
Bristlecone pine grove in which Prometheus grew (Image credit: James R. Bouldin, Wikipedia)

The oldest living tree in the world is a White Mountains, California, bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) named Methuselah
[wiki], after the Biblical figure who lived to 969 years old. The
Methuselah tree, found at 11,000 feet above sea level, is 4,838 years
old – it is not only the oldest tree but also the oldest living
non-clonal organism in the world.

Before Methuselah was identified as the world’s oldest tree by
Edmund Schulman in 1957, people thought that the Giant Sequoias were
the world’s oldest trees at about 2,000 years old. Schulman used a
borer to obtain a core sample to count the growth rings of various
bristlecone pines, and found over a dozen trees over 4,000 years old.

The story of Prometheus [wiki] is even more interesting: in 1964, Donald R. Currey
[wiki], then a graduate student, was taking core samples from a tree
named Prometheus. His boring tool broke inside the tree, so he asked
for permission from the US Forest Service to cut it down and examine
the full cross section of the wood. Surprisingly the Forest Service
agreed! When they examined the tree, Prometheus turned out to be about
5,000 years old, which would have made it the world’s oldest tree when
the scientist unwittingly killed it!

Stump of Prometheus
Stump of the Prometheus Tree. (Image Credit: James R. Bouldin, Wikipedia)

Today, to protect the trees from the inquisitive
traveler, the authorities are keeping their location secret (indeed,
there are no photos identifying Methuselah for fear of vandalism).

1. Baobab

The amazing baobab [wiki] (Adansonia)
or monkey bread tree can grow up to nearly 100 feet (30 m) tall and 35
feet (11 m) wide. Their defining characteristic: their swollen trunk
are actually water storage – the baobab tree can store as much as
31,700 gallon (120,000 l) of water to endure harsh drought conditions.

Baobab trees are native to Madagascar (it’s the country’s national
tree!), mainland Africa, and Australia. A cluster of “the grandest of
all” baobab trees (Adansonia grandidieri) can be found in the Baobab Avenue, near Morondava, in Madagascar:

Baobab Avenue
(Image credit: Fox-Talbot, Wikipedia)

(Image credit: plizzba [flickr])

Baobab at sunset
(Image credit: Daniel Montesino [flickr])

In Ifaty, southwestern Madagascar, other baobabs take the form of bottles, skulls, and even teapots:

Teapot baobab
Teapot baobab (Image credit: Gilles Croissant)

The baobab trees in Africa are amazing as well:

Baobab in Tanzania
Baobab in Tanzania (Image credit: telethon [flickr])

Another baobab in Africa
Baobab near Bulawayo, Zimbabwe (Image credit: ironmanix [flickr])

There are many practical uses of baobab trees, like for a toilet:

Toilet inside a baobab tree
A toilet built inside a baobab tree in the Kayila Lodge, Zambia
(Image credit: Steve Makin [flickr])

… and even for a prison:

Prison boab
A “Prison Baob” tree in Western Australia (Image credit: yewenyi [flickr])

Bonus: Tree That Owns Itself

Tree that Owns Itself
Son of the Tree That Owns Itself (Image Credit: Bloodofox, Wikipedia)

Legend has it that the Tree That Owns Itself
[wiki], a white oak in Athens, Georgia was given ownership of itself
and the surrounding land by Dr. William Henry Jackson in 1820! The
original tree had died long ago, but a new tree (Son of The Tree That
Owns Itself) was planted at the same location from one of its acorns.

Bonus 2: The Lonely Tree of Ténéré

Tree of Tenere
The Tree of Ténéré in the 1970s, before a truck crashed into it (Image credit: Peter Krohn)

The Tree of Ténéré
or L’Abre du Ténéré was the world’s most isolated tree – the solitary
acacia, which grew in the Sahara desert in Niger, Africa, was the only
tree within more than 250 miles (400 km) around.

The tree was the last surviving member of a group of
acacias that grew when the desert wasn’t as dry. When scientists dug a
hole near the tree, they found its roots went down as deep as 120 feet
(36 m) below to the water table!

Apparently, being the only tree in that part of the
wide-open desert (remember: there wasn’t another tree for 250 miles
around), wasn’t enough to stop a drunk Libyan truck driver from driving
his truck into it, knocking it down and killing it!

Now, a metal sculpture was placed in its spot to commemorate the Lonely Tree of Ténéré:

Metal sculpture of Tenere tree
(Image credit: Nomad’s Land, main website)

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The future of your social software is already here

“The future is already here – it is just unevenly distributed.”.

This quote by William Gibson (often reprised by Tim O’Reilly)
is bantered about in tech circles whenever people get the feeling
they’re glimpsing the future. It was particularly appropriate for
the iPhone launch last June, when countless people pointed out that the
touch-screen has been around for a long time.

The quote also pertains to web application design and the research teams need to do in order to make great software.

In a talk I gave the other day on social design, I went on at length
about how you need to design for personal value before social value.
(I’ve long called this the Lesson).
I illustrated how most successful social web applications provide
personal value at their most basic, using social value to augment it
and make it better. So YouTube is a great video storage application
first…and it also has great sharing features if you choose to do

(As a counter-example consider Technorati Tags, which provide social
value but don’t provide personal value. One word: SPAM)

A software designer from the audience asked the next logical question (a question I get a lot!)

“How do you proceed if you’re considering adding
social features to your application but aren’t sure whether or
not they provide real personal value?”

The answer is that you have to find out if the problem you’re
trying to solve already exists. If, as Gibson might say, it’s
here but just not distributed yet.

If it is here, then it follows that people are already dealing with
it somewhere, somehow. They might not even be using software to deal
with it, but they’re struggling nevertheless. The trick is to
find out where and how this happens. (don’t be afraid of Do It Yourself research)

The iPhone, of course, isn’t as revolutionary as it is
evolutionary. In fact, the problems of mobile phones were quite well
understood by everyone who used them. The situation was simply that we
were putting up with them.

The most successful software doesn’t solve problems that
don’t exist yet. The most successful software solves problems
that nobody else is trying to solve, or nobody else is trying to solve
in the same way.

If you cannot find any evidence that the problem your new feature is
trying to solve is indeed an existing problem people are already
dealing with, then I would seriously reconsider building it.


Job Description: Web Developer/Programmer


We are searching for outstanding web developers to be responsible
for developing innovative, reusable Web-based tools for progressive
online activism and community building. Our web developers work closely
with our project managers, strategists and design team members to
develop specifications and make recommendations on the use of new and
emerging technologies. Programming, graphic design and database
administration are all elements of this position.


  • Work closely with Project Managers and other members of the
    Development Team to both develop detailed specification documents with
    clear project deliverables and timelines, and to ensure timely
    completion of deliverables.
  • Produce project estimates during sales process, including expertise
    required, total number of people required, total number of development
    hours required, etc.
  • Attend client meetings during the sales process and during development.
  • Work with clients and Project Managers to build and refine graphic
    designs for websites. Must have strong skills in Photoshop, Fireworks,
    or equivalent application(s).
  • Convert raw images and layouts from a graphic designer into CSS/XHTML themes.
  • Determine appropriate architecture, and other technical solutions, and make relevant recommendations to clients.
  • Communicate to the Project Manager with efficiency and accuracy any progress and/or delays.
  • Engage in outside-the-box thinking to provide high value-of-service to clients.
  • Alert colleagues to emerging technologies or applications and the
    opportunities to integrate them into operations and activities.
  • Be actively involved in and contribute regularly to the development community of the CMS of your choice.
  • Develop innovative, reusable Web-based tools for activism and community building.

Required Skills

  • BS in computer science or a related field, or significant equivalent experience
  • 3 years minimum experience with HTML/XHTML and CSS
  • 2 years minimum Web programming experience, including PHP, ASP or JSP
  • 1 year minimum experience working with relational database systems
    such as MySQL, MSSQL or Oracle and a good working knowledge of SQL
  • Development experience using extensible web authoring tools
  • Experience developing and implementing open source software projects
  • Self-starter with strong self-management skills
  • Ability to organize and manage multiple priorities

Job Description: Creative Director


The creative director is charged with determining the best ways for
us to visually represent our company’s identity online. It’s very
much a people-oriented job, involving development of high-level
concepts for design projects. It also involves working with internal
and external clients, pitching designs, and understanding client needs.
At times, we require you to develop visual designs, and at other times,
the Creative Director will be responsible for recruiting and managing
third party design firms as well as internal design resources.


  • Lead creative sessions for project kick-offs
  • Manage multiple projects from concept through completion
  • Develop creative programs and design concepts that meet the
    business objectives of the organization and that advance our brand
  • Establish creative direction for the entire line of online services and programs
  • Supervise and inspire the creative team of vendor partners; generate multiple concepts for a campaign or project
  • Work with the account team, strategy team, and copywriters to develop concepts and present to management
  • Work with internal teams to generate ideas for pitching and proposals
  • Manage team members
  • Provide quality control over concepts and projects

Required Skills

  • Undergraduate degree in Fine Arts or related field or equivalent
    visual design and management experience required; graduate degree
  • At least 4 years management experience working with large-scale web sites, e-marketing, and advertising
  • Must possess a thorough understanding of interactive communications
    and delivery systems, processes, and user interface design as well as
    industry best practices
  • Knowledge of layouts, graphic fundamentals, typography &
    limitations of the web; must understand Flash and have the ability to
    storyboard or translate ideas to designers and develop innovative
    motion graphics solutions
  • A strong working knowledge of experience design, brand development, interactive commerce and creative process
  • Print and web design capabilities: must know how to work in both media for integrated campaigns
  • Ability to lead projects from concept to completion. Apply best
    practices in user interface and interactive design, including image
    optimization and site mapping
  • Experience with software such as Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign & Flash
  • Experience with Adobe AfterEffects & video editing (a plus) needed for this position
  • Knowledge of HTML, DHTML CSS, Actionscript & Drupal
  • Ability to make evaluative judgments
  • Ability to communicate effectively, both orally and in writing
  • Ability to supervise and train employees, to include organizing, prioritizing, and scheduling work assignments
  • Passion, Integrity, and Energy!

Job Description: Online Organizer


We are looking for a talented Online Organizer, responsible for
online strategy development, email campaign creation, project
management, and online community and grassroots outreach efforts. Your
responsibilities will also include managing our organization’s
relationship with other online community influencers, including
reaching out to external blogs and online communities to promote our


  • Oversee and implement grassroots organizing activities over the internet by using new technologies
  • Manage timely presentation and completion of engagement deliverables, including after-project reviews and regular status updates
  • Work with the cross-departmental communications team to develop a
    plan and the tactics for a consistent and concerted online
    mobilization, outreach, fundraising and membership development
  • Develop an email strategy and lead implementation of email
    campaigns. Oversee creative production and distribution of regular
    outbound emails and newsletter programs
  • Create and manage online initiatives including viral campaigns, online advertising, online/offline strategies
  • Adapt existing direct marketing and other materials for online outreach communications
  • Implement and monitor test plans, metrics and analysis of online fundraising and constituent mobilization campaigns
  • Write and edit emails and web content, including calls to action and fundraising appeals
  • Moderate blog posts and comments
  • Develop and analyze email and web metrics
  • Work with organizational partners, including political campaigns and non-profits

Required Skills

  • Functional understanding of Internet technology and communication.
    Experience with blogs, social networking sites, and email list
  • Experience understanding of online campaigns, especially grassroots organizing
  • Solid project management experience
  • Ability to organize and manage multiple priorities and perform
    problem analysis and resolution at strategic and functional levels
  • Exceptional interpersonal and communication skills, especially writing and content creation
  • Ability and willingness to work in a fast-paced, demanding, and unstructured environment
  • Must thrive on change, innovation, and teamwork
  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or 3+ years experience
  • Passion, Integrity, and Energy!

Job Description: Website Content Manager


We are looking for a dynamic, self-motivated individual with
experience and skills in web content management, writing and editing
for the web, graphic design and site management.

The website content manager will be responsible developing the voice
for all aspects of the organization’s online presence. In
addition to writing, editing, and proofreading site content, this
person will also work closely with the technical team to maintain site
standards with regard to new development. The website content manager
will also be responsible for crafting site promotions, email
newsletters, and online outreach campaigns.

The content manager will work closely with technical, business
development, and marketing members of our organization, so strong
communication skills are needed. The ideal candidate will also have
experience managing online marketing and outreach campaigns. Tasks
require a strong attention to detail and ability to work under tight


  • Create, develop and manage content for organization’s web presence (requires working with content management software)
  • Coordinate web projects across departments
  • Maintain a consistent look and feel throughout all web properties
  • Working with a cross-departmental team, maintain and develop the master content calendar for all web properties
  • Copyedit and proofread all web content
  • Oversee freelancers, including writers, copyeditors and community outreach organizers
  • Keep current with emerging web technologies through relevant blogs, listservs, and events
  • Assure web-based information is archived for future needs and reference
  • Track and report on all site metrics
  • Work cooperatively with key team members, clients and vendors

Required Skills

  • Exceptional communication and organizational skills
  • Advanced knowledge of HTML and experience with popular content management systems (Drupal, Convio, Kintera, etc.)
  • Ability to manage multiple projects in a fast-paced, deadline-driven environment
  • Basic Adobe Photoshop skills
  • Proven ability to build consensus and work effectively within a cross-departmental team
  • 3-5 years experience managing content and production for high traffic websites
  • Bachelor’s degree in English, Journalism, Technical Writing or a related field
  • Passion, Integrity and Energy!

Job Description: Internet Director


We are looking for a dynamic, self-motivated individual to direct
the overall growth and strategic direction of our organization’s online
presence. The Internet Director is responsible for developing and
managing a comprehensive online strategy, including internal and
external promotion, content creation, design development and
implementation, and on-line partnership building. The Internet Director
will also support ad sales efforts, editorial & consumer marketing
decisions, design plans, and overall strategic planning for the on-line
business. This is a leadership position that requires someone who can
motivate others to ensure the success of the department, and the
organization as a whole.


  • Develop an online strategy that supports the company’s overall goals and oversee all aspects of its implementation
  • Identify opportunities for growth and execute strategies that take advantage of these opportunities
  • Manage website development to incorporate new features and functionality
  • Develop, expand, and manage current site designs and lead appropriate redesigns when needed
  • Identify and execute strategic partnerships to acquire compelling
    content, features, and online tools that support the website strategy
  • Build and lead a talented, experienced staff
  • Alert colleagues to emerging technologies or applications and the
    opportunities to integrate them into our operations and activities
  • Develop and manage the organization’s entire online budget,
    including website development and maintenance, outreach and promotion,
    personnel and operations

Required Skills:

  • 7+ years online experience, including managing strategy development, content acquisition, and website development
  • Strong knowledge of Website production technologies, including
    popular content management platforms (Drupal, Convio, Kintera, etc.)
  • Extensive contacts in the online space
  • Solid management experience and track record in motivating and building strong teams
  • Experience enabling strong interdepartmental relationships
  • Exceptional communication and organizational skills
  • Advanced knowledge of HTML and experience with popular content management systems (Drupal, Convio, Kintera, etc.)
  • Ability to manage multiple projects in a fast-paced, deadline-driven environment
  • Basic Adobe Photoshop skills
  • Proven ability to build consensus and work effectively within a cross-departmental team
  • 3-5 years experience managing content and production for high traffic websites
  • Passion, Integrity, and Energy!

Building a successful online team

A crucial component of realizing your online capabilities is ensuring
that you have the right personnel to help you achieve your goals. Our
experience has shown that by filling a few key positions, organizations
are able to not only implement the strategies we develop together, but
maintain and grow their existing websites and online organizing,
outreach and fundraising campaigns.

At EchoDitto, our goal is to empower organizations to
communicate with their members, constituents and customers in the most
effective way possible, using the most efficient, innovative and
appropriate technology available. As we like to say, we’d much rather
teach you to fish than give you a can of dolphin-safe tuna.

Below is a list of what we believe to be the five most crucial
positions required for maintaining and growing your
organization’s online presence.
As you can see, the majority
of these positions are more strategic than technical, although the
content manager position does require some basic web development
skills. Depending on the size of your organization, and your online
goals and objectives, it may make sense to hire an internal web
developer/programmer/system administrator who can manage the more
technical aspects of your operation.

Of course, we know that few organizations have the resources (or
space!) to hire 5 new people at once. Depending upon the size of your
organization, it will make sense to fill these roles in a variety of
ways: one skilled staffer may be able to cover 3 or 4 of these roles
for a smaller organization and outsource the rest to consultants; the
online team for larger organizations may require a team double in size.


  • Internet Director (Role: Strategy and Planning)
    Your organization’s internet director will oversee the successful
    strategic and technical planning and execution of online campaigns and
    initiatives, including online communications plans (email/blog/web
    content), and organizing efforts. In addition to coordinating among
    program areas and staff, this person would also be responsible for
    overseeing your organization’s relationship with other online
    community influencers (e.g. bloggers, social networking websites,
    online video outlets)—a role which could eventually evolve into
    its own full-time online organizer position (see below).

    Read a complete job description >>.
  • Web Content Manager (Role: Content and Administration)
    Also referred to as a webmaster or web producer,
    this person is responsible for managing your organization’s
    online community presence on a day-to-day basis, such as implementing
    content or functionality associated with a campaign or initiative. The
    webmaster should be technically proficient for day-to-day site
    administration or design as well as have experience getting results
    through vendors or contractors. The webmaster works closely with the
    internet director to maintain and implement the online campaign/content
    plan. We believe that filling this position is not only cost-effective
    but, in fact, critical to the success of most online strategies.

    Read a complete job description >>.

Secondary Hires — for Building Capacity

  • Online Organizer (Role: Outreach and Campaign management)
    Initially, your internet director and webmaster should be able to
    handle outreach to the greater online community, as well as manage the
    user-generated content associated with the various interactive or
    participatory features of your website. However, as your online
    presence grows, we recommend appointing a dedicated online community organizer
    whose primary responsibility will be to devise, create, and manage
    online communications with your community members (e-mail, blogs,
    discussion groups, feedback, etc.) and organizing or campaign efforts.
    Ideally, this person will also manage your organization’s
    relationship with other online community influencers, and will reach
    out to external blogs and online networks to promote your campaigns.

    Read a complete job description >>.
  • Creative Director (Role: Design and Branding)
    Your creative director
    is charged with determining the best ways to visually represent your
    organization’s identity online. This is a people-oriented job
    responsible for developing high-level design concepts for projects
    under frequently tight deadlines. While most Creative Directors do
    their own design work, they are also responsible for recruiting and
    managing third party design firms as well as internal design resources.
    This role is appropriate for larger organizations. In smaller
    organizations, this role is usually filled by a design-savvy member of
    the internet team (webmaster / organizer / developer) or outsourced to
    an external design firm.

    Read the complete job description >>.
  • Web Developer/Engineer (Role: Technical Development)
    While some organizations choose to hire a tech-savvy webmaster to
    handle minor technical updates and outsource the heavy technical
    lifting, other organizations find that it makes good financial sense to
    invest in a full-time developer. If your organization chooses the
    latter, look for someone with programming, database administration, and
    some basic graphic design skills. Your ideal candidate should serve as
    a strong strategic thinker and be familiar with emerging web
    technologies. Finally, ensure that your candidates have experience with
    the same technology powering your online infrastructure (e.g. don’t
    hire a PHP developer if you have a website running on cold fusion).
    Note: Consider delaying this hire if your organization is licensing
    software that includes monthly support from a product team that can
    implement custom campaigns (e.g. Convio, Blue State Digital, Democracy
    in Action).

    Read the complete job description >>.
  • Database Administrator (Role: Data Coordination)
    While not strictly a member of the internet team, a Database
    Administrator, or DBA, is a crucial part of your overall constituent
    management strategy. As your systems for storing donor, volunteer,
    activist, and member data grow larger, a Database Administrator will
    work to keep them all coordinated, particularly if these systems span
    departments (Development to Communications to Field) or platforms
    (Raiser’s Edge to Convio to Salesforce and custom applications).