Communicating with Pie Charts

Dark Horse Analytics are back with the third instalment of their 'Data Looks Better Naked' series. This time they're improving the pie chart

I don't quite agree with their conclusion because pie charts are a useful communications tool when you want to communicate simple part-to-whole relationships without having to talk through the numbers.

Using charts to tell a quick story

For example, I find pie charts useful when showing the proportion of men vs women in a particular sample set. Or the results of a series of yes/no questions.

Take a look at these pie and bar charts: 

If I was going to use these charts to tell a story during a presentation, I'd much rather put those pie charts up on the screen and say something like: "Most people voted 'yes' in Question 1; about two-thirds voted 'yes' in Question 2; but a little under half voted 'yes' in Question 3". That explanation wouldn't work as well if I had used the bar charts, instead.

On the other hand, if I had wanted to talk about the actual number of yes-vs-no votes cast for each question (or their percentage values), then I'd use the bar charts.

Of course if I wasn't going to show this on a big screen at all, but was instead including the results in a written report, then I might not even use charts. I might just put all those numbers in a table.

Communicating a rough sense of the numbers

The other situation in which pie charts are useful to me is when I want to communicate approximate results for a slightly larger data series but, again, without having to talk about the actual numbers.

For example, every Tuesday at work I email around a social media activity report that tells my colleagues how we did on our various social media channels over the previous week. One of the charts I include in my report is a Twitter sentiment pie chart for various geographical regions. This chart gives you an idea of how people felt about us on Twitter over the previous week.

The thing is: the people I send this report to don't particularly care whether 15% or 20% of people expressed excitement about our brand on Twitter last week. They really just want an approximate sense of how things went. They want to be able to say "a lot of people were positive about us on Twitter last week" or "people didn't like us very much on Twitter last week." And the pie charts I get from Hootsuite (one of the social media management tools we use) helps them reach that single-sentence conclusion pretty quickly.

Here are the Twitter sentiment charts for three of the regions we keep an eye on. The 3-D pie chart plus data table combo in the top row is what we get from Hootsuite (and is what I include in my reports). Below that I've converted this data into stacked 100% column charts and into bar charts: 

Each of these charts tells a slightly different story. The pie chart plus data table combo is nice because you can quickly look at the charts and think: "Okay, not too much dark red or dark green for Region 1; so a mostly average week there. Quite a bit of orange, but no dark red, for Region 2; so people were unhappy, but not angry. And plenty of dark red and dark green for Region 3; which suggests some people were very happy but some people were very upset. And I know that last week we had a great sale but a bunch of flight delays in Region 3 so this result makes sense."

The stacked column charts help you tell a similar story but, in my opinion, it's harder to judge the proportion of one colour to the whole in this type of chart so you're forced to look at the numbers to give you additional context. So you'd look at Region 3's chart and think: "Okay, 24+8 = 28%, so a little over quarter of the people were unhappy. And 21+12 = 33%, so about a third were happy." But now you're stuck comparing 33% green to 28% red instead of just getting a sense of what people thought, and then moving on.

The bar chart at the bottom does possibly the best job of comparing one colour/sentiment with another - but what you're missing here is the relative proportion of that colour compared to the whole. So, for example, you'd look at the Region 2 chart and think: "Okay, light orange is the highest bar so a lot of people were unhappy with us." But then you'd have to add 42% and 17% to see that about half the people were unhappy (though not angry) last week. You could reach that same conclusion with a single glance at the pie chart which shows that it's about half light+dark orange.

In my opinion the pie chart plus data table combo works best. If you just want to get a feeling for the data you only need to look at the pie chart and get a sense of the colour spread. But, if you want to dive deeper it's easy to move on to the table and add the numbers to do a more detailed analysis.

But no other pie chart use

Those are the only two situations in which I use pie charts. In most other situations I'm showing a data trend (as opposed to a snapshot) or a larger series of values - both of which require a different kind of explanation and, therefore, a different kind of chart.

So what I'd recommend is that, if you're ever not sure about which chart type to use, just chart your data in multiple different ways and then try use each type to tell your story. The one that works best (i.e. tells the best story, is the easiest to explain, and has the least chance of being misinterpreted) is the one you should go with. And if this happens to be a pie chart, then so be it. 

My Career Progression Through Microsoft Products

It occurred to me today that I can roughly track my career progression using the components of the extended Microsoft Office suite. That is, you can tell where I was based on which Microsoft software product I was using the most at that time.


Word & Access

When I first started my career, for example, the two components I used the most were Access to Word. This was when most of my work was technical in nature and I was the guy who built things - like Access databases - from the ground up. I then documented them and wrote manuals about them in Word.


When I moved into more of a senior developer or project lead role my focus shifted from Access to Project. This is because I wasn't building things any more, I was tracking the progress of my team and the products we were building.


My next step up was into an analyst role and in this I used a lot of Excel. I used that for both analysis (technical, business, and financial) and reporting (productivity, web traffic stats, budgets, and so on).


Later, after my MBA, I did more of the same but this time I was also a big user of Outlook. That was my step up from the start-up and nonprofit world into the corporate and enterprise world.


Now what I use the most is PowerPoint. I still use all the other tools, of course - though not Access and not too much Project these days - but I've gone from being purely a professional to being a manager and an ideas person, hence the need for good presentations.

Come to think of it, I can also track my career progression just by talking about what I used Word for. That is, I went from using it to document and write manuals to writing proposals and reports to writing policies and strategies.

Neat, huh? :)


Analytics & Tracking on Online News Sites

Ever wondered how you're tracked online? In my continued research on online news sites (e.g.  here's a chart on how much they traffic they get every month) here are a couple of charts that tell you which tracking tools Australia's top online news sites use.

This list was generated using Ghostery so it covers everything from web analytics tools and beacons to ad serving tools and social network platform connectors - basically, anything that's capable of tracking you on the web. 

You can find out more about these tools in this Digital Trends article and in this 'Tracking the trackers' map by the Guardian (part of their larger 'Battle for the internet' series).


Alphabetical List of Trackers

Source: Ghostery tracker alerts on each news website
Pro Tip: To view full-size, right-click and open image in new tab

List of Trackers by Popularity

Source: Ghostery tracker alerts on each news website
Pro Tip: To view full-size, right-click and open image in new tab

Where do I go for News and Opinion?

While trying to decide whether I’d sign up for a Fairfax Digital Subscription or not (I ultimately decided not to) I thought it would be fun to document my news media consumption habits. (Being a nerd is so much fun!)

Here’s what I came up with.

Breaking News 

Where do I go to get breaking news? 

When a news tory breaks the first site I check is Twitter.

I then move on to Reddit to see what news content has been aggregated and bubbled-up by the online community. There I get both first-hand news and news that’s been collected by various outlets.

Next I check the BBC because they'll always have the most reliable and least biased story.

Finally, I go to Google News because that service quickly aggregates lots of news stories from multiple online sources, covering multiple angles.

If the breaking news is Australia- or Melbourne-specific I also check the Age and the ABC (though, in most cases, their news stories get captured pretty quickly by Google News anyway). I sometimes also check the online streaming versions of ABC News 24 and a few radio stations like ABC NewsRadio, 774 Melbourne, and 3AW.

More in-depth news and editorial opinion

What if I want more depth? 

When I want a little more depth to a news story my first stop is usually the BBC. Those folk not only excel at presenting an overview of what’s going but they also give a bit of background and then flesh out those bits of the story that are important at the time. (I usually follow this up by a few quick searches on Google and Wikipedia if I want more information.)

However, if want a much deeper analysis or some high-quality editorial opinion on a particular topic or story then the sites I go first to are academic news outlets like the Conversation, a bunch topic-specific blogs (I subscribe to a lot of blogs via RSS), and sites with strong editorial voices and traditions like the Guardian and the Economist.

I then visit a bunch of independent news outlets or, categorizing them more broadly, sites from which I get smart, well written, and mature news reports, opinion, and discussion. These include ProPublica, The Global Mail, New Matilda, Salon, Slate, the Atlantic, and a handful of others. 

Aside from those major sources I also read some blogs and feature pieces on the ABC and Fairfax websites (e.g. stuff written by Lauren Rosewarne or Sam de Brito). However, ABC and Fairfax don’t have the depth of coverage that the sites mentioned previously do; nor do they have as many contributors whose editorial opinions I value that much.

Local News & Opinion

What if the story is local? 

When a news story is local my preferred sources are the Age and the ABC (including, as mentioned above, the online streaming versions of ABC News 24, ABC NewsRadio, and 774 Melbourne). Though, increasingly, the Guardian with its new Australian edition is becoming a bigger part of my regular local media consumption.

Meanwhile, 3AW and the Conversation, while good sources, don’t cover as much as the Age and ABC do.

Daily Media Consumption

Speaking of my regular media consumption, these are the news sites I check on the tram both to and from work every day and also on weekend afternoons:

Daily Media Consumption.png

The top four are the important ones: I check the Age for updates on what’s happening in the city and around the country. I check the BBC and the Guardian to find out what’s going on in the world. And, I check the ABC to read more about what’s going on in both Australia and the world.

If I have time left in my commute then I then close that folder and check Reddit (the app in the background in the top left hand corner).

And if after that I still have more time I sometimes check my RSS feeds via NewsBlur and occasionally read the stories I’d saved earlier in Pocket.

As you can see, restricting my Fairfax consumption to thirty articles per month isn't going to be difficult because Fairfax is already a pretty small part of my news media consumption mix. This despite the fact that I check the Age website every morning because, when I do, I only occasionally click-through to read a whole article - I usually just skim the headlines.

So there you have it, my media consumption preferences. What sites do you visit to get news and opinion? 

Why I Won’t be Getting a Fairfax Digital Subscription

On 2 July 2013 Fairfax Media will launch its digital subscriptions and erect a paywall around its two major newspaper websites, the Age and Sydney Morning Herald. From that day onwards Australian visitors to those sites will be able to read thirty free articles per month but, should they want to read more, they’ll need to sign up as paying customers.

I won’t be one of those paying customers and this mind map explains why:


Notes from WebForward 2011 Conference

Last week I attended the WebForward Conference in Sydney (which itself is part of the larger CeBIT Australia Exhibition). It was a really good event during which I got to hear from and meet a lot of interesting people.

The conference had two streams: social media and mobile. I hopped in and out of both streams and here are my notes from the talks that I attended.

Latest trends and techniques in the on-line marketing space and a look into the future

WebForward 1

  • Speaker: Tony Keusgen, Head of Technology - Australia/New Zealand, Google
  • Why is there still a difference between ‘traditional’ and ‘digital’ marketing in a corporation’s budget? Why is digital still considered to be “new” media?
  • There’s a huge correlation between offline marketing and online searches
    • For example, if you were to place your ad on a number of city buses you could tell, by analyzing Google search on the relevant phrase (assuming its unique enough), when those buses first hit the streets
  • Predictions for the future:
    • 80% of screen time will be digital
    • Mobile devices will enable two-thirds of purchases and pay for half of them
    • Consumers will have more power and 80% of future engagement will be opt-in and 2-way
    • Real-time will play a big role; already 30% of Australians consumers access the web via their mobile phones while in a physical store
  • Use evidence-based marketing; don’t assume you know what the market wants
  • Don’t be scared to experiment with new things and try new ways of doing things (it’s okay to fail, stop what you were doing, and move on to other ideas)
  • 12% of all Google search queries in December 2010 came from mobile devices
  • Location marketing is key: A third of all searches conducted on mobile devices are location based
  • In the US, a quarter of all searches conducted on mobile devices were voice based
  • Think about doing how-to videos on YouTube
    • 2.4 million search queries per month on YouTube for how-to content
    • 32% of videos watched on YouTube are of how-to content

Integrating a mobile strategy into your marketing plan to cover multiple channels

WebForward 2

  • Speaker: Antonio Addario, Manager - Direct Channels Strategy, Efficiency & Innovation, ING Direct
  • The online magazine Mobile Marketer is a great resource
  • Some of the steps you need to take to figure out your mobile strategy are:
    • Do lots of research (e.g. find out which apps people are willing to pay for in various app stores)
    • Know your customer really well (both the people and the technology they use)
    • Define your success
    • Identify the key capabilities of all your online and mobile offerings; then select the ones you want to offer on your mobile platform
    • Evaluate your development options (i.e. reuse/buy/build)
    • Do plenty of promotion for your new offering
    • Get your mobile offering to upsell for you (e.g. tell people to your other services from within the app)
    • Measure success (KPIs, adoption, etc.)
    • Listen to your customers and make the improvements they want

Utilising mobile marketing to promote your product or service

WebForward 3

  • Speaker: Julian Peterson, Marketing & Online Director, Time Out Sydney
  • Time Out is 40 years old in London but 3 years old in Sydney and 6 months old in Melbourne
  • A branded app can work well if your brands are similar and have the same core target audience (Time Out’s app is cobranded with Smirnoff)
  • Time Out Australia used the app platform already built by London (which, as it happens, was work done by an Australian firm) so that made life easier for them
  • The app does curated content and is really popular with their targeted audience

Recognising the benefits of mobile marketing to drive innovation and growth

WebForward 5

  • Speaker: Nandor Locher, Manager e-commerce, Virgin Australia
  • A lot of the time, when you’re doing mobile marketing, you’re not really being ‘innovative’ in the true sense of the word
  • It’s critical to focus your efforts on the unique advantages offered by mobile technology
  • Mobile offerings are becoming part of a company’s larger product offering and are not just another marketing channel (e.g. like being able to check-in to your flight from the web, being able to do travel stuff on your mobile is now part of the broader travel services product offered by airlines)
  • Mobile is becoming a ‘hygiene factor’ in the travel industry; i.e. if it’s not there, people will go to your competitor
  • The ROI from the mobile offering is low so, for Virgin, their offering is largely a medium- to long-term brand and product augmentation investment
  • It’s important to have a brand presence in the various app stores
  • Integrating mobile with social media is important; particularly since social media is used so heavily in the travel industry
  • Thanks to mobile devices, downtime has become the new uptime (e.g. Virgin increased sales by 150% by moving their happy hour sales to a downtime period for the target market)
  • Depending on your offering, the usage and usefulness of mobile websites is sometimes greater than that of native phone apps (which many people download and then never use)

Understanding how to drive your brand via mobile

WebForward 4

  • Speaker: Stephanie Carrick, Senior Producer, Triple J Unearthed
  • Triple J Unearthed is one of the largest online communities in Australia (250k registered users)
  • They had to had a mobile presence (18-35 is their target market, after all)
  • Their app focuses on users listening to music (i.e. they focus on their core value proposition)
  • All their music content is available for downloading (for free)
  • The app is a huge success, with over 420k downloads in 18 months
  • Because of the app, they’ve seen a 50% sustained rise in traffic to their website (i.e. they’ve tapped a whole new audience that was inaccessible via radio)
  • It’s crucial to have app maintenance budget because you will need to update it regularly from now on

Using Augmented Reality Technology to promote your business

WebForward 6

  • Speaker: Glenn Cooper, Executive Chairman, Coopers' Brewery
  • Brand and brand history plays a huge role in the decisions companies make (particularly in family owned businesses like Cooper’s)
  • Doing a mobile app – that too, an augmented reality app – was a huge change for the business
  • This worked well for them because they used it to promote their low carb beer which itself was a huge change for the business (as they are known for their dark beers)
  • The app helped their marketing promotion be completely under their control (i.e. not under the control of the physical store retailers)

Joining the social media conversation about your company

WebForward 7

  • Speaker: Kristen Boschma, Head of Online Communications and Social Media, Telstra
  • There are different types of social media programs (i.e. they have different objectives); for example:
    • Listening
    • Customer Care
    • Thought Leadership
    • Marketing & Sales
  • The most important part of a listening program is to actually listen (and not jump in every time you’re mentioned or talked about)
  • A key phrase to remember in social media engagements is “What’s the gift?” (looked at from another angle, that’s the answer to a customer who wants to know “What’s in it for me?”)
  • Social media is an ecosystem: you must treat it with respect (i.e. don’t pollute it)
  • In order to get stuff done, you need to have a burning platform
  • Social media has worked really well for Telstra: 31% of all their online conversations now happen on Twitter
  • All employees at Telstra have to take and pass their online social media course (yes, all 40k existing employees had to do this)
  • Sentiment tracking is good, but make sure you provision for human coding in your budget because algorithms don’t understand sarcasm (of which there’s a lot online)

Developing social marketing strategies to transform your organisation

WebForward 8

  • Speaker: Paul Borrud, Head of Australia & New Zealand, Facebook
  • 3 billion photos are uploaded to Facebook per month (globally)
  • Australians spend an average of 7.5hrs on Facebook per month
  • Facebook in Australia
    • 10 million active users (i.e. use the site once in 30 days)
      • 68% return daily, 86% return weekly
    • 53% of users are female
    • The age spread is about even (approximately 17-25% for each of the five major age brackets)
  • Facebook lets people connect across borders really easily
  • Facebook is about reorganizing the web around people
    • In the 80s, the web was all about browsing
    • In the 90s, it was all about search
    • Now, it’s all about people
  • Even gaming is reorganizing around people
  • 43% of all news sharing now occurs in social media
  • Businesses are reorganizing around people as well; this includes new product development, customer service, and marketing
  • There are three types of marketing:
    • Paid (e.g. newspaper ads)
    • Owned (e.g. websites)
    • Earned (e.g. word of mouth)
  • Earned is the hardest to get, but is also the most powerful
  • Facebook lets you do Earned marketing at scale
  • ‘Fans’ are the new popular metric to quote (like ‘Hits’ was popular in the 80s and 90s)
  • ‘Social’ is not the salt in the fries, it needs to be baked into the product

Panel Discussion: Maximising the opportunities given by social media strategies

  • Speaker: Joe Millward, Innovation Manager - Social Media, Gloria Jeans International; Kristen Boschma, Head of Online Communications and Social Media, Telstra; Paul Borrud, Head of Australia & New Zealand, Facebook
  • Ask yourself: What is it that the social media platform can do for you that other platforms can’t?
  • Telstra has three rules for new social media ventures:
    • You need a six month content plan
    • You need someone to run the conversation (interacting at least twice daily)
    • You have to have a back-end system to deal with questions, complaints, etc.
  • Remember there are two kinds of social media interactions:
    • Individual (e.g. my bill is wrong)
    • Institutional (e.g. your billing system is wrong)
  • These need to be handled differently (e.g. you need to be prepared to have individual interactions after hours as well as during work hours)

Introducing location-based mobile applications into your marketing strategy

WebForward 9

  • Speaker: Gary Daly, National IT Manager, Surf Life Saving Australia
  • Surf Life Saving needed to get the beach safely message across to high risk beachgoers (specifically, males aged 16-35)
  • Their app has two messages:
    • Primary: be safe
    • Secondary: get involved/donate (they are a non-profit that is run by volunteers and relies on donations to function)
  • The app uses the phone’s GPS location to deliver targeted messages
  • They use web services in the back-end to collect all the information that gets presented (e.g. they get weather data from the Bureau of Meteorology and beach data from their internal Surfcom system)
  • Build into your app the ability to collect feedback – this will be vital to future app development
  • A good mobile site is more cost effective than creating an app because the latter needs to be constantly updated

Panel Discussion: Keeping up with latest techniques and trends to gain competitive advantage

  • Speaker: Gary Daly, National IT Manager, Surf Life Saving Australia; Tony Keusgen, Head of Technology, Google AU/NZ; Andy Ridley, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Earth Hour
  • Google’s big bet is mobile (hence Android and Wallet and all their other mobile related services)
  • Three key elements for location based services:
    • Local
    • Social
    • Mobile
  • Evidence based marketing is very important
  • It’s important to go where you users are (e.g. websites, devices, platforms, etc.)
    • This includes following their usage-time patterns; e.g. mobile web usage drops at 9am, spikes during lunch, then drops again till 5pm

Concluding Thoughts

The conference was well organized, well executed, and quite valuable in terms of what I got form it (both information and contacts). I look forward to attending it again next year.

NOTE: All speaker photos were taken from the WebForward website.

Web Fun at Melbourne Water: iPhone App, Maps & Social Media

I joined Melbourne Water as their Websites Manager just under a year ago and, since then, I’ve done a lot of fun and exciting web-related work there.

We recently hit a few important milestones so I thought I’d take this opportunity to do a quick roundup of what I’ve been up to.

Web & New Media Strategy

Melbourne's Water Supply NetworkAll the exciting work I’m doing has its foundations in the Web & New Media Strategy that was kicked off in early 2009 and involved a few months of research, analysis, and decision-making. The actual “strategy” ended up being a three-phase plan for building and enhancing the organization’s online presence over the next 2-3 years.

The first phase (basically, quick wins) took less than six months to do and involved plugging the holes in our existing online presence. This included numerous web tweaks, getting a better understanding of what worked or didn’t work on our site (via Google Analytics), and, generally, making better use of the website (e.g. more cross promotion on high traffic areas). We also bought a Google Mini search engine to remove one of site’s biggest pain points which was a crappy search engine.

The second phase (6-12 months) is finishing up now. This addressed a whole bunch of other web tweaks (like content rewrites and information architecture adjustments) and launched projects in five major areas:

  • A complete site overhaul (redoing the site’s content, design, and information architecture and getting a new web content management system)

  • More multimedia (specifically illustrations, photos, and videos)

  • More and better online maps (the more useful and usable the better)

  • More information provision via mobile phones (through SMS, mobile applications, and mobile web sites)

  • Getting into social media (for information provision and stakeholder engagement)

The third phase (1-3 years) involves more complex projects that can’t be started till we have everything else in place (like a new organizational GIS and a web content management system). Phase three work includes the automation of customer-facing business activities, which means things like building online forms and applications, providing custom information via SMS, and so on.

What’s Exciting Now?

Melbourne Water's iPhone applicationRight now, though, we’re nearing the end of the second phase and we’ve made great progress in all five of the areas mentioned above:

  • We’ve kicked off a project to get a new web content management system and have started the website redesign and reorganization process.

  • We’ve started to place photos on Flickr (including ‘Photos from the Field’ which are from Melbourne Water employees) and videos on YouTube (almost all of which were produced in-house).

  • We’ve got some really basic maps on our site but have kicked off a project that will move all our old and clunky maps to a better platform over the next year or so. Meanwhile, we’ve developed an interactive map that explains in simple terms how Melbourne’s complicated water supply network works.

  • We’ve launched an iPhone app (link to iTunes store) and will be launching a new mobile version of our website in the next few weeks.

  • We’re quite active on Twitter and will get further into social media when appropriate.

All in all, we’re tracking quite well and the work we’re doing is lots of fun and really quite exciting.

Culture of Innovation & Effective Communication

What I love most of all, though, is how much on-board everyone at Melbourne Water is with these enhancements. This support and appreciation of innovation and effective communication starts right at the top, too. For example, it was our Board who originally suggested that we develop a simplified water supply network map for the website. They wanted a simple way of explaining a complex system and realized that the web would be a great place to do just that.

In my opinion, the foundation for this is laid in Melbourne Water’s Strategic Framework document which explicitly lists the support of “innovation, achievement, and good ideas” and the need to “understand, manage, and meet or exceed customer expectations” as success indicators for the organization. At Melbourne Water these aren’t just phrases on a company brochure but actual, practical goals that all of us aspire to every day. In fact, to give you an example of how this is implemented practically: Every project that’s proposed at Melbourne Water has to explain and justify which of these strategic goals it’s addressing before it’s allowed to start.

So the work that I’m doing there both matches the direction the world is moving in (i.e. information provision and customer engagement is moving online) and is brilliantly supported by the organization itself. That’s yet another reason why I love working there.

Microsoft Case Study on Melbourne Business School

Microsoft have a good case study on how their technology helps Melbourne Business School with their information management and stakeholder management needs. With the tagline of "Business School Enhances Reputation Through Improved Constituent Service" the executive summary reads:
Melbourne Business School (MBS) was founded in 1954 through the University of Melbourne, and its graduate degrees have been ranked in the Financial Times’ list of Top 100 Global MBAs since 2005. The school wanted to strategically align its brand positioning message, ‘Global. Business. Leaders.’, to every facet of its business. Its well intentioned but departmental approach to managing data on students (called ‘constituents’) hampered efforts to deliver services and develop relationships to a standard that was commensurate with its brand. In 2007 MBS began a comprehensive process of organisational change. It introduced a customer relationship management (CRM) system based on Microsoft Dynamics® CRM 4.0 and Microsoft® Office SharePoint® Server 2007. By introducing a common platform for data management and taking a life-cycle view of constituents, MBS improved communications with applicants, students, participants and alumni and projected a more professional image.

You can read or download the case study from the Microsoft Case Studies website.

I know this project well because I worked on it as a Content & Governance Consultant on the MBS Direct (i.e. web portal) side. It's good to see that the project has been written up really nicely.

MBS's CIO, Ric Lamont (who is quoted in the study) was one of my MBA classmates and a lot of credit goes to him and to Carl Joseph (Manager, Information Services) for pulling this off so succesfully.

(FYI: I read this case study when it was published last year but remembered today that I'd forgotten to link to it back then. If you're wondering why I remembered it now that's because it came up in my "melbourne business school" Google Alert this morning; presumably because its web page was tweaked or republished in a new format.)

Unboxing an iOffer

Tech enthusiasts will know what the term 'unboxing' means but, for the rest of you it's:
The Internet trend of showing photos or video from the unpacking of a retail box of some desirable product, such as the latest laptop or portable music player. [Source: Urban Dictionary]

The post 'An Unboxing You Won't See on Gizmodo or Engadget' by Glyph Lefkowitz is the first time I've seen it done for a job offer...but I can totally see why you'd want to. It is, after all, a job offer from Apple.

Read Lefkowitz's post to see what I mean :)

IT Restrictions at Work

A couple of weeks ago Scott Arbeitman wrote about the technology gap between the street and the enterprise. Carl Joseph replied to that with one of the most painful technology-related quotes I’ve heard (painful because of how true it is):
“Every day you get to use new technology and are exposed to new, exciting things…then you go to work.”

I’m not sure who actually said that, but if you work for a large corporation, then you’ll know what this feels like.

How do I Deal with Such Restrictions?

At my workplace, in order to keep up with the rest of the Internet world, I not only bring my own personal laptop to work I also bring with me my own personal wireless broadband Internet connection. And, despite the fact that my laptop is ancient and the broadband connection is painfully slow (relative to my workplace’s connection), I still get a better Internet experience on it than I do on my work computer.

Why? Because even though my laptop has half a gigabyte of RAM, a slow 30GB hard drive, no built-in wireless adapter (yes, it’s that old), and Windows XP, I get to run on it the latest versions of Flash, AIR, Silverlight, IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Seesmic Desktop (along with numerous other applications) and I get to access whatever I want to on the Internet.

On my work computer, meanwhile, I am stuck with no AIR or Silverlight, IE6 as my only browser (I do have a version of Firefox on it but that doesn’t run Flash so it might as well not exist), and restrictions on which websites I can access. What makes this harder to live with is that my computer’s hardware is pretty good (it’s a docked laptop with a dual monitor setup) and my Internet connection speed is excellent.

It’s Not All Bad

I have to admit, though, that I am being somewhat unfair to my workplace. Aside from making us run IE6 and blocking parts of the web (including sites like Slideshare because it’s “personal storage”), they do let us access webmail, all the social networking sites (indeed, according to our IT department, Facebook is one of the five most popular sites at work), and most online media sites (like Flickr and YouTube). Compared to other large organizations – particularly government departments – in Australia, that’s pretty awesome.

In fact, they’ve gone a step further and have provided us (the Web Team) with a special media desktop (for converting and editing video) and a special Internet laptop (with all the latest software and applications installed on it). Bits of the Internet are still blocked on these PCs because you’re still going through their proxies, but that’s not such big a deal.

So What’s an Employee to Do?

One way for tech-savvy employees to get around these restrictions is to do what I’m doing: circumvent the IT department entirely by creating a parallel setup for yourself. With recent technology improvements like cheap netbooks, powerful smart phones, and readily available mobile broadband, this is easy and relatively inexpensive to do. I suspect a lot of Gen-Y will take this route.

The other option – the much harder one – is to get your IT department to get rid of these restrictions and, dare I say, modernize itself. Unfortunately, that’s not easy to do. Slate’s Farhad Manjoo makes a good case for it, though, in his recent article, ‘Unchain the Office Computers!’:
…workplace IT wardens are rarely amenable to rational argument. That's because, in theory, their mission seems reasonable. Computers…can be dangerous things—they can breed viruses and other malware, they can consume enormous resources meant for other tasks, and they're portals to great expanses of procrastination. So why not lock down workplace computers?

Here's why: The restrictions infantilize workers—they foster resentment, reduce morale, lock people into inefficient routines, and, worst of all, they kill our incentives to work productively. In the information age, most companies' success depends entirely on the creativity and drive of their workers. IT restrictions are corrosive to that creativity—they keep everyone under the thumb of people who have no idea which tools we need to do our jobs but who are charged with deciding anyway.

The Role of the IT Department

One of the most important parts of Manjoo’s argument, however, is this:
What's worse, because they aren't tasked with understanding how people in different parts of a company do their jobs, IT managers often can't appreciate how profoundly certain tools can improve how we work.

This is often the root cause of the problem because most IT departments are divided into roughly three parts:

  • IT Operations: the people who keep the systems running

  • The Project Management Office (PMO): the people who oversee updates, upgrades, and all the organization’s IT projects

  • IT Planning: the people who plan for the future

What is often missing is the fourth part:

  • In-house IT Consulting: the people who liaise directly with different parts of the business and use the latest technologies to improve the way those people work

Without that fourth part, IT departments have a hard time keeping up with what people in the organization believe are the most effective and efficient ways of doing their work. They also don’t keep up with the latest technological solutions for various business problems.

Modernizing the IT Department

So, if employees want to take the route of modernizing the way the IT department looks at new tools and technologies, they need to start by modernizing the IT department itself. And, to do that, they have to look at IT as two different groups:

  • IT as a service delivery department: the people who provide us with our computers and networks

  • IT as a partner in business: the people who proactively help us do our job better

And if they’re lucky enough to get a CIO who thinks that way as well, things should start to change.

Upcoming Conference: Journalism in the 21st Century

The University of Melbourne’s School of Culture and Communications is hosting a global conference called ‘Journalism in the 21st Century: Between Globalization and National Identity’:

Journalism in the 21st century is being rapidly transformed, not only through the globalization of media and new media technologies, but also through the growing ubiquity of the Internet. These 'transforming' agents are reshaping newsgathering processes, and redefining the role of national news media in the context of a new transnational news space.

The conference will thus provide a broad platform for the discussion of these emergent issues, issues that are having an effect upon journalistic practice not only in Australia, but in the international context shaped by globalization and the 'network' society.

The conference’s plenary speakers include some big names:

  • Nick Couldry, Goldsmiths College, University of London, UK
  • Philip Seib, USC Annenberg, California
  • Sarmila Bose, Oxford University
  • Michael Delli Carpini, Annenberg School, Philadelphia
  • Malek Triki, Al Jazeera, London
  • Christoph Lanz, Deutsche Welle, Berlin
  • Christoph Wimmer, SBS, Sydney

Overall, it sounds really exciting and I’m hoping I’ll be able to attend. Further details on the conference (e.g. how to register) will be posted to the website soon. Right now all we know are the conference’s dates (16-17 July), registration cost ($150), and venue (the University of Melbourne’s Parkville campus).

Internet Usage at Work is a Good Thing

Finally, there’s a study that shows empirically what most of us have known all along: personal Internet usage at work actually boosts employee productivity.

The study was conducted by Dr. Brent Coker from the Department of Management and Marketing at the University of Melbourne and you can read about it here:

According to Coker’s research:

“People who do surf the Internet for fun at work - within a reasonable limit of less than 20% of their total time in the office - are more productive by about 9% than those who don’t.”

It’s About More Than Just Productivity

But it’s not just about productivity, as Specht points out, it’s also about trusting and respecting your employees.

I personally dislike companies that prohibit what Coker calls Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing (WILB) with the justification that when you’re at work, you should be doing nothing but work. That’s just silly because it’s a completely unrealistic notion of what work is. Work is a subset of life, not the other way round. So you can’t exactly ignore the rest of your life – or, indeed, the rest of the world – while you’re at work.

[There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. It’s okay to apply principles of Taylorism to, say, when you’re working in the kitchen at McDonalds. It’s just that you shouldn’t extend those principles to when your employees are not doing those specific kinds of tasks.]

The problem with a lot of companies is that, while they understand this basic principle (i.e. that there is life outside of work, even between the hours of 9am and 5pm), they aren’t tech-savvy enough to see that this also applies to using the Internet. Companies will, for example, do things like allow flexible working hours so you can do your banking during your lunch hour or go as far as to provide coffee machines and televisions in their kitchens and lounges so you can take a really good break during the work day. And yet, these same companies will block the use of webmail services, social networking sites, and online video sites which, to people like me, are pretty much the virtual equivalent of the kitchen and lounge (and sometimes the preferred equivalent).

So What’s the Problem?

Part of the problem, as has been pointed out in the past, is the generational disconnect between the Baby Boomers, Gen-X, and Gen-Y. That is, there exist numerous members of older generations who don’t understand that, for some members of the younger generation, a good work break could be eight minutes of e-mailing and checking on your social networks, four minutes of going through photos of your newborn niece, and three minutes of watching the latest viral video that’s making the rounds. And this disconnect is understandable. However it is then the job of middle managers to convince senior managers that this kind of personal Internet usage is actually okay.

Another part of the problem are the reports written by generally Internet-clueless analysts on how much companies are “losing” by letting employees access social media or online video sites during work hours. What tends to happen is this calculation:

  • Think of an average employee who earns 50k a year; that’s $25 an hour.
  • If this person spends, on average, 30 minutes a day on Facebook and Gmail. That translates to $12.50 per day “lost”.
  • So, for the 250 days a year that this person works, the company is “losing” $3,125.
  • If this company had 400 employees, the company would be losing 1.25 million dollars per year on employees accessing webmail and social networking sites.

Company executives look at this calculation and exclaim: “What?! We’re paying our employees $1.25m to access Facebook and Gmail! Block both those sites!”

The problem, of course, is that while the calculation is essentially correct, the reasoning behind it is flawed. The reasoning being that you are paying your average employee exactly 41.6c per minute to work for you and that every minute this employee does something other than work your money is being wasted. Now if this person was working on an assembly line, your loss-per-minute-not-worked calculation would be valid. But for every other employee, it’s not.

Why is it not valid? Because your employee is human – who has human wants and needs – and it is unreasonable to treat this person like a work-producing automaton upon whom you can do this kind of dehumanising calculation.

To Conclude

My point, then, is that studies like Coker’s are really useful because they empirically demonstrate that you can’t blindly apply principles of scientific management (i.e. Taylorism) across an entire organization.

And because these studies come from a business department of a large and well-respected university – and they use terms that businesses understand (specifically, ‘productivity’) – they will probably do some good.

If nothing else, reports like this tend to make their way into business magazines and give executives something to think about. This particular study may not get companies to unblock access to webmail services and social media sites, but it’s a start.

- - - - - - - - - -

P.S. What’s almost funny are the companies that are so completely disconnected for what’s going on online that they don’t even know what Facebook is and therefore don’t have a policy on whether they should block it or not!

BBC News Starting New Show Containing User-Submitted Content

The BBC has just announced plans to launch a new weekly show, called Your World News, that will feature the best of user-submitted news content (mainly photos and videos):

Thousands of videos, pictures and emails are sent in to the BBC every week and we are now choosing the best ones to make it onto a new show called Your World News.

So what do you have to do to make it on the programme? Quite simply, get out there and send us what's happening in your world.

I hope that, like CNN’s iReport, they also make this content available on the web once the show has been broadcast.

This new initiative sounds really exciting and here’s hoping it’s a big success.

James Nachtwey's story

In 2007, photographer James Nachtwey won the TED Prize which awarded him $100,000 and "one wish to change the world". His wish was:

I'm working on a story that the world needs to know about. I wish for you to help me break it in a way that provides spectacular proof of the power of news photography in the digital age.

On 3 October, Nachtwey's story will break -- both online and around the world. Melburnians can view his story at Federation Square while the rest of you should check the TED Prize Event Location page to see if it's being shown at your location (it's on in 16 countries). If not, you can always view it online:

For more:

MBS Video Content on Qantas A380s

Thanks to the Deloitte Leadership Academy, all passengers flying aboard Qantas' Airbus A380s will have free access to business courses -- ranging from five-minute videos to 40-minute lectures -- supplied by Melbourne Business School, Harvard Business School (including Harvard Business Review articles), Stanford Graduate School of Business, Macquarie Graduate School of Management, and the University of New South Wales.


For more:

I Can Has Senior Producer?

Very, very, very rarely do I wish that I had stuck with web programming for a little bit longer. This is one of those times. As posted on

Executive Producer (M5)

I'm looking for a Senior Project manager / Senior Producer to work with my outstanding client who is a well known and highly regarded organisation pioneering some of the most innovative and in-depth communications strategies in Australia.

Due to massive success the Production team requires the services of a Senior Producer to support the production team in online, print, marketing and digital media initiatives.

O'rly you say?


If you are a 733t project manager or senior producer, with mad skills (over 9000!) from the delivery of flawless web projects, as well as the Real Ultimate Power of performing under pressure and delivering spectacular results then this is the role for you.

For this senior level role you will be involved in:

  • Supporting and guiding business strategies
  • Manage Producers, Designers and Developers on significant projects
  • Deliver agreed outcomes throughout the Project lifecycle
  • Implement new developments throughout the business portfolio and ensure business agenda's are met
  • Engage with all facets of the production process.

You will demonstrate:

  • Experience working within the internet, media and print industries
  • Exposure to formal Project Management and methodologies such as Agile and or Prince2
  • Articulate, concise communication skills with the ability to assert a point with empathy
  • The ability to work from both a strategic angle and a creative one
  • Good technical understanding of web design and development as well as print production and media environment skills and knowledge
  • Strong time management skills

Communication and interpersonal skills will be just as important as having the following experience and education:

  • Tertiary qualifications
  • An absolute minimum of 5 years experience in a Project Management or producers role in a web based environment utilising Flash, .Net, ActionScript and Adobe products. Seriously, save the Internet some bandwidth by not applying if you don't have a significant web background.
  • Previous experience managing the code grinders and the colouring in types.
  • Strong scope management
  • Excellent judgement on best action to take
  • Excellent documentation skills
  • Best practise knowledge in Project Management practices
  • Excellent time management skills

Put on your robe and wizard hat if you have knowledge of:

  • Developing solutions in .NET and 3D modelling
  • Games development
  • Managing Production Shoots

A passion for the web is essential, my client represents the best in Melbourne and we are only looking for the crème de la crème of the marketplace. You MUST attach a compelling cover letter to your application for this role. 


Links: Marketing, Web 2.0, Management Blogs

I don't usually do link posts but I've been so busy these last couple of weeks I haven't had time to write about the following useful links in any detail:

  1. Samuel Dean from Web Worker Daily wrote a post called 'VTC: Killer Online Tutorials, Mostly Free'

  2. HR World wrote about the 'The Top 100 Management and Leadership Blogs That All Managers Should Bookmark' [via Trevor Cook]

  3. Jeremiah Owyang presented 'A Complete List of the Many Forms of Web Marketing for 2008'

  4. Ross Dawson, writing in BRW Magazine, listed the 'Top 100 Australian Web 2.0 Applications'