Author Archives: jamalone

An API as an analytics tool? You must be kidding.

An API as a tool, really?

When most people go to buy a new car, they do not expect the dealer to hand them a kit so they can build their own, even if the directions are really good. Therefore, it’s understandable why anyone would question how an API can be qualified as an analytics tool.

To get to the point, customized development does not need to be expensive, extensive, or extreme. Rather, I’d posit that a few meaningful analytics which matter to an organization are much more useful than a sea of useless data points. If an API is easy for developers to use then it’s conceivable that custom development for analytics needn’t cost an arm and leg. Moreover, many companies already spend capital for other social media-related development, such as SEO. Therefore, I say if the API is easy and powerful enough, companies should be encouraged to explore hiring (even temporary) staff to create customized analytics pipelines.

With that in mind, I want to examine the Facebook APIs with an eye to whether their ease of use makes them a candidate for development projects, even in small organizations.

Facebook APIs

Facebook has a number of APIs available for public use, including:

  • Graph API
  • FQL
  • Ads
  • Chat

Each one of these APIs is specifically targeted for a set of features. The Graph API, for instance, is designed to give HTTP-based access to the Facebook Social Graph. The Chat API, on the other hand, is designed for integrating with Facebook chat.

The Facebook APIs all work differently, which is a downside; however, this allows the APIs to change over time without impacting each other. For instance, a change in the chat API won’t mean the Graph API has to change necessarily. Since all of these APIs are HTTP-based, integrating with them is relatively painless because the transport layer (HTTPS) is stable, widely used, and very easy to use.

Since I cannot examine all of the Facebook APIs, I want to examine the Graph API in a bit more detail to see how it works and whether organizations at all levels could use it.

Exploring the Graph API

As the Facebook documentation notes, the Graph API is the primary way way that data is retrieved or posted to Facebook.

I headed over to the Graph API documentation page to get started. To bootstrap anyone new to the API, Facebook provides the Graph API Explorer to facilitate tinkering with the API in real time. In this example, I asked the Graph API for my basic information.

Graph API Explorer

If I want more information, I simply need to provide an access token (relatively easy to obtain) and then modify my HTTP request; for instance, to also get my “about” and “birthday” fields, my query to the API is:

100001847806312?fields=about,birthday

That is incredibly easy! With the proper access token, it’s possible to obtain many users’ fields and walk through their social network. It’s not possible to go beyond that; however, you can get most of their “friend circle” data which could potentially be very handy.

You can also use Facebook Query Language (FQL) to find data. For instance, this query will return the IDs of my friends.

fql?q=SELECT uid2 FROM friend WHERE uid1=me()

My thoughts

The Facebook Graph API was extremely easy to use and I do not think it’s unrealistic that a business could hire a small amount of development time to get custom analytics designed specifically for their business. For instance, a Graph API integration could link my customer list with Facebook accounts so I could tell when someone has moved; maybe I am a cupcake shop and I want to send them a free treat when they are engaged.

There are and will continue to be countless options for analytics tools on the market. I’d question, however, whether buying (and in many cases an expensive) an off-the-shelf tool will really be the best option for many companies.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2013 - Post 3, Analytics

Add rocket power to your blog with Jetpack!

I have a blog, now what? Who is reading my blog and how much traffic do I get? How can I optimize my blog? Is it easy to allow people to make comments? 

wordpress-jetpackIf you’ve ever started a blog, some of these questions are likely very familiar. There’s an exciting new tool from WordPress which makes running a blog much easier by boosting what blow authors get out of the box with WordPress - Jetpack.

One of the awesome features of WordPress is its extensibility via plugins. Plugins have traditionally allowed blogs to do everything from easily capturing analytics with Google Analytics to facilitating feedback via feedback forms. In the past, however, there was no single plugin which tied together so many additional features many blog owners commonly want, including:

  • Notifications on blog events, such as comments and new posts
  • Statistics of blog readership and where readers are coming from
  • Subscriptions allowing users to easily see new blog content
  • Galleries for images and other rich media
  • Contact forms which allow users to contact blog owners easily
  • Mobile themes which make WordPress sites look great on mobile devices
  • JSON API which allows blog owners to integrate with their site

The group behind the WordPress platform created the Jetpack plugin for WordPress which contains many of these commonly requested and much-needed features all in one simple to use and easy to install package. As a WordPress Blog owner myself, I can attest to the utility of having one plugin handle so much of the work needed to expand the usefulness of my WordPress blog. To underscore how awesome Jetpack is, I want to call out three of its nice features.

Statistics

Knowing your blog’s audience is extremely useful and Jetpack makes it easy to caprture how many people visit your blog and from where they come. The following example shows the Jatpack statistics for this very blog; notice how detailed and accurate the metrics are.

Jatpack Statistics

No Google Analytics needed here. Jetpack makes it easy!

Comments

Jetpack allows visitors to WordPress blogs to log in via their commonly-used social networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to leave comments. This powerful feature makes it easy for users to interact with your content without burdening them to sign up for your site.

Jetpack comments

Mobile theme

Mobile device use is growing immensely year over year and it’s very likely any WordPress blog will see more mobile users over the next few years. Instead of painstakingly designing CSS and XHTML which works on desktop clients and mobile browsers, the Jetpack theme automatically renders your site whenever it detects a mobile device. This means anyone on an iPhone, Android tablet, Symbian phone, or other mobile device can easily access your blog content.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2013 - Post 2

Full-circle strategy – Amazon Kindle

Kindle icon - small Kindle Cloud Reader Kindle App

Kindle, social?

The Kindle started as a dedicated e-reader; today the term Kindle is used for a range of e-book reading products including dedicated e-book readers, tablets, applications for mobile devices, and a browser-based e-book reader. As Amazon has expanded its line of Kindle products, so has it also expanded the Kindle’s deep integration and use of social media. Today, Amazon uses social media to facilitate sales, enhance customer experience, and to empower rich customer reviews – a full-circle strategy.

Step 1 – Encourage sales

The Kindle team uses popular social networks, mainly Twitter and Facebook to promote new products, advertise sales/daily deals, and to pass along useful information (e.g. retweet important book-related news.) Importantly, the Amazon team does not use one account for global communication which allows them to engage with specific markets. For instance, the Kindle team has noticed UK customers respond to deals and news differently so they have a separate @KindleUK Twitter account. By engaging customers on hot deals and new items, Amazon is able to facilitate sales quickly and directly to interested customers.

Step 2 – Enhance the reading experience

Kindle Social Media

The Kindle group goes beyond simply using social media to communicate with customers; the Kindle products have deep (and increasing) integration with social networks on a software and hardware level. For instance, the Kindle e-reader hardware allows users to connect their Kindle device with Twitter and Facebook. This integration allows customers to share quotes, passages, and other content in whatever they are reading. As a result of these features, Kindle customers can easily share content which is meaningful with their friends and associates.

Step 3 – Facilitate customer reviews

Once customers have finished a book, the Kindle hardware and software integration allows customers to review the book on their linked social media networks. Reviewing the book via their social media networks allows customers to both share their opinion with their friends and offers a way to subtly advertise their completion of a book. Moreover, Amazon can then engage the customer based on their review and gather trends/metrics from the customer via their social media shares.

The future
Goodreads

Last week, Amazon acquired the book recommendation site Goodreads. While time will tell how Amazon makes
use (or not) of this acquisition, it is a sign that Amazon is increasing the scope and importance of social integration with its Kindle products.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 2013 - Post 1, Class Notes, FTW!