Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wooga, gaming and the power of randomized testing - part 1/3

I read this really impressive piece in the Wired UK magazine that highlighted the need for systematic randomized testing. The piece is about wooga, the social gaming company which uses randomized testing to develop its game ideas and concepts. Wooga is a competitor of Zynga and the conventional video gaming giant, EA.

The randomized testing idea is core to the idea of predictive analytics. In the absence of randomized testing, a couple of issues could arise. The first is that the object being measured could be incorrectly estimated. The second is incorrect attribution of the effect that is being studied to causal factors. The incorrect attribution arises from the fact that non-randomized data is typically biased or “shaped” by specific conditions or factors present when the data was generated. So for example, if one were to take a week of shopping information to study a marketing promotion in the retail industry, and that week that was picked at random happened to be a few days before Thanksgiving, one might be mislead into thinking that a. Turkey sales make up a high percentage of the overall shopping basket in general and b. that skew in the shopping basket distribution was caused by the promotion.

A number of analytically advanced companies have embraced this idea of randomized testing. One of the early pioneers in the financial services area was Capital One (check this really neat link out from the HBR), but the idea since is being used by practically every financial services company. Financial services of course is a fertile ground for randomized testing because of the large number of transactions that create a deep pool of data that lends itself to really powerful statistical modeling. In a couple of subsequent posts, I will talk about some best practices in this area and also some pitfalls to watch out for.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Some interesting links

Prof.Raghu Rajan from the University of Chicago has written this interesting piece on the build-up that finally ended in the financial crisis from the Fault Lines blog. He explains lucidly why Keynesian spending might not work as well this time around.

The other interesting write-up is about secular shifts in the unemployment picture in developed countries and some of the underlying causes. From the MIT Technology Review.

Excellent food for thought along with this piece from Joseph Stiglitz that I summarized here.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Big analytics or big bubble?

As a practitioner of predictive analytics over the last 8-10 years, it is fascinating to sit back and observe the way the field is gathering attention and importance. Most recently, NPR did a piece on analytics. The NPR pieces were about Gary Loveman who is now the CEO of Caesar Entertainment - it is a podcast and the link is here. I loved this line from the story:

There are three things that can get you fired from Caesars: Stealing, sexual harassment and running an experiment without a control group.

NPR followed up with other couple of pieces  - one was an opener on Big Data and the other was the search for analytic talent that can make sense of this Big Data. What made the second article somewhat quirky was that it profiled DJ Patil, a mathematician who searches and tracks and ultimately recruits these data geniuses using - you guessed it, data!

So did the WSJ, just yesterday. The WSJ talked about two analytics consulting firms: Mu Sigma and Opera Solutions, getting substantial amounts of venture funding (think large 8-digit numbers) to expand in this space.

This is the point where I start to get really worried about big data and the b-word. Is this big data, social media, mega-analytics a rapidly building bubble that is bound to pop in some way and leave more than a few people disappointed? I have no doubts in my mind that the idea is powerful and transformational - the idea being that predictive analytics sitting on top of data can make better business decisions, drive better customer insights and resource efficiencies and improve life for us in a holistic kind of way.

But when big media gets on the bandwagon and the subject goes from being talked in technical journals to being talked by the WSJ and NPR, I begin to smell some frothiness.