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A social web needs real-time analytics: Q&A with Tony Haile of Chartbeat

Blog post   •   Feb 25, 2013 10:14 GMT

Tony Haile argues that the unpredictable nature of the social web means a move away from optimisation and towards adaptation

Real-time analytics are not used by the traditional user of data, says Tony Haile, CEO, Chartbeat Photograph: Chartbeat

Ahead of the Changing Media Summit 2013, Tony Haile, the CEO at Chartbeat, a real-time data service, argues that the rise of the social web means real-time analytics are key for online businesses.

How are real-time analytic tools being used by online businesses?

The main thing to realise is traditional data users don't use real-time analytics. It's not for the back-office analytics team whose job it has been to create reports and look for strategic insights.

Real-time analytics are used across every industry by people on the front line. The people who are most able to actually affect change in real time. In publishing, that's editors, producers and content creators. On the brand side, it's the marketers. In e-commerce, it's people like the merchandisers who are seeing demand on the page and adapting based on inventory and marketing spend.

You saw this working really well in terms of the Super Bowl this year. When a faulty device caused a blackout in the stadium, you saw brands immediately adapting to that and pushing out amazing ads around the blackout. It's that kind of real-time responsiveness where data is put directly into the hands of people that can act. People on the front line are using it to make swift tactical differences to an ever-changing environment.

Have there been challenges with front line people using this technology?

Sure. For many people, integrating data into their world has been something fairly new. So there are a few things that have been absolutely critical for them. One is creating designs that make people intuitively understand what they are looking at. We also have an entire team of data scientists who work very hard with our back-office engineers, because we know that just spewing out data isn't enough. We have to go beyond data to insight. We do the hard work on analysis our end so that we can let people on the front line know if there is a problem or something unusual has happened that they need to take a look at.

How do you think publishers are managing the transition from a print to digital world?

In the print world, it was pretty clear that your job was to make sure that people came back and bought a second copy of your newspaper. So your motivations were clearly aligned between creating quality and being a great business.

For a long time, I believe we lost that on the digital side of things. We started chasing page views or impressions and we started using link-based headlines and creating slideshows of questionable value. One of things that is starting now and is a huge debate in the US, especially among the thought-leadership publishers, is how do we start to reunite the idea of quality and being a great business. How do we find the right metrics to use? What are the right business models that mean that we can make enough money by creating quality content? That is something that only now we are starting to wrestle with in a pragmatic way. For a long time, we accepted this separation as being the necessary way of things and this is not true at all.

What does the rise of the social web mean for real-time analytics?

It is absolutely core to it. If you think about the way the web was before the social web you had the search web, which was highly predictable. You had a little bit of traffic going to a huge number of pages across a consistent period of time. So that's when you saw the rise of the content farms such as Demand Media. The social web came along and suddenly the web become hugely more complex and unpredictable. It was no longer about optimising for persistent activity, but being able to adapt to unusual activity as it happens. When you get that sudden spike of traffic, when a social site picks you up that requires real-time analytics. So it's that move from optimisation to adaptation that is the key change with the rise of the social web.

Where do you think growth will come from in the digital landscape this year?

I think the crisis in publishing is providing a wonderful opportunity. There is this wonderful profusion of people trying different business models and realising that instead of just monetising their audience in one way or monetising traffic in one way they actually have to build an audience and monetise that in a variety of ways. The area of growth and of most interest is this movement from chasing indiscriminate traffic to building a loyal audience and then being able to monetise that in a variety of ways.

Finally – what will be your message to the industry at the Changing Media Summit 2013?

None of us have been happy with the metrics that we have been using. But we have been putting up with them as the best we could do. It's time to stop that. It's time to think about what we can do on the publishing side to really unite church and state. It's time to give brands metrics that they can actually use and value. So having metrics that we can believe in that actually speak to our overarching goals are possible we just have to embrace them.

Tony Haile is the CEO of Chartbeat

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