An X Change Redux - Day 1
[Warning Note – I’ve spent so much time talking and thinking about X Change and it was such a big event for us that I feel compelled to write about it. But I’m going to be talking more about my experience of the Conference than the analytics in this post (and the next) – I’ll have more thoughts about the actual analytics discussion in future posts. So read on only if you are interested in what the Conference was like!]
I’m sure you can imagine that organizing a Web Analytics Conference is nothing like attending one. X Change would be classed by anyone as a small conference – we had almost 100 people in attendance – slightly more than our original upper limit for our venue. But to us at Semphonic – a web analytics consultancy not a conference company – it was a very, very big deal.
But of all the things I was alternately frantic, depressed, nervous and just plain irritated over, the one thing I knew I could count on was lovely weather. Because September in Napa is ALWAYS lovely. It doesn’t rain. It isn’t cold. It is, in fact, the perfect regularity of the late summer season that makes Napa the most consistently excellent wine region in the world.
But promptly at 8:00AM on opening day, with dark, cold clouds filling the sky, the rain began.
Since this is a business blog, I won’t repeat the terrible (and very rare) oath that passed my lips.
There goes our outdoor lunch on Copia’s lovely patio, the outdoor wine reception in the garden and the wine dinner under the stars…
[Lesson 1 – Never count on the weather. It’s the weather.]
But concerns over the weather were swept away in the frantic crush of arriving visitors. X Change’s complex formula – thirty-five Huddles over five blocks – meant that every single participant had a unique schedule. I’d assigned Huddles to everyone who sent us a selection by Tuesday – and mail-merged the schedules so that every attendee had a fully customized schedule. Of course, a dozen or so participants either hadn’t returned their preferences or had somehow fallen through the cracks. So I spent the next hour customizing their schedules and printing them on an aged but very portable printer I had recovered from the vast stack of computer junk that inhabits one corner of my office.
By the time I was introducing Eric Peterson for his Keynote on Web Analytics 2.0 (and 3.0!), I was well past medium on the frazzlometer.
[Lesson 2 – Have someone else help participants without schedules.]
I still haven’t had time to really reflect on Eric’s keynote – I wish we’d had a set of Huddles specifically to discuss it. Like most analytics professionals, I’ve already thought quite a bit about the impact of dynamic web sites on web measurement. That part felt almost comfortable. But when Eric pointed out that Mobile will change everything yet again – and of course he’s right – that struck home. Mobile? Who’s thought about Mobile? Not me – not hardly – not even though one of the biggest mobile phone companies in the world is our client. We have some projects coming up that are bound that change that - but it's still frightening! Sadly, our mobile client didn’t make it - they were swamped with a major site launch – but they would have loved Eric’s presentation.
[Lesson 3 – Have some discussion groups based on the Keynote – I know I wanted to talk about it.]
I was co-leading a Huddle in the first group – the topic was Functionalism and Persuasion Architecture. Of the five Huddles I was in, this one turned out to be the least satisfying. I think most of the participants got quite a lot of useful information out of it. But from my perspective, it was only middling. John Quarto-vonTivadar (who co-invented the PA) was my co-host - and while John was very focused on explaining Persuasion Architecture, I kept wanting to explore the measurement implications of having a formal scenario-based scheme for your website. I just didn’t feel like we got there – and in the end I felt it was more like a muddle than huddle!
[Lesson 4 – Co-hosting is hard – might be better not to do too much of this.]
That got us to lunch (indoors) – which was nice even inside. Memorable chocolate chip cookie. And I talked to many people who were very happy with their initial sessions; making me feel better.
I felt like things settled down after lunch and got into a less harried groove. I was in Matt Jacobs’ (Digitas) Huddle on integrating Web and Customer Data. Great. Matt was a terrific facilitator – drawing people out and guiding us through a series of interesting explorations of a huge topic. Of special note were contributions from Angel Morales of Exact Target, Anjan Haalder of RPA and Matt Belkin of Omniture (I didn’t sit in any of the three Huddles Matt facilitated but he was in this Huddle and my SEM Analytics Huddle and he was absolutely fantastic in both). I really enjoyed this session – one of the better group discussions I’ve ever sat in on. It was funny, because when I congratulated Matt J. later he was kicking himself ("I wanted to dive deeper into the stuff Angel (the other one) was talking about - it sounded really cool.")
[Lesson 5 – Having several experts participating adds a lot – and drawing people into the discussion is vital.]
[Lesson 6 – Make sure to have both Matt’s back!]
We went immediately to the third and last huddle of the first day – this was the last one where I was facilitating – and the topic was SEM Analytics. I applied some of the lessons already learned and I was helped by a tremendous group. We had Craig Danuloff, Paul Bruemmer, Paul Legutko, Matt Belkin and Manoj Jasra in the room along with SEM managers/marketers from various companies. The mix of agency, measurement experts and in-company marketers was great. I could throw out a question, sit back and listen to those guys volley it around. The discussion was lively, extremely interesting and I learned quite a bit. When I learn new stuff on a topic I’ve thought about as much as SEM Analytics, I’m happy. Each of the experts I’ve mentioned was great but I want to particularly mention Craig Danuloff – who was a fantastic contributor in that huddle and who I heard was very valuable in some other huddles – and Matt Belkin (again!).
[Lessons 7,8,9 – Put more break time between Huddles – I was exhausted and I think everyone was all too ready for a break. Add snacks - talking is hard work. Get Craig to facilitate some Huddles next time.]
I scored it 2 outstanding experiences and one just okay one in the Huddles – I’d never worried about the Keynote – I knew that would be good. Not bad. And as I talked to people, I found most of us had pretty similar scores. No matter how great the speakers and the participants, some small group discussions just aren’t going to take flight. I don’t think that will ever change – the format just comes with a certain amount of risk. But quite a few people told me it was the best Conference day they’d ever had. I’m biased (though to being too positive or too negative I’m not sure), but I felt the same way.
We adjourned to the gardens for a wine tasting reception. Yes, we actually got to go outside! The sun had come out and it was lovely. It was also where I realized that there were lots of people I hadn’t seen once all day. I hadn’t seen Eric since the keynote. I hadn’t seen most of the rest of the Semphonic team. I hadn’t seen some of my favorite clients. So I finally got a chance to talk with people like Dennis Bradley, Peter Kobsa, Kevin Chan, Terry Cohen, Joel Hadary, Marshall Sponder and Judah Phillips and compare notes.
We spent an hour or so chatting in the garden and then adjourned to dinner. With a glass (or two) of wine in me and the day nearly done I was feeling pretty darn good. I sat at a table between Judah Phillips and Jay Jayaswal. To the other side of Jay were Anil Batra and his very wonderful wife. Down from Judah were Clint Ivy and Olivier Silvestre. On the far side – basically out of ear shot - were Marshall Sponder and my wife, Grace.
I’d been wanting to meet Judah for a long time and it was fun to really talk with him. What a nice way it is to get acquainted, drinking wine and eating dinner, after a long day talking analytics. I kept going back and forth between talking with Judah, Clint and Olivier on the one side and Jay, Anil and his wife on the other. Maybe it was the rather free flowing wine, but it sure felt good. Eric Peterson joined us later and the conversation become table wide and more focused on analytics. These guys are passionate. But by 10PM I was ready to stagger back to the hotel and try to sleep. Some of those guys were still talking analytics. That’s hard core.
But I collapsed into bed. Exhausted. Happy. Worried about Day 2…