viernes, 31 de agosto de 2012

Big Data For Higher Ed: With $4.1M From First Round, Floodgate, Former Kaplan Exec Launches Civitas Learning

As colleges and universities strain their resources to accomodate an ever-growing, diverse student body, it becomes increasingly difficult to track the progress of individual students and figure out what's working in their curricula, coursework, testing, and teaching styles. An appalling number of students in the U.S. are still dropping out before they earn a degree, and despite Mark Zuckerbergian exceptions, attrition means sunk costs for students, difficulties finding jobs, and loan defaults.

To improve academic outcomes and keep students in school, teachers, learners and administrators need access to insight in realtime. Big data, predictive analytics, machine learning and recommendation engines are transforming the way we buy products, play games and watch movies, and Civitas Learning believes that the same should be true for education.

Historically, higher education has been anything but data driven, so this week the Austin-based startup came out of stealth to launch a service that combines student demographic, behavioral and academic info with next-gen analysis, recommendation and data modeling tech to let institutions build and make sense of their big data. The startup is working with community colleges, four-year universities, and proprietary schools to build what it claims is already the largest cross-institutional data set in the industry, with over one million student records and more than seven million course records on file.

To help the startup in its mission, Civitas has also announced that it has raised $4.1M in funding from Austin Ventures, First Round Capital, and Floodgate to help it bring big data insight to higher education.

With capital in tow, Civitas is looking to provide colleges and universities not only with smart learning tools but also the ability to create their own learning apps based on its "Learning Community's" application programming interfaces. By doing so, Civitas is providing an alternative path for scaling tools and solutions across institutions, through supporting publisher-created apps as well as those built by startups that otherwise could never invest in the integrations with campus systems or the sales cycles necessary to establish relationships with higher ed institutions.

In turn, the startup's participating institutions can identify trends across swaths of student learning data, including a realtime view of which students are at risk of dropping out (and why), the ability to identify specific courses and degree paths that are contributing to attrition, and, in turn, what specific resources and interventions are most successful and for what type of students.

Civitas, which was founded by Charles Thornburgh, a former executive at educational giant, Kaplan, who spent nine years as an in-house entrepreneur and launched a handful of edtech businesses for both K-12 and higher ed, is currently working with more than a dozen institutions to optimize their data sets. Student populations are becoming more diverse and learning modalities are expanding to include online and blended tools and platforms, and faculty responsibilities are changing (and growing) as a result. But leaving them without actionable data, crappy interfaces, and clunky reports as they take on more advising and student interventions is dangerous.

So, on the flip side, to help faculty channel the noise, Civitas allows them to flag which students are at risk based on realtime engagement data, providing informed intervention suggestions, examples of outreach resources that have helped similar students, and provide a glimpse into what techniques or curricular resources are working best. In turn, the service enables students to better choose degree and course selection, find better course combos, and recommend better ways to spend their time and get better grades.

As to how it's making money? The startup plans to generate revenue by charging subscription fees to its member institutions based on how many administrators, faculty members and students are receiving its personalized reports and recs. Of course, institutions aren't exactly rolling in cash, so the startup sees an opportunity to give a little bit back as its community grows by offering rev sharing apps made available through its learning network.

It's a smart approach to yet another big problem in our educational system: Optimizing big data. As more schools join and its data set increases, its value to those institutions and their teachers and students will increase. Just as scores of startups and tech companies have done with their own data sets and technologies. Of course, its all about building that network of institutions and just how well its recommendations play among teachers and students.

It took Netflix years to find the right concoction of algorithms, data, and intelligence to best optimize recommendations for movie recommendations and discovery, and hopefully Civitas has learned from Netflix and the many other examples. If it has, it stands to make the educational experience far more effective.

For more, find Civitas Learning at home here.

What Happens When Pollsters Are No Better Than Psychics?

I'm going to get a little political here, but bear with me, this is a tech post in the end.

I'm in the midst of a trip from my new home in Berkeley, through my old stomping grounds in New York City, to my hometown in Canada. Politically, almost everyone in all three places falls in one of two camps: either they view the US Republican Party as evil incarnate, or (like me) they're fiscal conservatives who might once have been vaguely sympathetic to their avowed goals, but now see Republicans as the party of delusional magical-thinking cargo cultists.

Whether we're right or not isn't the point. (Although we are.) The point is that almost no one in any of my filter bubbles can even imagine a person who is not evil, insane, and/or an idiot voting for Romney/Ryan. And yet–according to the polls–they're practically neck and neck with Obama/Biden. If the Republicans win November's election, the people I know will be disappointed…but we won't be in a state of shocked disbelief. Because of the polls.

Trouble is, the polls ain't what they used to be.

The other day the great Nate Silver linked to a fairly amazing set of statistics:

Decline in poll response rates over time

Response rates have dropped by more than half in just the last six years, due to increased cell phone use, and, probably, the decreased likelihood of answering phone calls from strangers. (Remember, we here at TC declared the phone call dead almost two years ago.) But the Pew article does go on to say:

telephone surveys that include landlines and cell phones and are weighted to match the demographic composition of the population continue to provide accurate data on most political, social and economic measures. This comports with the consistent record of accuracy achieved by major polls when it comes to estimating election outcomes

Whew! All OK, then.

Except. Um. What "consistent record of accuracy" are they talking about, exactly?

The last election I voted in, the polls were so confused they were summed up as "someone leads in Ontario." Then, pollsters claimed that Alberta's Wildrose party had a "strong lead" and was set for a "sweeping majority"; instead, they got their clock cleaned, winning a mere 17 of 87 seats. Last year, when the Canadian federal election also confounded expectations, another FiveThirtyEight blogger compared it to the previous UK election, where "the polls turned out to heavily overstate the Liberal Democrats' vote." Heck, even Wisconsin's exit polls a few months ago were wildly off.

Are we beginning to see a pattern here? It seems that in major industrialized nations, polls are

  1. bad
  2. getting worse fast.

My unscientific (because untestable) hypothesis is that it is getting increasingly hard, verging on impossible, to muster any genuinely representative sample of our Internet-fragmented and increasingly internalized society. Here's my prediction for November: Nate Silver will find himself writing about how and why the election results varied so much from the poll numbers leading up to it.

Can polls be saved? Maybe. Could Twitter and/or Facebook mine their data to take their place? Maaaaaybe…but I don't know. Political talk is exactly the kind of thing that many people avoid on social media, lest they lose friends and alienate work people. Maybe identifying the proxy variables that replace polls will be the giant money-spinning machine for some Big Data startup. Or maybe those decades during which telephone and street surveys were actually a pretty good snapshot were just a weird aberration, and it's just going to get harder and harder to find out what life is really like outside of our own filter bubbles.

Image credit: txkimmers, Flickr.

Five Stars Hits 1.3 Million Check-Ins, Emerging As A Quiet Giant In Customer Loyalty

We in the press haven't heard too much from Five Stars, the customer loyalty startup, since it launched out of the Winter 2011 class of Y Combinator last year. But now that seems the silence has been for a pretty good cause: Turns out that Five Stars has been busy over the past year building a business with real clients, real users, and most importantly, real revenue.

Five Stars, which makes an all-purpose customer loyalty card and web platform that people can use at multiple different retail locations, has now processed more than 1.3 million check-ins, the company's co-founder Victor Ho tells me. These check-ins have occurred across 250,000 users in the 700 or so retail locations in which Five Stars is active — 100,000 of these users use the Five Stars card once every two to three weeks, with 50,000 of those using it every week.

As a comparison, loyalty platform Belly recently announced it has processed 1 million check-ins across 200,000 users at 1,000 locations. Oh, the joy of keeping up with startup user number horse races! But really, the competition here in the customer loyalty space is pretty interesting to watch.

The Power In The Point-Of-Sale

According to Five Stars, the key difference that sets it apart from other modern loyalty platforms (including Belly) is that its technology is integrated into each store's point of sale program, so retailers themselves can see metrics on their own screens when a Five Stars card is scanned and participate with the data on their own terms. This means that Five Stars is easier for stores to integrate, and it is easier for both the retailer and Five Stars to understand the behavior of customers, Victor Ho says.

"Loyalty is one of those spaces where there are a million companies trying to do it," Ho said in an interview this week. "But if you want to be able to scale into the largest chains, you have to be integrated into the point of sale, but there is a lot of inconsistency across the technologies used by each different cashier. We've developed a patented way that lets us integrate across 90 percent of the retail market at the point of sale. We can get everything down to the SKU data, so we know who a customer is and what they buy."

Keeping The Churn "Crazy Low"

According to Five Stars, that ease has been adopted eagerly by the local merchants who have signed on to the service in recent months — less than two percent of stores that sign on to use Five Stars quit the program each month. "That's crazy low for the local space. We've had virtually no stores with more than 200 users of the card ever sign off," Ho said. According to him, the reason merchants keep Five Stars around is because of the data they're able to see when they use it. "When you're on the point of sale, the merchant can actually interact with the loyalty program and the customer using it. If you're just an iPad app tied to a credit card, the merchant has zero interaction with the whole process."

Five Stars has had more than $10 million in revenue going through its program, and the current run-rate spend is around $25 million, Ho said. The company, which has 35 full-time employees, charges retailers a monthly fee to be a part of the program. Retailers can also do marketing pushes through the Five Stars program — email campaigns, text messages, targeted promotions to valued customers, and the like.

Adding Funding To Fuel The Fire? Maybe

Five Stars is currently strongest in the San Francisco Bay Area, where it is based, but word is that the company is in the midst of raising a healthily sized new round of funding to help scale its operations. To date, Five Stars has taken on about $2 million in outside investment.

Not surprisingly, Ho was mum on the topic of new VC funding when we talked this week, but he did say that more aggressive geographic expansion was certainly on Five Stars' horizon. Belly, one of its chief competitors, is based in Chicago, for example, and seems to be getting a strong grip on the Midwestern market and beyond. Ho expressed confidence that Five Stars could win in new locations given the chance.

"There's going to be room across the United States for loyalty programs, and it will get competitive in certain markets," he said. "I think what will determine the ultimate winner is just how much the product get used. If you sign up a merchant and no one uses it, then the merchant will sign off. The user numbers are so important." Five Stars seems to have that department under control, at least at the moment.

Facebook Unveils First Non-Social Mobile Ad Unit, Allowing Developers To Buy Clicks To App Stores

Until now, every Facebook mobile ad had to be triggered by you or a friend's activity, but today Facebook begins testing a new non-social ad unit that lets developers buy mobile news feed ads that open Android and iOS App Store purchase pages when clicked. They're designed to help developers grow their business. The ads are cost per click, not cost per install-based, however Facebook tells me it hopes to let devs measure installs driven by their app ads in the future, and is now taking developer signups for the currently small private beta.

By opening up the mobile news feed to traditional, non-social ads, Facebook may please its investors but will have to be very careful about how often these promotions appear to make sure they don't drown out organic content and cause us to stick our phones right back in our pockets.

Facebook mobile app ads appear in a "Try These Games" panel in between traditional stories on the mobile news feed. The panel shows the name, thumbnail image, and number of friends playing (if any) of a few app (three in the example we've received).

Organic and paid entries into the panel can appear side-by-side, with ads marked "sponsored". Clicking through opens an app's native iOS App Store application or Google Play application on your phone or tablet.

Facebook mobile ad reach, clicks, frequency, and spend can be tracked through a dashboard, and the ads can take advantage of all of Facebook's biographical, interest, and device targeting options. This makes them much more flexible than Sponsored Stories, which advertisers could only target to friends of people who had already mentioned their brand or used their app.

That means developers won't need an existing user base to advertise their apps, and they can be employed to promote game launches — currently a huge source of developer ad spend on Facebook's website.

For example, ads for an new iOS-only girl's fashion game could be targeted to iOS device-carrying females 16 to 45 years old, living in Los Angeles to maximize the relevance.

Wall Street should be excited to see Facebook getting more aggressive about mobile monetization. But the fact that these are straight-up ads, not stories about friends that businesses pay to appear more frequently, brings Facebook into murky waters on mobile. It's previously relied on the idea that its social ads are content to justify their injection into the news feed.

Facebook showed caution, telling me "We don't want to show too much sponsored content because that would be the wrong experience for news feed" and that it will be watching everyone's reaction to figure out how often to show the mobile app ads. It's a little worrisome that Facebook told me, "it's hard to say if there's going to be a frequency limit" to how often mobile app ads appear because it's still testing in limited beta and it's unclear how many ads there will be.

When Facebook first rolled out Sponsored Stories to the mobile news feed it was aiming to limit them to one per user per day, but later expanded past that as data showed they weren't that obtrusive. On stage at our Facebook Ecosystem CrunchUp last week, Facebook's director of engineering for ads Greg Badros told me Facebook shows Sponsored Stories more often to those that click them, and that could end up the case with mobile app ads too.

My own informal snapshot study saw Facebook injecting one add per ~125 stories on mobile, and I think users could withstand around 3X that many. Since this is a closed beta, we have to expand the test to see what makes sense, but we're committed to keeping news feed interesting and relevant.

Facebook will be testing and we'll be watching to make sure users don't balk at a feed originally for friends' photos and status updates that's been diluted with paid ads for random games. If Facebook mobile app ads prove to be a cost-effective way to drive installs, and popular enough that it can show them frequently, they could pull spend away from mobile banners and in-app ad networks.

Philosophically, though, today is big moment for Facebook's business. It's finally entrusting the relevance of the news feed to the targeting skills of advertisers, not just the wisdom of the social graph.

How does Amazon get away with it?

Posted 30 August 2012 11:42am by Chris Moffatt with 12 comments

It's the world's largest e-commerce retailer, yet Amazon breaks all the established rules.

So just how does Amazon get away with it?

Whilst pondering my latest purchases from Amazon I found myself slipping into something I often tend to do these days, analysing the site in my head and thinking about how it could be improved.

And suddenly it struck me. Amazon breaks nearly all the established "rules" of e-commerce, ignoring best practices left, right and centre, but still turns revenue and profit figures that most retailers would kill for. 

Let's examine this argument in more depth:

  • Amazon bids on irrelevant PPC terms where it can't fulfill the order. Sometimes the product is out of stock, sometimes it's no longer on sale.
  • The product reviews often display polar opposite opinions on the same page, often lacking justification. How does that aid the customer purchase decision? I'd argue that it doesn't.
  • Product information is almost always below-the-fold.
  • The horrific mega-drop-down navigation on the home page has only recently been replaced by slightly friendlier refinement-based navigation. Even so, it often takes four or five clicks before you hit your desired landing page via navigation.
  • Many products rely on their suppliers to provide descriptive content. Often this results in scant descriptions that are not optimised for SEO - let alone for the customer - and don't provide a consistent tone of voice.
  • Amazon allows its own customers to undercut their product prices in the Amazon Marketplace. What high street operation would put up with that?
  • The cross-sell recommendation engine demands significant tweaking before it starts to offer truly relevant results. Just because I bought a christening present last month doesn't mean I want to be presented with more christening presents every time I hit the site. And if I click into a product out of curiosity, I don't want it to be assumed that I'm interested in anything similar. But it's up to me to tell Amazon that.
  • The product returns process is complex and varies widely by supplier.
  • The checkout is text-heavy, looks complex and offers a break-out to return to the home page at the order confirmation stage - a real best-practice no no.

And remember this is from a company that claims to be the most customer-centric operation on the planet. 

So the question remains - how does Amazon get away with it?

  • The product range has enormous width. They've nearly always got what you're looking for. The core product range has a very simple message; if you're looking for books or dvds, we've (nearly) always got it.
  • For customers that know what they want, the internal site search is excellent and produces fast, relevant results.
  • Selling prices are low relative to the high street (though not always relative to web competitors).
  • The delivery message is easy to understand and the actual delivery of goods is extremely reliable.
  • It was first to market in the entertainment product field.

Next time you receive advice on best practices for ecommerce, rather than swallowing them wholesale it's worth remembering the Amazon example.

It's time to think 'is this change right for my customers?' Will the change disorientate long-term customers? Will the positive impact on new customers override this?

Can I test this change before I roll it out across my site? Do I know what my customers really want, and if not, how am I going to find out?

Sometimes breaking the rules is the right way to go...

Five tips for better customer journey analysis

Posted 30 August 2012 09:50am by Ellie Edwards-Scott with 1 comment

Understanding the customer journey has always been crucial to determining the most effective use of advertising.  

While there are many technical solutions out there which help uncover the path to conversion, particularly within the online sphere, the incorporation of more traditional methods such as modelling are proving successful in providing insights not just for online marketing decisions but importantly for multichannel analysis.  

Here are five considerations for getting the most of your customer journey analysis...

1. Know the limitations of the tech

Since many businesses who devote large budgets to online advertising also invest in offline advertising (TV and print), allocation of budget based on purely technological solutions can actually be sub-optimal because it overlooks offline advertising completely.  

Additionally, restrictions like device-change, cookie deletion and tracking by various different providers can lead to further erroneous conclusions regarding the actual customer journey.  

Because of these limitations, efficient allocation of budget across various advertising media can be ineffective. 

2. Adopt sales modelling 

Sales modelling is a multivariate analysis in which the causal relationship between sales and influential factors (i.e. online advertising, offline advertising, and external factors) is determined.

Modelling builds a neutral foundation for an optimal allocation of the budget since it determines the relationship between actual sales and the data collected about advertising activity.  

The result is an exact representation of the value contributions of each individual activity to the generated sales.  However, the greatest advantage of modelling above tracking systems is that offline activities (TV, print) as well as external factors (seasonal effects, competition, market trends, prices, etc.) can be included in the sales-generating process.

Modelling allows for better strategic decisions since it reveals complex interrelationships which cannot be discovered through simple descriptive analyses. 

3. Integrate conversion optimisation into sales modelling 

Conventional advertising activity primarily includes print and TV, which is usually evaluated in the form of GRPs. In addition to advertising activity, external factors such as price-management, seasonal effects, macroeconomic factors, weather, public relations, etc. may also be included.  

Modelling enables the forecasting of future success based on past data.  After the influence of individual factors on sales is predicted, the data can be projected into the future based on the model's calculations. The sales process can be represented with the data.  

Based on the model, it is then possible to identify the effects of individual changes on sales.

4. Implement regression analysis 

Regression analysis is itself one of the most often used multivariate forms of analysis. This method examines the relationship between a dependent variable and one or more independent variables.  

With the help of a regression analysis, relationships can be discovered which are left ignored by simple data analysis.

Moreover, forecasts for future development can be extrapolated through this method of analysis.  Regression analysis can provide answers for all sorts of problems including:

  • Estimating the dependence of the quantity of sales of a product on the preferences of specific target groups.
  • Estimating the dependence of the quantity of sales of a product on the price level.
  • Estimating the dependence of the quantity of sales on the advertising budget, price, and field of operation. 

5. Use regression analysis to assess sales within your framework 

Regression analysis is especially advantageous because individual dependent variables can simultaneously be compared with one or more independent variables. Thus a more complete explanation and a better description of the dependent variables' trajectories can be made available.  

In the case of modelling, a relationship is established between existing sales and advertising activity, with sales modelled as the result of advertising activity. A great amount of time should therefore be allotted for these activities.  

If the approach is carefully thought through and carried out, the regression function can prove time efficient and highly successful at delivering insights which would not be available through conventional analysis.

Ellie Edwards-Scott is Managing Director at QUISMA and a guest blogger on Econsultancy. 

Net-A-Porter creates iPad app for entertainment and e-commerce

Posted 30 August 2012 10:37am by David Moth with 1 comment

Net-A-Porter has unveiled a new iPad app to add to its existing catalogue of iOS and Android apps.

The luxury shopping brand was one of the first to see the potential of mobile, launching an iPhone app in 2009 and a weekly magazine iPad app in 2010. Across the board the Net-A-Porter apps have been downloaded more than 975,000 times.

Its new release, which will sit alongside the existing iPad app in the App Store, displays editorial and video content as well as allowing users to shop the entire Net-A-Porter product range.

The idea is to cater for iPad owners who use their device during their leisure time at home, so it is as much about providing fashion news and entertainment as it is about selling products.

With this in mind, I tried out the app to see if the fashion brand had managed to cater for the 'lean back' iPad experience...


The idea behind the app is to help users fill their leisure time so the homepage focuses as much on entertainment as it does on shopping.

It contains links to fashion content that is updated on a daily basis as well as Net-A-Porter's 'What's New' section, which is the most popular section on the website.

The articles give fashion advice and tips as well as a link to buy the items on show.

Links to other sections are presented in a dropdown list that can be accessed by clicking on an icon in the top left of the screen.

Net-A-Porter's in-house team has done a lot of user testing and the result is a homepage that's very intuitive and simple to navigate.

Net-a-Porter TV

One of the coolest features within the app is the TV section which includes video content from fashion shows, features on famous stylists and designers, and information on new trends.

The videos look great on the iPad screen and are perfect for tablet users who are looking for inspiration and entertainment while shopping.

Each one has a call-to-action that links to a list of the products displayed in the videos, which is a great way to inspire shoppers and draw a direct link between entertainment and shopping.

Browsing products

Net-A-Porter's app uses high quality images on a white background which makes it extremely easy to browse product options.

When you first enter a product category there doesn't seem to be any particular order to the way the items are laid out, but it is easy to refine the items by category, designer, colour or size.

The product pages are also well-designed, with a simple, uncluttered layout that makes it easy to find the information you need. Each one contains several product images as well as links to other products by the same designer.

The 'Add to shopping bag' call-to-action stands out against the other options and is always on-screen as you scroll through the product details.

This leaves the user in no doubt of what their next step should be and will ensure Net-A-Porter maximises its sales through the app.

The shopping bag and checkout

A link to the shopping bag is constantly present at the top of the screen and users can remove items without navigating away from the page they are currently reading.

This is another nice touch that adds to the overall user experience.

The checkout process is quite frustrating for new users however as you are asked to enter your email address twice on consecutive pages.

Furthermore, once I had created an account it didn't automatically direct me to the checkout but instead presented me with a load of different account options, such as 'Order history' and 'Manage preferences'.

To get to the checkout I had to navigate back to the product page then click on the checkout again to login with my new account details.

It is then not until after you have entered your home address that you get hit with the shipping costs. The only option is £5 express delivery that takes two to three working days.

Hiding the shipping costs until so late in the purchase journey has been shown to cause a high number of basket abandonments and Net-A-Porter should think about being more upfront with this information.

The final screen is an order summary that lays out all the product options before taking payment, which can be done with all major credit cards.


Overall Net-A-Porter has created a fantastic app that is great for browsing fashion content as well as shopping. The interface is extremely intuitive and easy-to-use, and product images look great on the iPad screen.

But while browsing products is extremely easy and fun, there are a few issues with the checkout process.

Creating an account was more difficult than it should be and the text boxes were quite small and fiddly, which you don't expect on an iPad.

Similarly the shipping costs are quite high and aren't added on to the total cost until the last minute.

These issues are largely overcome once the user has created an account as the app stores all the payment and shipping information, but it is still quite frustrating as a new customer. 

But as mentioned, overall the app is fun to use and should find a decent audience among iPad users looking for fashion apps to fill their leisure time.

Watsi Is Using Crowdfunding To Treat The 1B+ Worldwide Without Access To Medical Care

Entrepreneurs are inherently risk-takers. But, the tech industry today needs more of the type of risk-takers who go against the grain by actually tackling big, difficult problems. I mean the type of trenchant problems no one likes to talk about — the ones that are solved over years (if at all) and can affect real change. Not better social shopping.

How about this for a hard problem? Today, we live in a world where more than one billion people are unable to afford (or do not have access to) adequate medical services. The type of care most of us now take for granted. Viewed in juxtaposition with the intelligent device/computer you're reading this from, this fact is more than unsettling. So, Watsi, is trying to do something about it — by tackling that outsized problem on a smaller and more approachable scale: The individual.

The newly-launched startup (which was first covered by my former colleague and awesome guy Devin Coldewey for ABC after some buzz on Hacker News) offers anyone and everyone the ability to fund low-cost, high-impact treatment for those who lack access to necessary care.

Drawing on the recent explosion of crowdfunding, Watsi is applying a familiar model to a space in which crowdfunding is more unfamiliar: Global healthcare. While there are health-focused crowdfunding platforms already out there, like the recently-beta-launched MedStartr (a young Kickstarter for health projects), Watsi is focused not on companies or ideas, but single, solvable problem.

Big picture, the startup wants donors (i.e. anyone, as the minimum allowable donation is $5) to be able to make a direct personal connection with their beneficiaries in developing countries. In other words, they're trying to put individual faces on a statistic. It does this by presenting profiles of those who are sick and describing what kind of care they need and the cost of offering that care.

These profiles, or cases, include pictures and synopses provided by the startup's health care partners in the developing world. For example, take Cheru, whose case appears on Watsi's homepage. Cheru's case offers his picture, where he's from (Ethiopia), who is medical partners is, a description of what treatment he needs and the cost — and a donation button that lets you donate via PayPal (whose fees are included in the cost of treatment).

Watsi's first batch of cases went up last Friday and has since added a handful more (20-year-old Tilahun needs surgery to correct a rheumatic heart) — 17 cases in all are listed on the site and 15 have already been funded, with over $11K being donated just last weekend.

In its literature, Watsi makes reference to the "high-impact, low-cost" donations can make, which, given the nature of some of the treatment needed (heart surgery), feels disingenuous. But Watsi founder Chase Adam says that the startup is fighting high costs by working with medical providers and doctors, who are donating their time, equipment, or materials, helping to keep overhead low, and because the procedures (and medical bills) just don't have the same flat cost they would in the U.S.

Of course, while it's easy to get wrapped up in the humanitarian vision, the donation model (of which Watsi is one of many to use) has long been taken advantage of by scammers. You often see them pop up after disasters to hoodwink people who are trying to donate to disaster relief. It's pretty sick, but it happens all the time. It's also hard not to be reminded of the famed Nigerian Scams.

Obviously, donors want to be sure that the people appearing in Watsi's cases are real and that their money, even if $5, is going to that person and not a hacker. This is why, as Devin points out, sites like Charity Navigator and GiveWell exist.

Naturally, the founder has been spending a lot of time thinking about transparency. Right now, all cases are verified by Watsi and multiple third-party organizations, like Partners in Health, Givewell, CNN, ABC and HBO. Visitors can also click on the person's "Medical Partner" or sponsor, which opens a lightbox with further info on the partner, though clearly Watsi will have to go further (Adam wants to add a map, financials, photos, data, etc. to the list.)

The founder says that he wants to stay dedicated to being 100 percent transparent about where the money goes and has said on its website that it will make its tax return available for download on the site as soon as it files one with the IRS. In the meantime, the founder posted a Google Doc on Watsi's FAQ page that keeps track of the patients, donations, who approved the patient profile, Medical Partners, and so on.

Watsi's team, which beyond Adam is composed of five former Peace Corps Volunteers and an international doctor, is currently working on the site part-time and, even so, don't seem to have any immediate plans to take on additional funding. Right now, they want to keep the design and UI simple, and focus on accountability, transparency and bringing in more cases.

The startup has also been approved as a 501(c)(3) organization (non-profit) in California, which means that donations will be tax-deductible, another move in the right direction. That said, there's a lot of work left to do to ensure transparency and to ensure potential users that it can live off the donation model — or support itself from alternatives. Perhaps that could be monthly donation subscriptions, or recurring donations, or moving Watsi to become part of corporate social responsibility programs, or establish a type of adopt-a-patient program for businesses.

There are options, and Watsi is hardly the only company that's trying to do good by way of crowdfunding, Kiva being the largest and most familiar name that comes to mind. Watsi has its own staffers who work at Kiva, and it can build on the headway these companies have made in the space, or in particulars, like due diligence.

Watsi has the ability to do a lot of good and really help people in need — incrementally at first, and potentially at scale down the road. So far, Watsi seems to be playing all the right cards, but it faces a tough course as it expands. Healthcare is a difficult space to play in even if it is a fundamental human right, because, while we may complain about the U.S.' crappy system, it's a walk in the park compared to many third-world countries. In fact, according to the WHO, in 2010, 79 countries devoted less than 10 percent of government expenditures to healthcare.

More on Watsi at home here.

Is This the Worst Brand Page on Facebook?

Facebook brand pages, when they aren't managed well, can get a little annoying — and are ripe targets for satire.

Now an anonymous Facebook user has created the ultimate parody: Condescending Corporate Brand Page.

SEE ALSO: 8 Hilarious Tech Parody Accounts on Twitter

"We're a big corporate brand using Facebook," reads the description on the account's About page. "So look out for us asking you to like and share our stuff in a faintly embarrassing and awkward way."

The "company" just joined Twitter as well. The content posted is equally familiar in an "ugh" kind of way. The bio reads: "This is the twitter account that simply tweets from a linked Facebook page with an annoying '' link at the end chopping off what's said," it reads. "Point missed."

Point taken corporate accounts?

Q&A: Kevin Edwards of Affiliate Window on affiliate management

Posted 30 August 2012 17:19pm by Geno Prussakov with 0 comments

Kevin EdwardsAs the affiliate marketing industry is facing new challenges, affiliate management is becoming a progressively intricate endeavor. However, opportunities to market your business successfully through affiliate programs are now more plentiful than ever.

Today I am thrilled to bring you a Q&A with Kevin Edwards, former Chair for the IAB's Affiliate Marketing Council, and currently Strategy Director at Britain's largest affiliate network, Affiliate Window.

What are the major challenges with which you see affiliate managers struggle?

An affiliate manager client, agency or network side will face a multitude of challenges. One of the key ones increasingly being asked by decision makers, concerns the value the affiliate channel adds.

This in itself is client specific but we've certainly ramped up the resource we've made available, focusing on the key themes of transparency, insight and incrementality. We all know affiliate marketing is a powerful driver of sales but given the necessity to convert sales, working hard to sit at the end of the purchase cycle, inevitability questions are asked about how much that converting traffic cannibalises 'initiating' channels.

It's imperative account managers don't baulk at this challenge because invariably we've found the data stacks up pretty favourably for the channel. Part of the discussion is the challenge of multi-channel and attribution. This in itself cannot be tackled simply by looking at the number of clicks involved (a click is an arbitrary interaction, no matter how many times you count it), rather clients should be looking at the entire journey from initial click through to transaction and longer term value derived from the customer generated.

Beyond this, resource is always a stretch, especially with commercials being squeezed. We all know you get out what you put in from affiliate marketing, it's a wholly organic proposition, but very often that's a mindset that decision makers aren't familiar with. We owe it to the industry to educate ongoing about the intensive nature of a well run affiliate campaign.

What do you view as the main affiliate program growth opportunities?

Performance or acquisition marketing is now firmly mainstream. Whether the activity is run according to CPA metrics or worked back to an effective acquisition cost, it's a model marketers are completely familiar with. Therefore we're now starting from a much more informed position than a few years ago. It's now acceptable to talk about the realm of performance marketing: sales, quotes, leads, call tracking, m-commerce, all of them sit comfortably within the remit of an affiliate program and represent additional opportunities to grow existing business in new and complementary ways.

Mobile commerce is a huge growth area for us. We're on the verge of hitting double digit sales through mobile devices and traffic has leapt in the last year to nearly one in seven clicks originating from tablets and handsets.

This provides an amazing shot in the arm for those affiliates who have meticulously spent the past few years growing mass, engaged databases of savvy consumers. They are the ones who have been first to market with mobile technologies, turning them into multi-channel marketers who can offer additional routes to market for the advertisers they feature.

It's also feasible to look beyond performance and start looking at the halo effect that affiliate sites can offer through branding. Certain sectors and affiliates are now selling tenancies and working to hybrid commission models based on deeper and more strategic relationships with their key clients.

Let turn to the EU e-Privacy Directive now. Is affiliate marketing industry in danger here? And does Affiliate Window have relevant solutions? After all, you're the biggest network in the UK and Europe.

A directive by its nature is transposed into countries' legislatures in different ways. So what has happened in Holland, for example, is quite different to the UK approach. This lack of harmony across Europe creates our first problem. The benefit for UK marketers is the transposition has been business friendly and 'light touch'. As the largest digital market in Europe, the UK is looking to take a lead in order to minimise disruption to online business across the continent.

The approach taken by the UK regulator has been consultative and discursive. They have stated they see the May 2012 enforcement deadline as the start of an ongoing process rather than the absolute point of compliance. We're still waiting for additional insight from them but they've said that the notion of 'implied consent' carries significant weight if companies are willing to be transparent.

We wanted to ensure our publisher and advertiser base was fully up to speed with the potential impact of the regulations on affiliate marketing so we released ongoing guidance and insight as well as a plug-in for those seeking a technical solution.

We're also fortunate in that the IAB's Affiliate Marketing Council is a strong force in the UK and networks have come together to produce an online, consumer facing guide that addresses the issues from an affiliate marketing perspective. I'm pleased to say that Affiliate Window was able to contribute significantly to the content on the site.

In October of this year, you're speaking at Affiliate Management Days East 2012, participating on "The Role of the Network" panel. What are the top 3 things that affiliate managers (and merchants) should be looking at while choosing an affiliate network?

I suppose the first one would be make sure your network can do the core things well. Tracking, reporting and invoicing are the cornerstone of any network but I'm still surprised by how some well established networks falter on one or all of these. I'm proud of Affiliate Window's track record in launching robust first and third party tracking and frequency of affiliate payments. If I was an affiliate I would also want to know my financial exposure in these uncertain economic times. Affiliates should be challenging their networks to understand what their rights are with so many advertisers going to the wall.

Innovations are a useful indicator of how much time and resource a network is investing in the industry. We can never stand still so I would also be challenging my network to demonstrate what new technologies or systems they've implemented to help the industry to continue to grow and evolve.

Finally to reiterate my earlier point, a network should be a consultative partner. Managing an affiliate programme isn't about uploading banners or processing sales: anybody can do that. It should be about helping an advertiser to understand the value of those sales. Only then will advertisers have confidence to continue investing in their affiliate program.

I am constantly amazed at the innovations with which affiliates come up year after year. What, in your opinion, are the top 3 areas of opportunity for affiliates these days?

Multi-channel is an area that will continue to grow. Online to offline is the next frontier for many established businesses with an established presence and affiliates are starting to play a significant role in this from price comparison to couponing.

I've yet to see video make any impact from a performance point of view: great branding and perhaps affiliates should be selling themselves more as an advertising opportunity beyond direct response.

I'm also incredibly impressed by the way certain larger affiliates are creating their own powerful retail brands. This is game changing as they now have more traffic and engaged users than many of the advertisers they promote. The balance of power is shifting with proper tactical and strategic affinity partnerships emerging – just how it should be.

And, finally, if you were to leave affiliate managers with just one advice today, what would it be?

Know your client's business and what they're trying to achieve. Many won't necessarily have the full picture so work with them consultatively. Don't sell them propositions that may be ill-fitting or unsuitable, this will only serve to undermine the goodwill you've built up.

Be open to the huge raft of online opportunities available to you via affiliate marketing but never lose sight of the bigger picture and how all the pieces fit together.

Internet Cat Video Film Festival Underway in Minnesota

We know what you're thinking: Why am I not in Minneapolis right now at the first Internet Cat Video Film Festival watching the best clips of cats chasing laser pointers, purring and ignoring the camera?

Attendees will get to watch the 79 finalist videos, selected from a field of 10,000, in high-quality, on a large outdoor screen — and for free. The winner will be announced Sept. 8 on Animal Planet's "My Cat From Hell."

Lucky for you, the Walker Art Center will post a playlist from the festival online after it ends. We'll bring you that the moment it's released. It's the next best thing to being there.

BONUS: The Most-Viewed Cat Videos of All Time