Saturday 09 Jun, 2018

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Growing up with MeasureCamp

by Yali Sassoon – Snowplow co-founder

I was one of the lucky ones. On Saturday 22nd of September, 2012, I got to attend the first Measurecamp in London. It was a whim: I had never been to an unconference before. It was a Saturday – and this wasn’t the sort of things I’d ever done before on a Saturday.

I’d met Pete O’Neill a few times through a mutual friend. Always in a pub. Always with poor acoustics. That mattered because it was always difficult to understand what Pete was saying – the combination of his intonation and pub acoustics. And it mattered particularly because I was always desperately interested to hear what Pete had to say because Pete was both very passionate about digital analytics, and full of interesting ideas related to data. When Pete told me, he was organising an unconference, I had to turn up and see what it was all about.

I was very passionate about digital analytics. I’d been interested in measuring things in all kinds of context since studying science, and then the history and philosophy of science, at the university. I’d measured things and used that data to inform decision making as an operation consult (consulting for two great Danish companies: Maersk and Vestas), a strategy consultant (at PwC) and finally at a technology company at OpenX (which was then OpenAds). Clickstream data was the most exciting type of data I’d worked with. It was full of possibility: here was data that described the actions and journeys of individual human beings. It was detailed and precise on the one hand, and huge on the other: on larger websites and applications you might be tracking tens of millions of users’ behavior. It described what people actually did: not what they reported doing, or what they thought they were doing. It was getting bigger and more interesting all the time, as more of our lives are mediated by digital platforms (esp. mobile). Best of all – it felt like there was a world of possibility that had barely been tapped: up until then this data had primarily been used to optimize marketing spend and conversion rates. Yet with the advancement of the web, and especially mobile, this data described how people do everything: how they flirt and fall in love on dating sites, work and collaborate on productivity apps, barter and make a living on two sided marketplaces, manage their finances on banking applications. There were so many more questions that could be asked of this data. And so many things that could be done with the insight gleaned.

That passion is what led me, with my co-founder Alex, to create Snowplow earlier that year, in Feb 2012. The idea was very simple. Digital data was this incredible pot of gold: but it was trapped in tools – primarily Google Analytics – that only let you use it in certain, prescribed ways. We’d spent months working with different clients to wrangle data out of Google Analytics via the APIs, so we could do what we wanted with the data. And in all cases, we’d been frustrated because we’d never been able to get to the underlying, hit-level data. So, we created a platform, Snowplow, so that any company could collect their own digital event data themselves, in their own infrastructure, regardless of their scale. We open sourced it, so that it was freely available to the world. And we hoped that people would take it, collect data, and start unlocking the possibility in that data.

Pete wasn’t convinced about Snowplow. But – he, like us, was passionate about digital analytics. He – like us, was a data optimist: we all believed that used right, data about how people behave leads to better understanding of those people, used right, better understanding leads to a better world. And that mattered because in early 2012, it felt pretty lonely and pretty unusual being passionate about digital analytics and being data optimists. It felt very niche.

It felt niche until the first Measurecamp. Because at that Measurecamp were more than 100 other people who had the same outlook and felt the same way. Better still, those people shared their knowledge, experience, questions with one another. I learnt to see old problems in new ways (the day finished off with an intense debate on attribution). I learnt about whole new areas I wasn’t previously familiar with (RFM analysis and content analytics). I met a bunch of wonderful, thoughtful people, many of whom I now count as friends.

A lot has changed since that first Measurecamp. Today Measurecamp is global with events in planned in more than 20 cities in four continents. Back then, Snowplow was a side project – today we’re 33 people in three continents, and our tags are live in more than 800,000 websites including 2.4% of the Quantcast top ten thousand. Our tech is no longer just about warehousing clickstream data – we can collect data across many platforms and channels including mobile, smart TV, wearables, call centers, support desks, in-store, in-warehouse, email, ad units; and we make that data available in real-time to power data-driven applications e.g. personalization and marketing automation. In that time the measure community has developed enormously. It’s bigger. It’s much more sophisticated – witness all the discussion of machine learning and AI. And it’s doing things with digital data in 2018 that in 2012 we were only beginning to dream about.

It has been a pleasure being part of that community and part of that journey. I’m thrilled that we are sponsoring Measurecamp Copenhagen and cannot wait for Saturday. I look forward to meeting many new people with the same passion for digital analytics.

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