2012 Year in Review

Since this time of year everyone puts out their yearly recaps, I thought it would be interesting to look back at some of the larger bits of news or changes in my industry over the past 12 months:

1) Tag Management blows up… And then starts dying

At end of last year and the start of this year, there was massive news about all sorts of new players pushing heavily into the tag manager space. One of my personal favorites was ensighten, but in general, they were all focused on trying to make it easier for companies to get their analytics code out across their site. Considering how little value most companies actually get from their tools, this was probably a good things as it would at the very least stop these companies from wasting quite as much in the way of resources.

Unfortunately for all the bit players in this space, the two largest analytics providers, Google and Adobiture, decided to release free tag management solutions. Making any tool a commodity in a saturated marketplace (especially one with questionable ROI) tends to be the death of any niche. This entire market niche does a great job of really kicking dirt on the grave way too early. It will be interesting to see where the next big push is as more and more companies become ripe for vultures to pick apart their perceived problems and to provide “solutions”.

2) Growth of the competition

Not that these companies started operation in 2012, but they certainly started making waves and really creating their own unique niche. The biggest players to join the mainstream were Optimizely, Visual Website Optimizer, and Monetate. With GWO finally dying (god was that an awful tool) these players have grown from carrion to trying to be real players in the mainstream. All of them offer some actually pretty cool features, from slick interfaces, to easy deployment, and full service rapid testing. Test&Target, a tool that I know a thing or two about, has certainly suffered from a massive failure to really innovate, and its newest direction does absolutely nothing to resolve that issue.

Test&Target still completely blows away the competition when it comes to things that actually provide value, like flexibility, visitor based metric system, segmentation and data usage. For the people out there who are going to run a meaningful testing program, there still isn’t real competition (but I wish there were), but for people who have no clue what they are doing, people who listen to Tim Ashe or the Eisenberg’s and their immediate first reaction is not “these people have absolutely no clue what they are talking about”, these tools do make it cheaper and easier to waste resources.

That being said, the play that the new players are making sure seems like they are tackling the lowest common denominator. From completely ignoring statistical relevance, pushing people to just follow through with their own basic biases, and trying to push how easy it is to get tests up instead of doing meaningful tests, these groups are doing far more harm to the marketplace then good. Unfortunately, the direction of all of these tools seems to be following the inventor’s dilemma, and instead of improving the market, all them seem hell bent on trying to race to the bottom. The only real hope is that they mature long enough for one or two of them to really become a functional tool and that to cause Adobe to really push their own tool to be meaningful in the optimization space.

3) Big Data continues to be a buzzword without definition

The second half of the year brought about a bunch of push back against the use of the term big data, most of which was petty arguing about what that word really means. The start-up marketplace has been over saturated with technology and tools to present data or combine it in, pushing past hadoop to many newer similar technologies. The irony of course is that we are still operating from a A) collect data, B) ?????, C) Profit business plan. Big Data seems to be just a word thrown around (like marketing) to make it sound like people have a clue what they are doing.

Having worked with so many different organizations, the one things stands out more then anything else is that there is very little knowledge about how to get value from data, but a thousand different ways to find data after the fact to validate someone’s agenda. The more data you collect, the more complicated the systems, the more this seems to be true. And to top it off, you have people who feast on this gap by providing flashy middle and topware, which makes fancy dashboards which provide zero value but make some executive feel powerful.

I do not expect this pattern to change anytime soon.

Ok, so a few predictions for 2013:

1) Buzzword bingo will never go away –

I think we finally reached a critical mass where most people laugh at social (I hope), but that doesn’t mean that the buzzwords will go away. Personalization will hopefully start getting more push back by the middle of year, and will be replaced by newer buzzwords. It seems like native advertising is the current “gem”, but I expect once people figure out that it is just a new name for the same tired BS, that they will move on to grander more interesting words. My guess based on the actions of Adobe and IBM, is that suite and digital marketing collaboration will come back in a big way, but no matter what the word is, the instant it becomes a big deal you will find all sorts of people popping out of the woodworks talking about how they have always been an expert in this subject and that will be happy to provide the one thing you have to do to be successful.

2) By the end of the year, at least 1 of the companies in the testing space will die/merge

Like all industries, you see an explosion of want to be technology start to emerge to take on a clear leader, and eventually that technology dies and becomes no longer relevant, while a few grow/emerge enough to actually be a legitimate contender to the title. This space will all of the flash and zero substance is ripe for this entire scenario, the only question is will it be by the end of 2013 or the middle of 2014.

If I had to guess which tool was most likely to join the ranks of GWO, Vertster and Optimost, I am going to go with Monetate. Besides all the massive limitations with that tool (and the god awful statistics), it seems to be caught in the middle between a much better but higher priced competitor, and a lower priced but just as good and easier to use lower end of the market (optimizely, VWO).

If I were going to guess which tool is most likely to mature meaningfully, I am going to go with Optimizely, just because of the flash. If they ever get someone who actually understands testing and is not just BSing their way with moronic tales about the first Obama campaign, then they can mature enough to really become a major player. There are features of that tool that are ahead of the market (though the actual value of those pieces is questionable at best). That being said, they will most likely continue their carrion approach of “ease of use” and fast testing instead of meaningful or relevant testing.

I sincerely hope they do mature however, as the industry seriously needs meaningful thought leading competition instead of what we currently have.

So there you have it. Happy 2013 to all.

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