We are excited to have received two awards over the past month. The first was for Most Innovative New Media Company from the North Carolina Technology Association and the second was the overall award for Best Place to Work in the Triangle by the Triangle Business Journal.
We were up against some amazing companies for both awards and we are truly honored to have been named the winner for each. We are excited to see our team receive recognition for building a one-of-a-kind technology that is changing the world of personalized content, while working together to build a culture that will sustain ongoing innovation as we continue to grow. It is an exciting time at Ai, and we look forward to seeing what the future has in store for us!
Thanks again to NCTA, the TBJ and to all the voters.
We talk a lot about driving action from personalization at scale. However, the best way to really see the potential impact of unlocking big data through high quality automation is by seeing it in action. One of the most public implementations of our technology is in fantasy sports where we are publishing multiple different types of articles for some of the leading providers in the space.
Alexander Eule at Barron’s noticed our work and drew the connection of the power of personalization to create sticky, hyper-relevant content in any market in his article on our work with Yahoo!.
The article was in the print edition on September 2nd, is online here, and is included in full below.
Yahoo’s fantasy football reports show how big data can personalize information and advertising.
Every once in a while, technology still manages to surprise me.
Just minutes after finishing my Yahoo -sponsored fantasy football draft last week, the Web giant sent me a very personal e-mail. Yahoo (ticker: YHOO) had quickly analyzed my draft picks and prepared a grade. I got a B-, in what amounted to my worst showing since college Spanish. I remember contesting that Spanish grade, but it’s hard to argue with Yahoo. The mark was accompanied by hard data, wrapped in a smartly written report.
It turns out that my team, TommyJohn, is the oldest in the 10-team league I share with friends. My players have spent an average of 7.3 years playing in the National Football League, according to the analysis. (Not an ideal scenario when you consider that the average NFL career is less than seven years.) Yahoo summarized my draft like this: “Despite selecting in the top half of the first round, TommyJohn looks a little soft on paper.” Ouch.
If fantasy football sounds trivial, here’s where it gets more meaningful: The report cards are a product of Big Data, the much-hyped but obscure concept dominating conversations in Silicon Valley. For most fantasy players, the report card is probably their first real Big Data experience, which remains largely theoretical in day-to-day life.
Big Data, of course, has far bigger applications than fantasy football. Eventually, our location—determined by mobile phone GPS—will be combined with social-networking profiles and other personal data, all in real time, to create a kind of marketing nirvana.
"Big data really becomes actionable and obvious to the consumer when who you are, what you’re doing, and where you are are all being used," says Jordan Rohan, who covers Internet stocks including Yahoo for Stifel Nicolaus. "We’re on the cusp of it."
In the meantime, sports is already ripe for a Big Data-type incursion. Hoards of statistics—new and old—can be culled into new and meaningful insights. And fantasy football owners, a rather obsessive sort, have always looked for any edge in improving their teams.
"They have an almost insatiable appetite for information, research and detail," says Ken Fuchs, the head of Yahoo Sports, which counts some 13 million fantasy players that spend an average of 29 hours a year on their teams.
Yahoo is using a start-up called Automated Insights to create its report cards. The Durham, N.C.-based firm looks for patterns, trends, and oddities in massive data packages and translates it all into plain English.
"Terms get bantered about and hyped," says Scott Frederick, who’s the chief operating officer of Automated Insights. "Now it’s big data and the cloud, but people struggle to understand what it really means. How does it bring value? What I love about our technology is the ability to do personalization at the data level and turn it into narratives," Frederick told me.
The firm began working with Yahoo’s fantasy group last year, but this is the first time they’re preparing draft reports, along with weekly game previews and recaps, all personalized for every fantasy owner. The company says it will deliver over 250 million personalized reports this season for Yahoo and other fantasy football partners. “We are able to generate and auto-publish over 1,000 a second,” Frederick says.
The processing power comes from the cloud. Automated Insights uses Amazon Web Services. “A few years ago this wouldn’t have been possible because the processing power that you need to generate these recaps is significant. But what we can do is spin it up for an hour or two and then spin it back down,” Frederick says, referring to Amazon’s rented computer power.
I spent at least 10 minutes on Yahoo’s site combing through my own fantasy report card, which also recommended still-available players who could plug my team’s now-apparent holes. That’s a long time with any personal e-mail, let alone one generated by a computer. Engagement, of course, is a key metric for advertisers. That’s surely not lost on Yahoo or its CEO, Marissa Mayer.
YAHOO SHARES ARE UP 73% since July 2012, when Mayer left Google to take on Yahoo’s challenging turnaround. Much of the praise for Mayer centers on things like improved apps, and her $1 billion acquisition of Tumblr, the social blogging site. Yahoo’s new Weather app is beautiful, no question, but I would argue that it’s a wave of content, like in the fantasy football report cards, that speaks to an even greater level of innovation.
In fact, Mayer outlined that thinking earlier this year at a Goldman Sachs investor conference. “I actually think that all of our experiences across desktop and mobile will ultimately become more personalized because at the core of Yahoo’s business is the ability to personalize content, bringing people the right information. But inside that content is also advertising.”
"That the ads and the content work together to really create a fantastic experience is what we’re really focused on," Mayer added. "And that’s where I think the future lies." Sure enough, my report card featured a Toyota ad that embedded the logo of a league-mate with the best draft performance.
Frederick, the COO of Automated Insights, concedes we’re still in the early first inning when it comes to Big Data’s real impact on consumers. “Data for data’s sake doesn’t create any value,” he says. “You need the insights and ability to decipher the insights.”
Automated Insights, with its natural language reports, is trying to be “that final mile of value for big data,” Frederick says. The firm was founded by a former Cisco engineer, Robbie Allen in 2007, as a new way to cover sports. Allen, who’s still CEO, originally called the company StatSheet. When Frederick arrived from a venture-capital firm in 2011, he worked with Allen to broaden the scope. “We realized we could do so much more than sports.” Today, the company is also providing personalized reports covering finance, real estate, health and fitness, and even corporate communications.
The start-up has raised a little over $5 million, thus far, and the payroll ranges from 20 to 30 employees. The small staff has its sights on big things. “We’ll produce basically more on a +Tuesday morning than ESPN, CBS and FOX— the largest traditional media companies—will in a year, on sheer volume of stories,” Frederick says.
As both a journalist and someone struggling to win his fantasy football league, I’ll be paying careful attention.
Robbie will be speaking about Ai’s potential to turn data into action by moving past dashboards and helping people and businesses make the right decisions through the power of personalized narratives.
At Ai, we firmly believe that dashboards aren’t the answer. Dashboards don’t provide insights or deliver knowledge about data - in fact, they actually require interpretation from users.They force users to try to extract meaning from visualizations they did not design and once extracted they require those users to make inferences as to what to do next.
Computers are ideally suited to discover insights out of data, and leveraging our patented platform, we can fulfill the promise of automating the role of Data Analyst—i.e. analyze data and deliver insights about the data in plain English. However, unlike a human analyst, we can do it in real time and at scale.
The beauty of a narrative or a report written just for that individual user is that the content is always relevant, sticky and capable of driving informed action.
And with informed action, companies can finally unlock the power of their big data assets.
We are excited and honored to be selected by the Triangle Business Journal as one of the Best Places to Work in Raleigh-Durham area for the second straight year.
There are a lot of great companies here and, of all the awards we have won, nothing makes us more proud than one that celebrates our culture. We do our best to make our environment awesome because our people are what allow us to give data a voice.
So thanks to TBJ for the recognition and, more importantly, thanks to our people for making this possible!
Here at Ai, we have a lot of exciting projects going on that require everyone to put in extra time. After all, it takes a lot of work to publish over 300 million pieces of fully personalized content each year.
We ask a lot of our team, but we try to keep things fun by building in a lot of “play time.” We find that a lot of the best ideas come when you periodically let your mind focus on something else for a few minutes. From ping-pong, to foosball, to basketball, to darts, to office putt-putt, there is no shortage of activities to do when you need a break.
And along those lines, every hackathon and work late night has a competitive tournament of some kind attached to it (it is one of the things that makes us one of the best places to work). Unfortunately for our waistlines, these work events often have a food theme as well.
The Ai Fitness Challenge
We love our people and while we enjoy a dip-a-thon greatly, we also want to make sure our employees are taking time to take care of themselves physically.
In an effort to capitalize on our team’s competitive spirit, we have instituted our first Ai Fitness Challenge.The idea is simple: anyone who increases their activity level by at least 25% for two months gets a nice prize and company-wide recognition.
As part of the challenge, we bought every employee a wearable fitness-tracking device that records their steps each day. We tracked their activity for a couple months to get a baseline and on September 1st we will see how well they did versus that baseline.
We are already seeing more people going on runs or playing pickup basketball. We don’t have a lot of internal meetings, but many of the ones we do have are turning into walking discussions.
The hope is that our folks will be more active, have more energy and ultimately be able to perform at their peak mentally. It’s an experiment, but the results so far are encouraging.Creating great products starts with an engaged and excited team and from the early results, we believe the Ai Fitness Challenge is helping us do just that.
Have you tried a similar thing at your company?If so, we’d love to hear about it.
Turning data into timely and desirable actions from your employees and customers is the goal of any investment in big data.
Companies want to leverage that data to get customers to click the all-important “sign up,” “add to cart” “or “buy now” buttons. Similarly, they want to leverage big data to help turn all their employees into top performers - making the right decisions at the right times. Even individuals are leveraging big data to learn about themselves and to hopefully make better choices about their portfolios, health and lives.
This is the promise of big data: the chance to better understand our companies and ourselves and to make continuously improving decisions through that knowledge.
To date unfortunately, it has been an unfulfilled promise.
We should not blame big data.Turning data into understanding is not an easy task, and driving optimal actions is even harder. Not only do you have to scour massive data sets, you need to be able to separate the signal from the noise and spot the patterns and trends that have meaning.And what’s even more difficult, you must also be able to express that meaning in a way that means something to each user and that drives the desired actions. Oh, and by the way, in most cases you need to deliver that insight in real-time or it loses its value.
Dashboards, Infographics and Data Scientists
From dashboards to infographics to the rise of the “data scientist,” companies have invested billions of dollars to understand and communicate learnings from big data.
The problem is that none of those solutions have been able to scale in delivering real-time, individualized and consistently actionable advice.
Infographics have grown in popularity as a “solution” – but if you can avoid being distracted by the attractive veneer, you realize infographics are rarely able to deliver understanding and actionable insight. All too frequently, the consumers of infographics are forced to wrestle with “chart junk” which is filled with data packaged more for its looks than its relevance or action-ability. In those cases the reader may end up with some “did you know” style facts, but he or she will fall well short of understanding, and it is hard to argue that their behavior or decisions will have been optimized.
Dashboards suffer from similar shortcomings.A well-executed dashboard can effectively convey limited information, but that is the problem – it is limited information.By their nature, dashboards can only focus on a handful of variables.Unfortunately, modern day business decisions require multi-variable and multi-dimensional analysis.To meet that demand, the proponents of dashboards generally suggest additional or expanded dashboards and before you know it, the end-user is forced to process multiple and often conflicting dashboards and charts, each of which is competing for his or her attention.
To go along with the dashboards, data scientists are often employed to analyze the data and communicate what individuals need to do to produce better actions. Having a person sit down and communicate one-on-one what the key learnings are from a big data set is a great solution, if that individual has the skill and is armed with the tools to find the right meaning in that data and only needs to communicate with a handful of people. The problem is that the one-on-one data scientist model does not scale as companies get bigger.Instead, it typically results in complex reports that the individual store manager or line employee has difficulty getting value from.
As with dashboards, when the company notices the employees are not changing their behavior or making better decisions, the response is typically to increase the size of the reports or add charts or tables to give the manager even more data.However, instead of empowering those managers, they overwhelm them, hiding the key information they need to know in a maze of numbers. And what is worse, these reports consume ever-growing budgets only to come out less and less frequently, often ending up as another binder on a shelf.
At Automated Insights we don’t believe that infographics, dashboards or complicated reports are the answer.And creating more of each to try to compensate for their inherent shortcomings is certainly not the answer.
Ai As Your Personalized Advisor
The bottom line is that dashboards, infographics and chart-filled reports require interpretation from users.They force users to try to extract meaning and once extracted they require those users to make inferences as to what to do next. Whether trying to deliver insights to employees or drive action from customers, companies are communicating to a diverse set of users, all with different backgrounds, skill-sets and learning styles. One infographic or dashboard will never fit all.
Fortunately, at Ai we’ve been working on a next-generation technology platform that can help.Our platform can scour a big data set and find the hidden meaning, and even more importantly, can go the last mile and deliver actionable advice to the user via a bullet, alert or full-length story authored in plain English.
And because our software can explain what is happening in the data via the written word, we can create fully personalized stories and reports directly from data - the result is expert analysis that is written in a manner indistinguishable from that written by a human analyst.However, where it might take a human analyst several hours to write a customized report for each end-user, we can codify that expertise and provide multi-variable, multi-dimensional analysis for millions of users in almost real-time.And the beauty of a narrative or a report is that where a graph must be interpreted, words can simply be read.
In essence, we are able to give our customers’ employees and users their own personal data scientists.
Keeping the Promise
At Ai, our mission is to supply every user with an automated advisor who knows them and who helps them unlock the power of big data to improve their performance and hit their goals.
And by so doing, we can give data a voice and help big data make good on that unfulfilled promise.
Demand for our technology is accelerating and as a result, we need more people. Because we take hiring so seriously, we want to incentivize everyone to help us find talented people. To do that we are implementing internal and external referral bonuses.
We are going to pay $1,500 to any Ai employee that refers a candidate that results in a full-time hire that is with the company at least 90 days.
We are offering $1,000 to ANYONE (not employed by Ai) that refers a candidate that we hire full-time and is with the company at least 90 days. We’ll also throw in one of our coveted Automated Insights t-shirts!
Raise your hand if you love interpreting web analytics data?
We thought so.
In an effort to make sense of the numbers, graphs and charts, we launched SiteAi yesterday. It is the latest project on our mission to personalize data at scale and help make data actionable through insightful summaries written in plain English.
Offers Website Owners Personalized Analysis of Web Analytics
(DURHAM, N.C., May 16, 2013) – Automated Insights (Ai) today announced the launch of SiteAi www.siteai.com, a first-of-its-kind service that helps website owners discover the hidden insights locked away in their web analytics by transforming their data into actionable reports authored in plain English.
SiteAi leverages Automated Insights’ sophisticated artificial intelligence platform, which sifts through large data sets to spot interesting patterns and trends, and then describes those findings in natural language, all with the tone, personality and variability of a human writer. SiteAi seamlessly connects to multiple analytics providers, including Google and Clicky, with plans to support others in the future. Once connected, it automatically analyzes a website owner’s data, producing a daily or weekly summary personalized around the key activity on that site.
“It is like having your own data scientist scouring your site’s data and then personally writing a summary for you every morning, telling you exactly what you need to know,” said Robbie Allen, Automated Insights’ Founder and CEO. “Today, site owners and managers have to dig through massive data tables and charts or try to build their own solutions to discover any information of value. The problem is that charts and graphs don’t tell a story, words do. We help them discover the story behind their data.”
The reports produced through SiteAi give users insights about key streaks and trends, detailing where their unique users are arriving from and how they’re behaving when they get there. Depending on what is most relevant on that day, a given report will provide penetrating observations on topics that include: mobile and social activity, what inbound links or marketing campaigns are driving the most traffic, and how consistent or volatile a site’s key metrics are over time.
As part of the launch, Ai is allowing users to access the reports for free for 60 days. After that time, the reports will start at $10/month. However, once there are 10,000 registered users, Ai will drop the price to $4/month for everyone. SiteAi is currently operational with Google Analytics and Clicky, and will be allowing users to vote on which provider they will integrate with next – Gauges, Chartbeat, GoSquared or Woopra.
“Other than some advances in real-time traffic monitoring, there hasn’t been much innovation in the web analytics space,” said Allen. “It’s time for that to change. We believe the future of content is reaching each user in real-time, with a story written for and about them, from their data. SiteAi is a perfect example of how we can do that in a way that really helps users.”
About Automated Insights, Inc.
Automated Insights, Inc. is revolutionizing the content creation process with technology that automatically transforms raw data into narratives (articles, summaries, headlines), visualizations (charts, tables, graphs) and interactive applications (mobile and Twitter/Facebook–based social applications). The company’s software is able to convert large datasets into written word summaries that highlight key trends and insights and are indistinguishable from content written by a human author. Automated Insights is helping companies in a variety of markets (such as finance, fitness, business intelligence, real estate and sports) realize the full potential of their data assets. In essence, the company uses technology to humanize big data by personalizing stories to one user among millions – delivering a tailored and actionable narrative at scale and in real-time. To learn more, visit www.automatedinsights.com.
Follow us on Twitter: @AInsights @SiteAi @StatSheet
The video from my talk at this year’s MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference is now available. Last year I talked about Automating Bill Simmons. With this year’s talk, I focused on the personalized content we are creating in the Fantasy space. Next Fantasy Football season we have more of the top leagues signed up to do millions of matchup recaps and previews.
At Automated Insights, it is with mixed emotions that we’ve watched the media’s recent infatuation with infographics.At their core, infographics are data visualizations, and there is no doubt that well-constructed data visualizations can help efficiently present complex information.It is for that reason that we often utilize data visualizations in our work with clients.
Media Hype: Recently, however, we believe the media and marketers have gone too far. We’ve seen increasing references to “narrative visualizations” and last week the venerable Harvard Business Review ran a piece arguing that visualization designers need to “tell a story”. Similarly, successful companies like Tableau Software are now billing themselves as “a new platform for stories on the web.” We are big fans of Tableau Software and we expect their upcoming IPO to be a resounding success, but their platform does not tell stories. Their platform converts data into beautiful visualizations, many of which can be highly interactive. But no matter how interactive the visualization, it is not the same as telling a story.
Limitations of Infographics: A data visualization or infographic immediately limits the information that can be conveyed by an author. With modern tools, infographics can be made with a wide array of shapes and data dependent colors and sizes but the knowledge that an infographic is able to convey is still highly dependent on the viewer’s ability to decipher charts or graphs. And there are only so many relationships and conclusions that can be drawn (pun intended) given the dimensional limitations of a 2D display.
Power of Words: That is where words come in, and that is Automated Insights’ specialty. Our clients are invariably dealing with multi-dimensional data that resists easy translation into charts or graphs. Their business problems, and their underlying data and its relationships to external data are simply too complex. But that does not mean that all is lost. It simply means that they need to turn to more innovative tools and technologies, which is what we provide at Automated Insights.
As an example, see below for a fully automated report created by our technology to help digest and communicate data around the performance of an anonymized website. We could have created a graph to show how the website’s visitors and page views had performed and it would have conveyed some information, but it would have fallen well short of a full explanation. That is why our technology focuses on the power of words. With words we are able to go much deeper, and we are able to help our clients answer the “5 Ws”: Who, What, When, Where and Why?
The result is that from the same data we are able to convey knowledge, make recommendations and drive action in way that is simply not possible with infographics.
Power of Ai: At Automated Insights what sets us apart is this ability to work with words, and what is especially powerful is that we can do it at nearly unlimited scale and in real-time. Our technology platform allows us to dive into our clients’ data, filter that information, identify other relevant data sets, identify patterns and relationships, detect anomalies, draw conclusions and present those conclusions in natural language. By doing so, we can ensure that the intrinsic value of the message is not lost or misinterpreted by someone not fluent with charts and graphs. In the process, we allow our clients to focus on the message behind the numbers as opposed to the numbers themselves.
Most importantly, by utilizing natural language that is indistinguishable from that written by a human author, we can communicate much more complex and powerful ideas than infographics can, and we can provide the necessary context to drive true knowledge and make those ideas actionable. Andshouldn’t knowledge and action be the goal of any communication, as opposed to simply looking pretty?
Posted by Scott Frederick
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