Friday, 26 August 2011

Film review: Cloverfield


I've been considering add this to my Lovefilm list, although I was never completely convinced.  The trailer for the film made it look a lot like another Godzilla movie - and yes, I've enjoyed the Jurassic Park series, and I've watched bits of the new Godzilla film, but the genre has never really appealed to me.  However, when Cloverfield showed up on the TV listings, I set the recorder and figured I'd pick it up when there was nothing on the TV.  

Cloverfield goes for the innovative approach of filming everything from the first person, with a hand-held camcorder (or at least making it look that way).  The film starts steadily, as one night a huge monster starts ripping up a city.  Which city?  I'll give you a clue:  it's the main city in Independence Day, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Spiderman...  yes, once again, New York is the shortcut for 'any main Earth city'.  Normally, I'd include a summary of the plot in my review, but I'm going to struggle for this film.  There isn't much plot.  Monster rips up city; army arrives eventually; conventional weapons are utterly useless; government authorises use of nuclear weapons.  The remaining story revolves around a group of civilians (including our cameraman) who aren't intelligent enough to run away, and instead, insist on 'documenting' everything.  Their motivation for this isn't clear, and as I watched our characters head towards the danger, while crowds of intelligent people started felling, I lost any interest or sympathy for them.  

The other main character - the monster - had no character at all.  It was extremely difficult to feel anything for it - was it an evil enemy bent on destruction and conquest?  Was it from outer space or under the ground?  Was it - as one of the characters suggested - from under the sea?  Was it lost?  Was this a misunderstood first contact going badly wrong?  It was part - and an unfortunate part - of the film's set-up that it's almost entirely filmed from one perspective; perhaps the film was going for the idea of portraying the details of a monster attack (I refuse to call it an alien invasion) from an individual's point-of-view.  If it was, then it didn't work, for three key reasons:  the cameraman and his associates were not particularly well drawn as characters (despite the occasional flashbacks); they kept running towards trouble, instead of away from it, and the film failed to answer one question sufficiently for me:  why didn't he just ditch the camera, which was slowing him down and took up one of his hands, and run?

I know I'm slating this film, but, apart from the criticisms I've levelled against it already, there are a few good points.  There's a section in the film where our characters are walking along a tunnel to ... well, I think they were looking for a safe way to get closer to the monster to look at it; I don't think they were trying to escape.  I must have missed the line that explained this entry in their list of poor decisions.  Anyway, they're traipsing along in the dark, when suddenly, a couple of mini-aliens (looking like a smaller, dressed-down version of the bugs in Starship Troopers) start attacking them, snapping and biting and scratching and generally causing lots of trouble.  One of the cast suffers a scratch or a bite to her shoulder, and, when the team take a proper look at it, it's infected and looking decidedly alien.  I surmised at this point that she was going to turn into an alien (something like District 9), but I was wrong.  The team make their way back to the surface, and are found by the army, with one soldier delivering the best line of the film, "We're not sure what it is, but we know one thing: it's winning."  

However, despite one of the team being seriously wounded, and is desperate for treatment, the characters decide they still want to go and rescue their friend (they assume that she's as daft as they are, and hasn't made a run for it).  Not, "Please will you treat our friend's shoulder," but, "We know we're unarmed, but want to go risk our necks too, where's the way out?"  Fortunately (for the story, not for the characters), one of the medical staff in the army's triage centre spot the wound, and with a shout of, "Bite!" they whisk the female lead (now bleeding from the eyes) out behind a screen, where she dies a very swift and dramatic death.  Still undeterred, our characters (I'm not calling them heroes, sorry) manage to get back outside, with the promise of a helicopter pick-up in the following morning.  They find their friend's apartment block, toppled over and leaning on another adjacent tower.  Has the friend run away?  Has she died?  Do we care?  Do the characters?  No.  They decide that it makes sense to go up the adjacent block and then jump across.  Oh dear.

At least the army and military have the right idea, as we see fewer armoured vehicles on the ground, and more aircraft firing missiles and dropping bombs, as our characters go one their crazy mission.  I think I can summarise my disappointment or dislike of this film with one of the final scenes; the crew enter the tower block, and try the lifts.  They don't work, so they decide to take the stairs, and I suddenly realised the stupidity of what I could be about to witness:  a trio of people climbing all the stairs of a skyscraper.  Fortunately for me, Mr Cameraman pressed the pause button a few times, to save me from total boredom (but highlighting how bored I was at this point) and during one conversation on the stairs, he and his friend say, "What are you talking about?" "I'm just talking.  I don't know why I'm talking."  Sadly, sir, you're the only narrative to this story.  Otherwise, if you don't know why you're talking, then, even more sadly, neither do I.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Web Analytics: Why are your pages getting no traffic?

I guess this comes as a follow-up to my first web analytics post - how to determine which pages on your site aren't getting any traffic.  The question I'm thinking about today is not which pages aren't getting traffic, but why not?  This comes after my own experience in discovering certain pages have no traffic.  That's not just low traffic, or less than I'd like, but none at all, which is very difficult to prove.  After all, our web analytics tools are designed to show some traffic, and finding the pages which aren't getting much is often a manual case of searching for a particular page's title, name, or URL.

But what if you can't find any traffic at all?  The request comes in from a stakeholder, "Please can you tell me how much traffic my page has had in the last month?"   Yes, it's a reporting question, and we'd like to analyse why the question's being asked, but let's fast-forward that part and just get to finding the traffic.  So, where is it?  There's none at all.  You can only show this because it's not showing up anywhere - Site Catalyst and Google Analytics won't report a zero figure against your page (unless you followed my suggestion a few months ago). 

This means you've reached a tricky point.  Do you really want to tell your stakeholder (who may be very senior) that their page has no traffic?  After all, some people regard traffic to their page as a number which is as much a status symbol as their salary, and so your news update isn't going to go well.  You may have to say it's had no traffic, but there are a few possible reasons why (some of them more palatable than others).

Possibility 1.  The page isn't tagged.

It happens.  Yes, we'd all like all our pages tagged, but occasionally one slips through the net.  Perhaps it's not a typical page built from the content management system's templates.  Maybe the tag got mangled by some other javascript on the page, or an agency or marketing tag, and it hasn't been firing properly.  This means no data - which is a different issue than no traffic.  Any solutions to this one are going to require a confession, and then some creative accountancy.

Fix 1:  look at other pages at a similar depth in the site (which are tagged) and see how much traffic they're getting.  If the page is accessed through the navigation of a page at a higher level in the site, look at the other pages in the navigation.  For example; if the navigation on your Widgets page reads:  Large widgets; Medium Widgets; Small Widgets; Micro Widgets; and you're missing data for one of them, then obtain traffic for the other three.  It would be convenient if they were in a trend, but that's not essential.  Let's say the 
figures are:

Large widgets:  800 visits
Medium widgets:  690 visits
Small widgets - data not available
Micro widgets - 400 visits

You can say that there were approximately 450-600 visits to the Small Widgets page during the period in question.  And no, it's not very accurate, but at least it's a start - it gives you an order of magnitude to work with (which may be enough for your stakeholder until you get the page tagged, double-quick!). 

Fix 2:  did the page have a tag prior to some sort of mangling?  Use a variation of Option 1 and follow the performance of the other pages since the mangling incident, then build up a trend during the 'empty' period.  Either way, fix the tag as soon as possible!

In either case, getting some traffic from now onwards should enable you to better model what the traffic was before it was tagged.  This assumes that you haven't done something like point a large amount of online marketing at it, which has now come to an end.  In this case, you can hope to use the marketing stats (clicks will do if all else fails) to build up some sort of picture.

Possibility 2.  The page actually hasn't had any traffic.

If not being tagged was bad, then this is potentially worse for your stakeholder - as we said, he's as interested in traffic to this particular page as he is in the performance of his stocks and shares.  Again, there are various reasons why this might be the case (and it's worth testing it from your test kit to make absolutely sure it's not a tag issue).

Possibility 3:  Is it actually possible to navigate to the page that's being investigated?  

It's one thing for a stakeholder to send you an e-mail asking for traffic figures for "" and yes, the page is there on the site, but how do you reach it from the home page?  Or from another landing page?  Has the navigation from the hub pages on the site been 'fixed' or 'improved' since the page went live, and has the page lost its source of traffic?  Remember that search engines spider your site through your links, so if the page has lost its links, and it's not got external links (from online marketing of any type), then you're like to lose traffic completely. 

Try navigating to the page, starting from the home page.  Then try navigating from the page in question - follow its navigation links, and in particular, its navigation breadcrumbs (if it has them) and work up and down the site hierarchy.  As you navigate up, towards the home page, are you still able to retrace your steps using the on-page links (without the back button)?  Time to check the navigation and make sure everything's right.

Just because a page is on your site doesn't mean it's getting traffic.  Sorry.

Possibility 4:  It's time to put on a crash helmet:  perhaps the page isn't very interesting or appealing. 

If you're looking for a get-out-of-jail card, it may be better to say that maybe the page isn't promoted well within the site, as the link text from other pages isn't very descriptive.  A page may very well offer interesting facts, opinions, views, get-quick-rich schemes and whatever else, but if the link text on the other pages in the site say, "Click here for more information" or "Find out more about this" then the wonder page is not going to get much traffic.  It depends on where the page is, what its content is, and, equally importantly - how easy it is to find on the site, and how well it's promoted.

I dare not say that an untagged page issue may well be masking problems with the site navigation or the page's attractiveness - just tackle the issues one at a time!

Film Review: Inception

A few months ago, I made a joke on Facebook that I was thinking about watching Inception but that the start didn't look very good (get it?).  However, Mr Lovefilm chose to send us Inception as our latest rental, and I sat down to watch it, although I couldn't recall when I actually added it to my selection.

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from this film, but I am pleased to say I was very pleasantly surprised by it, from its high-paced start, through its plot development, outline of the 'rules' of the story through to the execution of the final mission.  The plot, in a nutshell, is that our main character, Cobb (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) must recruit a team and work with them to plant an idea in the subconscious of a highly powerful businessman (Cillian Murphy, from Batman Begins) while he's asleep.  There's some clever exposition which is subtle but clear, about how the team can break into a person's subconscious and steer his thoughts through a dream.  There are some extremely impressive visual effects - the sight of the whole landscape being folded over in a dream, and watching the characters walk across a horizontal and then vertical surface was especially eye-catching.

I also enjoyed some of the later fight scenes; in particular, those that Arthur (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Cobb's right-hand-man had in the hotel sequence.  As the story develops, his world becomes one with zero gravity, and he has to fight one of the story's security guards in zero g.  The plot works well on a number of levels, cleverly identifying some of the strange effects we experience in our dreams - the sensation of falling, which wakes us up; the uncertainty of being in a dream or not; the difference in how quickly time passes in a dream, and being in a dream within a dream (waking up but still being in a dream).  It is these last two effects which provides the main structure for the story, as Cobb and his team sedate their victim and then get him to experience a dream within a dream, and then, within a dream again.  The story, script and visuals all help to make this complicated concept hold together extremely well, and even as the story becomes more complex (and the speed of the passage of time changes from level to level), I had no problem in keeping up with exactly what was going on.  The locations and scenes were all unmistakably different from each other, as the locations were lit and filmed in clear, distinct ways, each with their own sub-storylines.  The director deserves special credit for shooting the story in this way - it was consistent, logical and sensible.

The main plot - capture the businessman, infiltrate his dreams and plant an idea - is accompanied by a second plot, which is one of Cobb's own subconscious, as we discover that his wife has died, but that she's very much a part of his subconscious.  Through his guilt over her death, and her recurring presence in her dreams she becomes a real threat to their virtual plan. Cobb is called on this by Ariadne (Ellen Page, AKA Juno), the member of his team recruited to construct the dream landscapes that they use.  As the story develops, and Ariadne uncovers more and more of the truth behind the death of Cobb's wife, and how his memory's of her are affecting his subconscious, and, in turn, jeopardising the safety of the team.  The sight of a freight train ploughing through the middle of a busy city street is memorable, especially when it transpires that this isn't part of the 'victim's' mental defences.

The film, for me, was thoroughly enjoyable and highly engrossing.  There are strong Mission Impossible overtones throughout, and especially in the first half, as an action film.  It's got a strong psychological story (touching on the peculiar nature of dreams), and a character story (the development of Cobb and his layered character, and his inner troubles is well done without drowning the main story).  All-in-all, I would strongly recommend this film, although it will require (and reward) close concentration to fully grasp the story - I should know, I had to watch the first 15 minutes three times until I could see it uninterrupted, and it was worth it.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Web Analytics: Bounce rate issues

When I was younger, I used to come home from school and play catch with a friend of mine.  We'd stand a fair distance apart (it got further as we got older, until eventually we went to big school!) and just practise throwing and catching a tennis ball.  We developed some games based on catch, including our own version of dodge-ball (where neither player moves), but they all started from the same basic principle of throwing and catching.  And some of them led to the classic argument, "You dropped it!  You lose!", "No, you didn't throw it properly, that's not fair." "You can't catch!" "You threw it too high!" And so on.

In the online environment (which didn't even exist when we used to play catch), there's a similar argument going on at the moment, in various offices in various countries.  Online marketers are spending large sums of money on driving traffic to a website - on display advertising, on aggregators, affiliates, paid search (PPC) and so on. And website developers are building landing pages (or maybe just standard content pages) which are designed to move traffic towards success events like checkout, form completion and so on.  The marketers are optimising their spend, looking at maximising click-through rate, optimising keyword spend, sites and so on, and are driving as much traffic as possible (and hopefully qualified and relevant traffic, too).  The developers are building pages (and running the rest of the website at the same time, just to keep them occupied) and are looking at what creative is working best across the site, and adapting content and so on, to improve the overall content of the site.
The problem, however, is that these two aims aren't always in alignment.

Let's start with an extreme case, before we look at something more realistic.  The online marketing team decide to offer a free premium widget with every purchase, and the premium widget is worth £100.  The costs of typical widgets are £10 each, so by purchasing one normal widget, customers have the opportunity to get £100 of free merchandise.  However, the content team aren't told about this free offer; or worse still, the marketing team point their advertising links to a typical content page for the £100 widgets (so visitors can see how good they are).
And what happens?  The marketing team declare the campaign to be a resounding success, with huge click-through rates and vast quantities of traffic.  And for sure, the website analyst reports a significant increase in traffic while the campaign is underway, but there's only a moderate increase in add-to-carts, a small increase in visitors starting the checkout process and almost no difference in completed checkouts.

So, what's the problem?  Marketing argue that the content team aren't converting the traffic well, and that the site needs to be looked at - especially all the payment pages.  They point to their success against their metrics, and they claim that they've done their job in bringing the traffic to the site.  And this is a valid argument, until somebody from the content team takes a look at the offer being promoted by marketing.  The analyst does some work, and finds that while the marketing team did direct 10,000 visitors to the site in a two-day period (for example), almost all of them left the site without clicking anything further - in fact, 9,000 of the 10,000 visitors didn't engage with the site any further.

This means that 90% of the traffic that came from online advertising was wasted.  It 'bounced', because it landed on the site and left without doing anything further.  This is called the bounce rate, and is defined as the number of visitors who saw just one page, divided by the total number of visitors who entered the site on that page, expressed as a percentage.

Why is the bounce rate so high?  Well, it depends who you ask - in the same way as my friend and I used to argue when one of us dropped the ball in our game of catch.  Was the ball badly thrown, or was it dropped by someone with butter-fingers?  Eventually, rules had to be developed so that we could determine what was a good throw and what was a poor catch.

Offline stores don't advertise "As seen on TV" on their shelves just because it looks good - it's a useful reminder for those who have seen it on TV that this is the product they're looking for.  Online, it's vital that the message in the marketing matches the message on the website.  Do the offer, message, creative and colouring look the same on the landing page as they do on the advert?  Are all the terms and conditions explained up front?  If it's buy-one-get-one-free, is that for all widgets or just for the platinum-coated ones?  In my extreme case above, the premium widgets were apparently free with any purchase, but this wasn't mentioned on the landing page (because the content team weren't told) and as you progress through the checkout, it turns out that premium widgets are free with any purchase over £70.  This means that the 10% of people who didn't bounce, and who went on to engage with the site had to be interested in expensive widgets, and the free offer is only revealed in full as you approach the end of the checkout process.

Bounce rate, then, is not merely a measure of how successful the landing page is at persuading traffic to engage deeper with the site. It's a measure of the synergy between the traffic source and the landing page.  The consequence of this is that bounce rate cannot be reported at a gross level for a page.  Well, it can, but in order to get any meaningful information from it, it's more useful to look at the bounce rate of individual traffic sources (pages, adverts, sites, keywords - paid vs natural) in conjunction with that particular page.

For example - and this is a real life example from my own Red Arrows website - I've seen a 100% bounce rate for people searching for "typhoon formation" on Google, and landing on my website page about the Red Arrows' Typhoon formation, named after the Typhoon aircraft. This isn't surprising - I've deduced that most people searching for "typhoon formation" are looking for information about how storms develop at sea, and not about an aerobatic shape flown by nine aircraft.  The result?  If I was spending PPC money on "typhoon formation", I'd stop.  As it is, the traffic was all natural, and I was stuck with a source of traffic that had a very high tendency to bounce, until other more appropriate sites started discussing typhoon formation - and the traffic appears to have decreased with Google's Panda algorithm update (but I digress).

So, whose fault is it?  I might be so bold as to say that everybody's to blame - both the marketers and the content developers.  It comes down to the analyst to play the referee and identify exactly what caused a visitor to bounce, and to help both sides work together to stop them bouncing.  If the marketers are producing advertising which is appealing and accurate (i.e. genuine, no-hidden-terms-and-conditions promotions) and the developers are building pages which show a clear connection with the advertising, reiterating the message and reinforcing it (and also providing a clear link deeper into the site towards the success events) then both sides will work together to a common aim, and the success of the campaign should be seen by both teams!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Day The Earth Stood Still

I think I can safely say that I've never seen a B-movie.  I've watched quite a few of the original series of Star Trek, Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica, but for me, that's where the history of science fiction begins.  However, our Lovefilm account needed to be topped up, so I threw a number of science fiction films into it, some of them based on Lovefilm's automated recommendations, and a few weeks ago, the remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still came through.  I should say now, to make it perfectly clear:  I haven't seen the original.

I was very pleasantly surprised with how quickly the story got moving.  After a couple of scene-setters, where we discovered the main characters' backgrounds in a very quick and efficient way, the story whisked us straight off to New York for the alien spaceship landing.  I am going to mention this now, as it grated on me as soon as I saw it:  the scientists are gathered around their screens, tracking an object coming in at one-tenth the speed of light.  I was pleased that arrival was imminent, but a quick mention that the object was slowing down - and slowing down dramatically - would have been helpful, otherwise by the time it had been detected, its arrival would have been less 'imminent' and more like 'immediate'.  One scientist asks another, "Where is it due to hit?"  Where do you think?  Have you not seen Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow or any of other myriad sci-fi blockbusters?  It's going to land in America, and probably New York.  Surprise, surprise, it's Manhattan.  This European viewer rolls his eyes and yawns with the lack of ingenuity.

Anyway, the film carries on, we get the dramatic landing in Central Park, and the arrival of the alien life form and his 60-foot-tall metallic one-eyed guardian.  I know I said I've never seen any B-movies before, but I have a good idea of what the genre looks like, and it looks like this!  It's either a soldier or a police officer, but some trigger-happy American (and this is an unfortunate stereotype that is widely recognised) shoots the alien as it attempts to make first contact, and we have a good start to a paranoia movie.  The alien invasion is met with alarm, fear and lots of military hardware, while the smaller, gooey alien is rushed off to hospital where it starts to adapt alarmingly.  I was reminded of the throwaway line in the original Back to the Future, "It's mutated into human form!" and that's about right here.  Keanu Reeves plays the alien invader with a high degree of cool detachment, and very quickly develops an air of 'weird' and non-human, despite looking decidedly human!

The story doesn't have a long and complicated story - I suspect that's typical of the B-movie genre - as the 60-foot-tall metallic one-eyed guardian is attacked, defends himself, and is later boxed up and lowered into a very convenient and very deep vertical tunnel (with adjacent test lab).  From here, the guardian dissolves into thousands of tiny metallic insects (I wonder if GI Joe's nanobots came from here) that are capable of destroying any material - from diamond and metal to people.  It becomes a race against time to prevent this deadly swarm from completely destroying life on Earth. 

All life, that is, except for a selection of fish and animal life (and presumably some plants) that have been attracted into huge watery glowing spheres - "arks", as the secretary for defence concludes.  The appearance of these glowing spheres makes for some impressive visual effects, as they turn up all over the globe, attracting and absorbing the local animal life, and ominously foreshadowing "the flood".  The flood - or the swarm, as it turns out - is also shown with some very impressive visuals, as a stadium disintegrates, and people start to get caught up in it.

The plot - or the story - is simple:  convince the alien that humankind is worth saving, and to this end, I particularly enjoyed the role of John Cleese's character.  The alien's line, "Close.  But no," made me smile, before the prerequisite wiping of strange characters and rewriting with chalk on a blackboard.  For me, this was one of the best character scenes, and sent the story on its way to its obvious conclusion.  I didn't much like the son character - thought he was a bit contrived and his resistance bordered on obstinate, although I did like his lines to the unfortunate police officer who tried to stop the alien, "Please don't hurt him...   I wasn't talking to you."

In the end, disaster is averted, mankind is saved from the brink, as the alien sets off a massive electro-magnetic pulse that disables the swarm, and, at the same time, stops all electronic devices from working.  I think the whole earth suffered the effects of the EMP; all watches and clocks stop, hence the title: "The Day The Earth Stood Still."  It was all a bit cheesy for me, a bit predictable and overly heavy on the, "mankind is capable of great kindness" sentiments.  Ever since I first heard the title for this film, many years ago, I envisaged a problem where the Earth stopped spinning, one side getting ever hotter, and one side ever colder.  This film didn't live up to that title, which was a shame, and didn't live up to its own high-paced start, and that was a disappointment.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Web Analytics - A Medical Emergency

One of my favourite TV programmes at the moment is Casualty.  Or perhaps it's Holby City (they're both the same, really).  A typical episode unfolds with all the drama and angst between the main characters, which is suddenly broken up by the paramedics unloading a patient from an ambulance.  Perhaps the patient is the victim of a fire, or a road traffic accident, or another emergency.  Whatever it is, the paramedics come in, wheeling the patient along, giving a brief description of who they've got, the main symptoms, and start rattling off a list of numbers.  "Patient is RTA victim, aged 56, BP is 100 over 50, pulse is 58 and weak, 100 mls of adrenaline given..." the list goes on.  The senior consultant who is receiving the patient hasn't really got time to be asking questions like, "Is that bad?" and certainly not, "Is this important?"  The questions he's already asking himself are, "What can we do to help this patient?" and "What's been done already?"

Regular readers will already know where I'm going with this analogy, so I'll try to keep it brief.  In a life-or-death situation (and no, web analysts are hardly ever going to have that degree of responsiblity) there isn't really time to start asking and answering the trivial questions.  The executive dashboard, the report or the update need to state what the results are at the moment, and how this looks against target, normal or threshold.  The executive, in a similar way to the Formula 1 driver I mentioned last time, hasn't got time to look through all the data, decide what's important and what isn't, and what needs to be looked at.

As an aside, I should comment that reporting dying figures to an executive is likely to lead to a series of questions back to the analyst, so be ready to answer them.  Better still, including a commentary that states the reasons for a change in the figures and the action that's being taken to address them.  Otherwise, all you'll achieve is an unfortunate way of generating action from the content team, who probably won't be too pleased to receive a call from a member of the executive team, asking why their figures are dying, and will want to know why you didn't tell them first.

Another skill comes in determining the key figures to report - the vital statistics.  The paramedics know that time is of the essence and keep it deliberately brief and to the point.  No waffle.  Clear.  The thresholds for each KPI are already understood - after all, they have the advantage that all medical staff know what typical temperature, pulse, blood pressure and blood sugar levels are.  As a web analyst (or a business analyst), you'll need to gain agreement from your stakeholders on what these are.  Otherwise you may find yourself reporting the height and weight of a patient who has severe blood loss, where the metrics are meaningless and don't reflect the current situation.  

Now, all I've covered so far is the reporting - the paramedics' role.  If we were (or are) web reporters, then that would be the sum of our role: to look at the site, take the measurements, blurt out all the relevant figures and then go back to our desks.  However, as web analysts, we now need to take on the role of the medical consultant, and start looking at the stats - the raw data - and working out why they're too high (or too low), and most importantly, what to do about them.  Could you imagine the situation where the consultant identifies the cause of the problem - say an infection in the lungs - and goes over to the patient, saying, "That's fine Mr Smith, we have found the cause of your breathlessness.  It's just a bacterial infection in your left lung."  There would then be a hesitant pause, until the patient says something like, "Can you treat it?" or "What can you do for me?".  

Good web analysts go beyond the reporting, through to identifying the cause of any problems (or, if your patient is in good health, the potential for improvements) and then working out what can be done to improve them.  This takes time, and skill, and a good grasp of the web analytics tool you're using.  You may have to look at your website too - actually look at the pages and see what's going on.  Look at the link text; the calls to action; read the copy, and study the images.  Compare this with the data you've obtained from your analytics tools.  This may not provide all the answers, so you may have to persevere.  Go on to look at traffic sources - the referrers, the keywords, the campaign codes.  Track down the source of the problem - or the likely causes - and follow the data to its conclusion, even if it takes you outside your site to a search engine and you start trying various keywords in Google to see how your site ranks, and what your PPC actually looks like.

Checking pages on a site is just the equivalent of a doctor actually looking at his patient.  He may study the screens and take a pulse and measure blood pressure or take the patient's temperature, but unless he actually looks at the patient - the patient's general appearance, any wounds, scars, marks, rashes or whatever else - he'll be guessing in the dark.  This isn't House (another medical drama that I never really took to), this is real medicine.  Similarly, doctors may consider environmental factors - what has the patient eaten, drunk, inhaled, come into contact with?  What's going on outside the body that might affect something inside it?

There's plenty of debate about the difference between reporting and analysis - in fact I've commented on this before - but I think the easiest answer I could give now is the difference between the paramedic and the doctor.  What do you think?

Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon

Having reviewed Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen some time ago, I thought it was about time I reviewed the latest Transformers film.  I remained almost entirely spoiler-free before I saw the film, other than having inadvertantly seen a picture of Optimus pulling his trailer, and a picture of one of the characters who was being compared to one of the original G1 cartoon characters (I can't remember which).  Being spoiler free - in fact, I even avoided the trailers for the movie - meant that I approached the film completely open-minded, although a number of people who'd seen it told me that it was significantly better than the second.  I was very optimistic, and I wasn't disappointed.

There are various reasons that this film was better than the second:  the parents' roles and screen time were significantly scaled down, which is a double bonus; the film was intelligently tied in to a number of 'real life' events; the number of faceless Decepticons was reduced (in fact, there were vastly more in this film film than the second, but it didn't seem like it as they were handled with intelligence); and more time and care was taken to provide the Autobots and Decepticons with identities, vehicle modes, names and even a small dose of personality - to put it another way, they had character.  The film had a complicated but understandable plot with a number of twists (compared to the second film, which was boringly linear); killed off a number of characters, which I found very surprising and which developed interest in the story, especially with characters we care about; and a number of other surprises too (which you may or not predict in advance).

The plot begins with the Autobots' discovery of Cybertronian spacecraft technology in a building near the Chernobyl reactor in the Ukraine; then develops to the revelation of the humans' discovery of alien technology on the far side of the moon.  They refer to it in the film as 'the dark side of the moon', which is a bit of a misnomer - technically, the moon doesn't have a dark side because it turns on its axis in the same way as the Earth does, and the moon has days and nights as we do.  What they really mean is the far side of the moon (as seen from Earth), but hey, "Far of the moon" doesn't have any kind of ring to it.  Come to think of it, "Dark of the Moon" sounds like it's missing a word somewhere, but I suspect that Pink Floyd using "Dark Side of the Moon" in 1973 meant that Dreamworks had to leave well alone.  Or perhaps the Dark of the Moon was not just the spaceship, but all the villiany and subterfuge that came from it too.  Or maybe the title writers got lazy. 

Along the way, we see Optimus Prime's trailer put to good use (a scene that quite obviously screams, "New toy alert!") and a batch of new Autobots who get names (I wish I could remember them).  We get to see the Autobots walking on the moon, as they recover the body of Sentinel Prime - a very impressive character, voiced by the extremely impressive Leonard Nimoy.  Nimoy lends the film some sci-fi credibility (as does the appearance of Buzz Aldrin), as long-time fans will remember him voicing Galvatron and Unicron in the original "Transformers The Movie" from 1985, while Trekkies will appreciate his delivery of the line, "You never understood that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few!" towards the end of the film.  We also see robots in disguise.  There are at least two scenes where vehicles which were previously assumed to be Earth vehicles and nothing more suddenly transform and engage in battle - and this was a very welcome change from the second film where we saw robots that didn't transform at all.  This film definitely won on its ability to deliver surprises and shocks.

We also get some character development as Optimus and Sentinel discuss the leadership of the Autobots, and we also get to see a decrepit and suffering Megatron in another new vehicle form which befits his current situation (and again screams "New toy alert!").  The story unfolds from the discovery at Chernobyl, from Sentinel's reactivation and his change of heart, and the plot develops in dramatic and unexpected ways, as the Autobots are expelled from the Earth; the Decepticons bring in reinforcements from the Moon (and subsequently from further afield) and start their plan for world conquest.  

Quite a lot of the second half of the story feels a lot like a throwback to the G1 cartoon story "The Ultimate Doom!" - in fact, large parts of the story were almost completely pulled out of that script:  humans collaborate with Decepticons to build a space bridge to bring Cybertron into Earth orbit; human slaves who are co-erced into co-operating and so on.  I wish I could remember if Cybertron was completely destroyed by the aborted attempt to bring it to Earth; I just know it seemed to suffer considerable damage!

On the subject of borrowed material, I can safely say I didn't notice that at least two scenes in this film were ripped directly (and I mean taken wholesale frame by frame) from some of Michael Bay's previous films, namely The Island and Pearl Harbour.  It didn't affect my enjoyment, and even now I'm not bothered; seems like a clever way of reducing costs in order to put more robots on the screen for longer.  And there's no complaints there:  plenty of Autobots, transforming; plenty of new characters, with names and identities, vast numbers of explosions, action, fights and more explosions.

One of the down-sides for me was the stupid mechanised earthworm that was featured at the start of the film, and extensively towards the end.  Does it transform?  No.  Does it belong in a film called Transformers?  No.  There is absolutely no precedent that I'm aware of in the Transformers universe for a robotic earthworm.  And if it's that destructive, why didn't it completely level the skyscraper that the humans were trying to climb?  Too big, too destructive, and yet somehow didn't manage to finish off the humans.  Also, I do think that the final sequence was overly long and could easily have been shortened.  In my view, the whole Decepticon aircraft vehicle thing, despite its jointed parts, was completely unnecessary.  Transformers don't fly aircraft; they transform into them!  And yet the story dictates that we have a rescue sequence that depends on Sam and Bumblebee piloting one of these vehicles:  this was not a high point for me.  Nor was Laserbeak's multitude of alternative forms:  throughout the story, he changes forms more often than I change my socks - really not a great part of the story for me (despite what I said about robots in disguise, this was a step too far).

The main high points, in my view, were:

*  Sam, arguing with the guards as he tries to enter the secret Autobot compound:  "Sir, what about your car?"  "That's not my car...  ... ... That's my car."
*  Ironhide's character arc.  Won't say any more, but I was genuinely surprised at how his character developed.
*  No more Megan Fox, and a fairly small amount of her replacement, who despite the wooden acting had a small but key part to play in the story, just towards the end.
*  Starscream's demise at the hands of... well, yes.  A very well-written set of scenes - I didn't see it coming (and neither did Starscream).

Overall - an excellent film, with outstanding special effects, good story and plot, understandable characters (and if they did just service the plot, I'm not complaining) and a body count that exceeds the previous two films put together.  It remains to be seen if the Decepticon remains are going to be blasted off into space, where they might meet up with Unicron and come back re-energised, but I for one will most certainly be looking forward to the next instalment!