State of the Union - Visual Analysis

I dig seeing the different visualizations that come out following big national speeches.

Here's a really cool network analysis of last night's State of the Union address (via many Twitter links). Built by Nodus Labs (who did similar work on past inaugural speeches), it's a graphical network display of the speech. Larger nodes represent words that appeared most in the text and nodes grouped by color were most often clustered together (in a sentence/phrase).

Moving the mouse around a little, it's not hard to see that most words connect back to "jobs" and "education". Also interesting is that the "gun control" theme got a lot of talk in the press today but words related to it are really hard to find. Not surprising, I guess, that with a hot-button topic even a few words make a big impact.

In past years, these were often done as tag clouds but the interactive approach of this network is much cooler. It encourages more exploration and paints a better picture of the speech's "themes." Hovering in areas of concentrated color shows that, for example, the purple (right-ish) is focused on deficit reduction, while the magenta (center-ish) was all about creating and protecting jobs in the US.

Visualization as Writing Tool?

This has me wondering... most visualization focuses on analyzing something that's already done. Today's prices or volume, operational data, or - in this case - spoken words. But is it (or will it soon be) common to use tools like this in advance?

If you're a speechwriter, do you already have a stable of tools like this to craft a speech before it's given? To make (mathematically) sure the words that are spoken most are "on message"? Is a computer scientist in the room now, working alongside the editor, policy wonk, and fact-checker?

Customer Service, you say?

Given how hard it is contact a real person for help with issues on Google Apps (or pretty much any other service), this strikes me as funny. Is there such a thing as "Irony Chowder"?

"Customer service is the killer app of the Web," Google's Eric Schmidt, then with Sun Microsystems, said way back in 1998. Brands such as Google, Zappos, Amazon, eBay, and others win because they ask "How can I help you?" instead of "What can I sell you?"

From HBR via Observation Paper

Waiting for OmniFocus 2.0... use 1.0 free while waiting

OmniFocus has been talking about the unveiling of version 2.0, both on their blog and in podcasts. The big features expected are adding the Forecast and Review capabilities included in the iPad app.

Upgrade announcements for installed software can be weird. From a company perspective, announcing too early can kill sales of the current version. From a customer perspective, it sucks to buy a license and then learn of a pending upgrade right away. Most companies deal with this buy providing free upgrades for customers who bought after a certain date.

The Omni Group has taken a different approch and you don't see this sort of thing every day. They're providing a free license to the current 1.0 version. A potential buyer on the fence uses that while waiting for 2.0 to come out, hopefully becoming a paid customer at that point. Really cool move.

Apple's App Store score hides problems

A few days ago, I read in a ComputerWorld article that ABI Research (a tech market research firm) had ranked the app storefronts for various platforms and found Apple's to be the top storefront.

No surprise there. Users of iOS devices love to buy apps.

The ranking had two elements - "implementation" and "innovation" - with each element being given a score. In the "innovation" element, Microsoft's score (77/100) just barely beat out Apple's (76/100). An overall score combined the two elements.

When both implement[ation] and innovation scores are combined, Apple wins with a ranking of 80.8 out of 100, compared to Google's 72.2 and Microsoft's 63.9, according to ABI researcher Aapo Markkanen in an email interview.

It's not all that interesting to me that Apple's storefront won - it'd be surprising if it hadn't. What I do wonder is, what would that score have been prior to the iOS 6 changes to the App Store?

Prior to those changes, I never felt Apple's App Store was great. It suffered from the same problem that the iTunes store has - poor discoverability and a crappy search experience. It's easy to say "profitable as hell", but how many more sales would there be if it were easier to find exactly what you want?

Compare two different search-based shopping experiences. At, I want to find a good soccer ball. Go to Amazon (or use the Amazon iOS app, to be fair) and search for 'soccer ball'. Once the list returns, I can:

  • See the top sellers, by relevance.
  • Narrow the results to include only the Sports & Outdoors department.
  • Narrow the results to include only items eligible for Prime shipping.
  • Narrow the results to include only items with 4+ stars in their ratings.
  • Narrow by brand of ball, seller, and price range.

Now go to the App Store on your phone and search for 'soccer coach'. From there, I can:

  • See the first result out of 151.
  • Swipe to see the next result.
  • Keep swiping.

And here's what I can't do:

  • See the average customer rating (nevermind filtering by rating).
  • See how many of the 151 are Paid apps vs. Free (nevermind filtering by Paid/Free).
  • See when the last update for app was release.

So if I know I want a Paid app (no ads) that was updated recently (more likely to be in active development) and has good reviews, I'm out of luck. I swipe, then tap to open the details.

Any inclination to spontaneously buy a soccer coaching app is gone. If I don't know the specific app I'm looking for (name or developer), then I'm gonna move on and do something else.

Oddly, the iPad's App Store UI does allow for a bit more flexibility - the same search shows me the top 6 apps out of 126, ordered by Relevance. I can also:

  • Filter on Paid/Free.
  • Filter on iPad Apps vs iPhone apps.
  • Change the sorting to Ratings.
  • Filter by Category.

Seeing 6 apps at once helps in that the "card view" shows ratings so I can narrow in on the stronger apps, but there are a lot of hoops to jump through in both storefronts.

All I want is to find the "best [name your interest] app in the App Store" - where best can be defined by metrics that Apple already has for each app (price, ratings, last update).

It wouldn't surprise me if the score for Apple's store in a similar survey had been higher in the past... or if they don't lose ground to Google and Microsoft in the future without some improvements.