Dear Mark Zuckerberg: Please Remove Your Head From Your Ass

Despite its ridiculous popularity and apparently top-notch staff (or so I’ve been told/heard), Facebook continues to disappoint.  Sure, the core service is OK (at best), but there’s sooooooo many painfully obvious changes that need to be made for the service to be considered good (lets not even talk about great yet, baby steps, baby steps).  In no particular order, here’s a few suggestions from a former web designer/programmer that I think would vastly improve the Facebook experience:

  • Implement an option that blocks mobile notifications when logged-into the website.  Its pretty annoying when I’m sitting in front of my computer and then my blackberry blows up 30 seconds later.  Seriously, this is pretty simple shit, wtf, does anyone at Facebook actually use Facebook + Facebook Mobile?
  • Please also add an option that allows users to choose from who they received notifications on photo/status/etc comments.  If I comment on a friend’s status/photo, I couldn’t give less of a shit if said friend’s friend – who I’ve never heard of, let alone met – left a comment after me.  Maybe some people do, however, most people with whom I’ve spoken, dont.
  • While I applaud Facebook for having the best privacy options of the big social networking sites (Linkedin is awful, Myspace isn’t much better), it seems that Facebook doesn’t have a single employee whose sole job is to test Facebook’s privacy controls.  Seriously, would it kill you guys to, ya’ know, test shit before doing a full-scale roll-out?  And if you do test, you’re doing a horrible, pathetic job.  Get your shit together.
  • Facebook is unique in that user profiles contain mostly-accurate, granular demographic data.  In the religion field, my profile clearly says “Jewish,” however just now (for the umpteenth time!), your “targeted advertising system” delivered an ad for ichurch.com “Dating for Christian Singles.”  THIS ISN’T ROCKET SCIENCE!  Seriously, what is the problem?  You even allow users to mark ads as useless/etc, which I have, dozens of times, but to no avail.  How you’re able to sell ads is frankly, beyond my comprehension, to the point where I wonder if you’re completely fudging the results ala Madoff.
  • Your “customer service” department – to the extent that it uh, actually exists – is FUCKING USELESS.  USELESS! I’ve spent the past few months trying to establish an account for myself (Anal_yst, that is), however, your software apparently considers the word “anal” to be offensive and thus automatically blocks all of my registration efforts.  One of your “customer service” reps emailed me back (after a few weeks, that is) like one of us (or both?) had never used a computer before.  I emailed her back, and proceeded to wait what, 2+ weeks for another useless, inane response.  I asked to speak to her supervisor since she’d so conveniently wasted a month of my time (I was slightly more polite, in actuality), which resulted in an “apology” and more FUCKING USELESS instructions. Ma’am, and all of Team Facebook: While I may not be David Pogue or Walt Mossberg, it’d likely behoove you NOT to piss off someone who writes for The Atlantic. Be thankful I’m not (yet) of a vengeful demeanor.

Oh, and lest you doubt, here’s a screenshot from about 10 minutes ago illustrating how much your ad-delivery system blows.

If these are unintentional oversights, perhaps you’d like to hire me as a consultant.  My fees are very reasonable, and I guarantee I won’t just kiss management’s ass (clearly) and put together a bunch of pretty Power Point slides with a bunch of meaningless “statistics”.

If intentional, look, I get it: you’re between a rock and a hard place.  On one hand, you need to keep your users happy-enough that they don’t bail, but on the other, you need pageviews (etc).   Methinks you’d be well-served to pay more attention to the former, lest you inadvertently screw up the latter

Feel free to contact me if you have any further questions.

Regards,

Anal_yst

Targeted Advertising Fail #873,975,294

Firstly, yes, I read thesuperficial (not that I give a flying f*ck about Lindsay Lohan or whatever, but its a solid way to maintain a dying convo with some girls in NYC.  Also, and more importantly, who DOESN’T like Bar Rafaeli in a bikini?!  Exactly.)

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I’d like to revisit a topic I’ve been following since late 2002/early 2003: Targeted internet advertising (or lack thereof).    I’ve done a fair deal of programming and web design in my day, so I understand that in practice, delivering (with any semblance of accuracy, efficacy, consistency, etc) truly targeted ads is not as easy as it sounds.  However, every now and then (I’m looking at you, Facebook) I encounter an example of an utter FAIL that I’m moved to take pen to paper (er fingers to keyboard, as it were).

Today, we’re going to examine what I think are two simple (not mutually exclusive) aspects of any high-level, rules-based ad-delivery scheme: Language and demographics.  Take, for example, this screenshot from thesuperficial for McDonalds:

Why is this such a targeted advertising FAIL?

  • thesuperficial.com is an English-language site.  The ad, as you can clearly see, is in Spanish.  The site is not published in any other languages.
  • I’ve never seen a non-English ad on this site (and I’m a fairly regular reader).
  • My Spanish is a little rusty, but I’m pretty sure that’s an ad for 2 for $3 Fillet-o-Fish (aka McFish) sandwiches.
  • Sure, its Lent, and apparently this is the time of year when McDonald’s sells 25% (“apparently” being the key word) of the things.  I haven’t found any reliable data on what % of Global annual sales the McFish represents, but I’d imagine its pretty minimal (best guess low-to-mid single digit %).
  • Alexa informs us the demographics for The Superficial are as follows:

So, what we know is that relative to the rest of the web, The Superficial readers are generally 18-34, mostly Female, college-educated, accessing the site from work or home.

So, a question for the audience: What’s the demographic overlap between The Superficial’s readership and consumers of the Filet-o-Fish?

Disappointingly, I don’t have a conclusive answer, and despite wasting the past 2 hours of my life on it, can’t seem to find the underlying data I’d need to prove this FAIL beyond a shadow of a doubt, argh!

What I did find, though, is that among college graduates, those identifying themselves as Hispanic (approximately the same for both men and women) represent maybe 10% (+/- a few % points) of college graduates in the U.S. from the data I have examined.  Just based-upon the facts we do know (english site,~ 90%+ non-hispanic readership, relatively unpopular food item, etc), I just can’t seem to figure out the rationale for serving the McFish ad on this website.  In fairness to the technology, I went through the next 15 pages and couldn’t get the system to serve the ad again, so perhaps it was something of a fluke.

On the other hand, just Facebook, alone, serves up so many horrendously-targeted ads every day, I’m loathe to give the technology the benefit of the doubt.

Verdict:  Spanish ads for tertiary menu items on English language sites with majority non-Hispanic readership?  FAIL

Wall Street Captivated by Curling, Says New York Times

According to the always tuned-in folks over at the New York Times Business section, apparently “Wall Street” has gone stir-crazy over Curling aka frozen Swiffering.  Sure, there’s some strategy and technique, I don’t think anyone (at least no honest athlete or gamer) is debating that, but to say Wall Street has been Romanced by the “sport?”  Color me confused/skeptical/you get the idea.

Mary Schaprio: Computers? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Computers!

All I’m saying is that if I ran the SEC, my desk would look nothing like that of current SEC Chairwoman Mary Shapiro (pic via dealbreaker).

NO COMPUTER?!  No dual + monitor setup with streaming level III quotes, Bloomberg, etc?   Sure, Mary’s a bureaucrat and all, but WHAT THE HELL?!  Fellow Finance professionals, tell me, if you were at the helm of the SEC your desk wouldn’t look something like Adam Sender’s:

Hell, if I ran the SEC my office would look like the freaking Nasdaq market site!

Sure, the SEC has plenty more to worry about than high-tech global trading markets (not to mention there’s allegedly a division to handle such things), but hell, I had more computing power and information access on my desktop in the mid 1990′s, 18.8 baud modem and all!

Update on the Toyota "Situation:" The Plot Thickens

I tweeted this earlier but didn’t have time to sit down and throw something up until now (and who doesn’t get down to such business at this hour?).

Besides being one of the better resources out there for consumers considering buying or selling a car, Edmunds.com actually does their own research and analysis.  Relevant to the Toyota situation, Edmunds analyzed NHTSA (National Highway Transit Safety Administration) data and found GROSS and seemingly inexplicable inconsistencies (Press release via autoblog, emphasis mine):

Edmunds.com Questions NHTSA Inconsistencies, Compares Chevy Cobalt and Toyota Corolla Steering Complaints

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — February 22, 2010 — Edmunds.com, the premier online resource for automotive consumer information, has obtained and reviewed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) complaint and defect investigation database and determined that there are seemingly unexplainable inconsistencies in the vehicle recall process.

“Edmunds.com’s analysis of NHTSA data shows no clear pattern in terms of the number of consumer complaints that trigger an agency investigation. As few as five complaints have triggered an investigation; other investigations haven’t started until 1,500 complaints had accumulated,” noted Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Michelle Krebs in her report NHTSA on the Hot Seat: What is Standard Operating Procedure? on AutoObserver.com.

The report points out that between 2005 and 2010, steering problems on Chevrolet Cobalt were the subject of 1,157 complaints while Toyota Corolla steering problems were the subject of 84 complaints. According to Edmunds.com’s reading of the steering complaints on both vehicles, the complaints about the Cobalt’s steering are far more serious and more dangerous than are the complaints about the Corolla’s steering. NHTSA recently opened official investigations of both vehicles.

Edmunds.com’s analysis of NHTSA defects investigation data — from 1990 to the present — shows that once an investigation is launched, it takes an average of 262 days to conclude and result in a recall. However, the range has varied from an investigation that lasted a mere 10 days to another that languished for six years.

“Many of the complaints are actively discussed on Edmunds’ CarSpace.com, the auto industry’s most established online community, so neither the automaker nor NHTSA can claim ignorance of the issues that potentially make our roads less safe,” commented Sylvia Marino, Executive Director of Community for Edmunds.com.
“Whether NHTSA’s process works properly and quickly enough and whether it is transparent enough is highly questionable. Ultimately, this week’s Congressional hearings may well reveal as many defects in NHTSA procedures as defects in Toyota vehicles,” stated Krebs.

Oh, what, you thought the SEC was the only inept, captured, Congressional puppet regulator out there?  Ha!  Edumund’s analysis seems to indicate, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that there’s more than meets the eye going on at the NHTSA.  I’m not going to immediately leap to conclusions, but I anxiously await NHTSA’s rebuttal, if they can even muster one before the end of the next decade, that is.

More on this developing story as I get more information.

A Quick Thought on the Toyota "Situation"

First of all, I think its pretty apparent at this point that the U.S. Government, and to a (slightly) lesser extent, Media, have taken this Recall thing way too far.   As several outlets (that I’m far too lazy at the moment to collect/summarize) have pointed-out, virtually EVERY auto manufacturer has recalls EVERY year.  While Toyota certainly could have been a little more proactive, compared to their peers’ responses to similar issues (some even worse, with less press!), I think the’ve done a pretty respectable job.

I’ve been hearing far-too-much that Americans should make a concerted effort to buy “American” cars (read: Chrysler, Ford, GM) to support their (er, our) unemployed countrymen and women.  Combined with the actions taken by Congress (DoT, etc), summoning Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda to Washington to answer for his sins, I’m afraid this silliness may actually be gaining traction, if not widespread adoption.

The fact of the matter is that granted, it could be worse (*shudder*),  lost on most observers is that Toyota makes more cars in America than Chrysler.  That’s right.  According to the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, Toyota made 1,117,409 vehicles in the U.S. in 2008 to Chrysler‘s 1,106,028.  Ford (from what I can tell, including all domestic brands) makes 1,602,011 cars in the U.S., although the report suggests less than 100,000 of them are actually Ford branded.  For even more of an idea how important domestic (U.S.) manufacturing by foreign Automakers is to our Nation’s economy, check out the Cars.com American-made Index.  Half or more of their lists are dominated the likes of Toyota, Honda, etc.

The media and government need to slow their roll, because if several get their wish, and the populace truly does “buy American”  in the traditional sense, it would be a classic case of cutting off our nose to spite our face.  Sure, the Government’s investments in GM and Chrysler could benefit, however, the last thing we want is Toyota (etc) firing tons of workers when no one buys their cars anymore.

*I deserve a medal for using “The Situation” in the headline without a picture of “The Situation,” no?

ht twitter.com/akreitman for the national sales data

How NOT to Fix the U.S. Educational System, Part 7,249

As many of you who’ve been reading my work know, the topic of educational reform is near and dear to my heart.  While hardly 3rd-worldesque, the U.S. educational system is no-where close to where it should be, although I’d love LOVE to hear anyone argue the contrary.

I started agitating, personally, for reform while I was still in Middle School, although quite clearly, my efforts were largely in vain.  Since High School, I wondered why the “normal” courses were such a joke, where even friends who weren’t the studious type could eek by with a B (if not higher) with little, if any real dedication.  I’m not arguing that everyone in America needs to be able to crank-out differential calculus by the age of 18, not hardly, as that’d be an inefficient use of time and resources.  However, on the other hand, there is NO EXCUSE for an American High School graduate to fail basic algebra, geometry, and worse, arithmetic!

This weekend, the NY Times brings us news of the most recent, and naturally brilliant, reform approach, which would allow students passing a battery of “competency” tests to graduate after only 2 years.  Proponents of this plan argue:

Kentucky’s commissioner of education, Terry Holliday, said high school graduation requirements there had long been based on having students accumulate enough course credits to graduate.

“This would reform that,” Dr. Holliday said. “We’ve been tied to seat time for 100 years. This would allow an approach based on subject mastery — a system based around move-on-when-ready.”

The new system aims to provide students with a clear outline of what they need to study to succeed, said Phil Daro, a consultant based in Berkeley, Calif., who is a member of an advisory committee for the effort.

Naturally, I agree, the current system could use some work (to say the least!), but as I mentioned earlier, when a mediocre student can  coast through with C’s, clearly the intent of education is being mangled, if not completely mocked.  My main concern with this plan, namely the idea of  “an approach based on subject mastery” relies entirely on administrators to determine these thresholds, which, in my experience, is a recipe for failure.

Additionally, I’m not sure what other public schools get away with, but at my High School (admittedly one of the less-terrible ones) and several others that friends attended, it wasn’t exactly a mystery what was required to pass a given course, nor, do I believe, has it really ever been.  For all but those with serious learning disabilities (and not always then, either), hard work and dedication are almost always enough to get through basic High School course work.  Again, in my experience, most people hardly give it anything close to 100% in High School, even in the Honors and AP classes I took (guilty as charged, whoops!).  I don’t think the problem, is that kids don’t know what it takes to succeed academically, its just their too lazy and unmotivated to do it, even when told exactly what it takes (uh, ever heard of a Syllabus?).  Alas,  I fear this plan’s proponents are even more deluded (nay, high on their own supply) than I initially thought:

School systems like Singapore’s promise students that if they diligently study the material in their course syllabuses, they will do well on their examinations, Mr. Daro said. “In the U.S., by contrast, all is murky,” he said. “Students do not have a clear idea of where to apply their effort, and the system makes no coherent attempt to reward learning.”

Its backers say the new system would reduce the need for community colleges to offer remedial courses because the passing score for the 10th-grade tests would be set at the level necessary to succeed in first-year college courses. Failure would provide 10th graders with an early warning system about the knowledge and skills they need to master in high school before seeking to enroll in college.

Currently, many high school graduates enrolling in community colleges are stunned to find that they cannot pass the math and English exams those colleges use to determine who need remediation.

As noted, I’m all for innovative reform that incentivizes learning and academic achievement, but when the hell did the overall mentality in this country become so freaking lazy (…he said semi-sarcastically)?  From what (little) I know about culture in Singapore (and many parts of Asia), parents virtually beat the importance/necessity of educational excellence into their kids heads from birth.  Here, even in wealthy areas with good schools, I see parents who appear to not give less of a shit about their childrens’ academic efforts, so long as they never get one of “those” calls from a teacher or school administrator.  If the goal is to get students to “diligently study the material in their course syllabi” (with the fairly well-documented non-sequitur that such diligence will inevitably lead to success on exams), then parents MUST be brought into the picture.  I don’t have the answer here, but you cannot expect students to bust their ass when, after the bell ends at the end of the day, they’re free to run amok doing whatever the hell they want.

Further, this plan hardly encourages lifetime, or even long-term learning;  Quite the contrary, it encourages cramming, wrote-learning, and doing just enough to pass the exams to get the hell out of Dodge, er, High School.  Kinda like the FINRA Series 7 exam basically everyone in the Securities business has to take; virtually no one, and I mean NO one remembers half the material by the time they leave the testing center, because it tests crap most of us will never have to use again.  Similarly, just because a kid can pass a math test at Tzero doesn’t mean he’s retained those skills to actually use T+x months or years down the road.  Hell, I used to be able to do Integrals in my head and program in C++, VB, and Pascal!  Now, let’s just say I don’t exactly look forward to reading through some of the quantitative finance papers friends and colleagues have asked me to review.

The point is, ladies & gentlemen, that if the goal is to measure competency at date T and shove the kids out the door to whatever comes next, then this approach is pretty close to idea.  However, if the goal is to encourage students to REALLY LEARN the material, to embrace it, to use that knowledge, then this approach is sure to be an epic failure.

U.S. Education Secretary: "Expect Layoffs…" Ha, ok…

I laugh at his little “joke”, proceed to initiate facepalm.Reuters, via Alea:

WASHINGTON, Feb 21 (Reuters) – Many teachers and educators across the United States are at risk of losing their jobs in the next few months, the country’s education secretary told a meeting of the National Governors Association on Sunday.

“I am very, very concerned about layoffs going into the next school year starting in September. Good superintendents are going to start sending out pink slips in March and April, like a month from now, as they start to plan for their budgets,” said Arne Duncan, referring to the slips of paper included in some paychecks to notify a person of being fired.

Sure, most states and municipalities are nowhere close to being able to meet their existing educational obligations, but please, the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, collectively, are the BIGGEST contributor to the Democratic party.  From Andrew J. Coulson, published in the Cato Journal (pdf), emphasis mine:

Public school employee unions are politically partisan and polarizing institutions. Of the National Education Association’s $30 million in federal campaign contributions since 1990, 93 percent has gone to Democrats or the Democratic Party. Of the $26 million in federal campaign contributions by the American Federation of Teachers, 99 percent has gone to Democrats or the Democratic Party (Center for Responsive Politics 2009).

In fact, if the NEA and AFT are taken together (not unreasonable, given that they overwhelmingly support the same party and pursue a similar agenda), they constitute the most generous source of federal political donations over the past 20 years. According to a ranking by the Center for Responsive Politics (2009), the NEA and AFT together have spent $56 million on federal political contributions since 1989, roughly as much as Chevron, Exxon Mobil, the NRA, and Lockheed Martin combined.

Given this revelation (heh), we’d be deluding ourselves to expect the Obama Administration will sit idly as any meaningful number of educators gets the boot.  I really don’t have anything more to add here, besides to point out what should be, by this point, so painfully obvious:  The Administration, and the Democratic Party in general needs its traditional support base now, perhaps more than ever, as their approval ratings and public perception are pretty crappy, at best.

Some Stuff I've Been Reading

This is going to be a semi-regular topic here, since every now and then I stumble-upon (or am made aware-of) a great blog or other outlet.  In no particular order, here’s some that I’ve been enjoying lately (note: this is by no means an exhaustive list, although at 230am I am a bit exhausted, that’s besides the point).

http://www.simoleonsense.com/

Not for the faint of mind.  Smart, seriously.  Big on behavioural finance, and several other complex subjects.  I wouldn’t suggest ignoring this blog.

www.twitter.com/waynemarr

Wayne is one of the founders of SSRN.  If you don’t follow him on twitter you are officially out of the loop.  I shit you not, there’ve been nights where I’ve spent several hours and stayed up WAY too late reading all of the fantastic papers he brings to my (and your!) attention.  Those of you who know me know that I don’t kiss ass EVER, as a matter of principle, but for serious, SSRN is an amazing resource (and free, except that PoS they call NBER, but I digress), and Wayne is pretty much the curator.

http://fridayinvegas.blogspot.com

Despite still using blogger (who does that?), Kid Dynamite is a smart motherfucker.  I mean math degree(s) and algo trading BSD.  Shockingly, you’d never know it if you met him; he’s totally cool, especially for a (semi-)quant, and his analysis/perspective is NOT  to be missed.  I’ve been reading his work for quite some time, but some of his recent work is quite excellent.  Reg FD: We’ve met/spoke.

www.clusterstock.com

I know, I know; the headlines are sometimes absolutely sensational and/or have little/nothing to do with the actual post, etc, etc blah blah yea I’m just as big of a critic as anyone else.  HOWEVER, once you take all of the obvious shortcomings/whatever in-stride, there’s alot of good info I’ve gotten from the Business Insider group of sites.  Carney, Weisenthal, and Vinezani are sharp guys, and while you can debate their approach, I think you ignore the site at their own detriment.  I shit you not, there is some quality information there.  FD: I’ve met/spoke with these guys.

www.wlmlab.com

If you, like me, are WAY too lazy to download, aggregate, and process the FDIC bank loan book data, this is 100% the site for you.  Ideally, data would be real-time, but that’s a criticism of our “regulatory” regime, not the the website.

That’s it for tonight.  Remember, this is NOT an exhaustive list, just a few that I’ve read this week and thought were worth mentioning.  If your site isn’t here, don’t fret, you’ll probably end up in one of these posts (and on our blog roll once we get around to populating it).

Cheers,

Anal_yst

Shalom!

Ladies and Gentlemen, children of all ages, welcome to Stone Street Advisors.  This site will serve as the home of myself, Anal_yst, and other professional analysts, bankers, traders, etc.  I will still be contributing to The Atlantic, and most likely, to other fantastic sites like Zerohedge, Dealbreaker, etc, as well.

I’ve invited a handful of other respected members of the financial community to join Stone Street Advisors, and welcome any unsolicited offers to join the team/supply content/analysis.