Learning about Learning Analytics @ #Mozfest

If I find a moment, I’ll write about many of the fun and inspiring things I saw at Mozfest this weekend, but this post is about a single session I had the pleasure of hosting alongside Andrew, Doug and Simon; Learning Analytics for Good in the Age of Big Data.

We had an hour, no idea if anyone else would be interested, or what angle people would come to the session from. And given that, I think it worked out pretty well.

la_session

We had about 20 participants, and broke into four groups to talk about Learning Analytics from roughly 3 starting points (though all the discussions overlapped):

  1. Practical solutions to measuring learning as it happens online
  2. The ethical complications of tracking (even when you want to optimise for something positive – e.g. Learning)
  3. The research opportunities for publishing and connecting learning data

But, did anyone learn anything in our Learning Analytics session?

Well, I know for sure the answer is yes… as I personally learned things. But did anyone else?

I spoke to people later in the day who told me they learned things. Is that good enough?

As I watched the group during the session I saw conversations that bounced back and forth in a way that rarely happens without people learning something. But how does anyone else who wasn’t there know if our session had an impact?

How much did people learn?

This is essentially the challenge of Learning Analytics. And I did give this some thought before the session…

IMG_0184

As a meta-exercise, everyone who attended the session had a question to answer at the start and end. We also gave them a place to write their email address and to link their ‘learning data’ to them in an identifiable way. It was a little bit silly, but it was something to think about.

This isn’t good science, but it tells a story. And I hope it was a useful cue for the people joining the session.

Response rate:

  • We had about 20 participants
  • 10 returned the survey (i.e. opted in to ‘tracking’), by answering question 1
  • 5 of those answered question 2
  • 5 gave their email address (not exactly the same 5 who answered both questions)

Here is our Learning Analytics data from our session

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 13.53.26

Is that demonstrable impact?

Even though this wasn’t a serious exercise. I think we can confidently argue that some people did learn, in much the same way certain newspapers can make a headline out of two data points…

What, and how much they learned, and if it will be useful later in their life is another matter.

Even with the deliberate choice of question which was almost impossible to not show improvement from start to end of the session, one respondent claims to be less sure what the session was about after attending (but let’s not dwell on that!).

Post-it notes and scribbles

If you were at the session, and want to jog your memory about what we talked about. I kind-of documented the various things we captured on paper.

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 14.40.57

Click for gallery of bigger images

Into 2015

I’m looking forward to exploring Learning Analytics in the context of Webmaker much more in 2015.

And to think that this was just one hour in a weekend full of the kinds of conversations that repeat in your mind all the way until next Mozfest. It’s exhausting in the best possible way.

Mozilla Contributor Analysis Project (Joint MoCo & MoFo)

I’m  back at the screen after a week of paternity leave, and I’ll be working part-time for next two weeks while we settle in to the new family routine at home.

In the meantime, I wanted to mention a Mozilla contributor analysis project in case people would like to get involved.

We have a wiki page now, which means it’s a real thing. And here are some words my sleep-deprived brain prepared for you earlier today:

The goal and scope of the work:

Explore existing contribution datasets to look for possible insights and metrics that would be useful to monitor on an ongoing basis, before the co-incident workweek in Portland at the beginning of December.

We will:

  • Stress-test our current capacity to use existing contribution data
  • Look for actionable insights to support Mozilla-wide community building efforts
  • Run ad-hoc analysis before building any ‘tools’
  • If useful, prototype tools that can be re-used for ongoing insights into community health
  • Build processes so that contributors can get involved in this metrics work
  • Document gaps in our existing data / knowledge
  • Document ideas for future analysis and exploration

Find out more about the project here.

I’m very excited that three members of the community have already offered to support the project and we’ve barely even started.

In the end, these numbers we’re looking at are about the community, and for the benefit of the community, so the more community involvement there is in this process, the better.

If you’re interested in data analysis, or know someone who is, send them the link.

This project is one of my priorities over the following 4-8 weeks. On that note, this looks quite appealing right now.

So I’m going make more tea and eat more biscuits.

“Conclusions”

Mile long string of baloons (6034077499)

  • Removing the second sentence increases conversion rate (hypothesis = simplicity is good).
  • The button text ‘Go!’ increased the conversion rate.
  • Both variations on the headline increased conversion rate, but ‘Welcome to Webmaker’ performed the best.
  • We should remove the bullet points on this landing page.
  • The log-in option is useful on the page, even for a cold audience who we assume do not have accounts already.
  • Repeating the ask ‘Sign-up for Webmaker’ at the end of the copy, even when it duplicates the heading immediately above, is useful. Even at the expense of making the copy longer.
  • The button text ‘Create an account’ works better than ‘Sign up for Webmaker’ even when the headline and CTA in the copy are ‘Sign up for Webmaker’.
  • These two headlines are equivalent. In the absence of other data we should keep the version which includes the brand name, as it adds one further ‘brand impression’ to the user journey.
  • The existing blue background color is the best variant, given the rest of the page right now.

The Webmaker Testing Hub

If any of those “conclusions” sound interesting to you, you’ll probably want to read more about them on the Webmaker Testing Hub (it’s a fancy name for a list on a wiki).

This is where we’ll try and share the results of any test we run, and document the tests currently running.

And why that image for this blog post?

Because blog posts need and image, and this song came on as I was writing it. And I’m sure it’s a song about statistical significance, or counting, or something…

Something special within ‘Hack the snippet’

Here are a couple of notes about ‘Hack the snippet‘ that I wanted to make sure got documented.

  1. It significantly changed peoples’ predisposition to Webmaker before they arrived on the site
  2. Its ‘post-interaction’ click-through-rate was equivalent to most one-click snippets

Behind these observations, something special was happening in ‘Hack the snippet’. I can’t tell you exactly what it was that had the end-effect, but it’s worth remembering the effect.

1. It ‘warmed people up’ to Webmaker

  • The ‘Hack the snippet’ snippet
    • was shown to the same audience (Firefox users) as eight other snippet variations we ran during the campaign
    • had the same % of users click through to the landing page
    • had the same on-site experience on webmaker.org as all the other snippet variations we tested (the same landing page, sign-up ask etc)
  • But when people who had interacted with ‘Hack the snippet’ landed on the website, they were more than three times as likely to signup for a webmaker account

Same audience, same engagement rate, same ask… but triple the conversion rate (most regular snippet traffic converted ~2%, ‘Hack the snippet’ traffic converted ~7%).

Something within that experience (and likely the overall quality of it) makes the Webmaker proposition more appealing to people who ‘hacked the snippet’. It could be one of many things: the simplicity, the guided learning, the feeling of power from editing the Firefox start page, the particular phrasing of the copy or many of the subtle design decisions. But whatever it was, it worked.

We need to keep looking for ways to recreate this.

Not everything we do going forwards needs to be a ‘Hack the snippet’ snippet (you can see how much time and effort went into that in the bug).

But when we think about these new-user experiences, we have a benchmark to compare things too. We know how much impact these things can have when all the parts align.

2. The ‘post-interaction’ CTR was as good as most one-click snippets

This is a quicker note:

  • Despite the steps involved in completing the ‘Hack the snippet’ on page activity, the same total number of people clicked through when compared to a standard ‘one-click’ snippet.
  • We got the same % of the audience to engage with a learning activity and then click through to the webmaker site, as we usually get just giving them a link directly to Webmaker
    • This defies most “best practice” about minimizing number of clicks

Again, this doesn’t give us an immediate thing we can repeat, but it gives us a benchmark to build on.

One month of Webmaker Growth Hacking

This post is an attempt to capture some of the things we’ve learned from a few busy and exciting weeks working on the Webmaker new user funnel.

I will forget some things, there will be other stories to tell, and this will be biased towards my recurring message of “yay metrics”.

How did this happen?

Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 14.25.29

As Dave pointed out in a recent email to Webmaker Dev list, “That’s a comma, not a decimal.”

What happened to increase new user sign-ups by 1,024% compared the previous month?

Is there one weird trick to…?

No.

Sorry, I know you’d like an easy answer…

This growth is the result of a month of focused work and many many incremental improvements to the first-run experience for visitors arriving on webmaker.org from the promotion we’ve seen on the Firefox snippet. I’ll try to recount some of it here.

While the answer here isn’t easy, the good news is it’s repeatable.

Props

While I get the fun job of talking about data and optimization (at least it’s fun when it’s good news), the work behind these numbers was a cross-team effort.

Aki, Andrea, Hannah and I formed the working group. Brett and Geoffrey oversaw the group, sanity checked our decisions and enabled us to act quickly. And others got roped in along the way.

I think this model worked really well.

Where are these new Webmaker users coming from?

We can attribute ~60k of those new users directly to:

  • Traffic coming from the snippet
  • Who converted into users via our new Webmaker Landing pages

Data-driven iterations

I’ve tried to go back over our meeting notes for the month and capture the variations on the funnel as we’ve iterated through them. This was tricky as things changed so fast.

This image below gives you an idea, but also hides many more detailed experiments within each of these pages.

Testing Iterations

With 8 snippets tested so far, 5 funnel variations and at least 5 content variables within each funnel we’ve iterated through over 200 variations of this new user flow in a month.

We’ve been able to do this and get results quickly because of the volume of traffic coming from the snippet, which is fantastic. And in some cases this volume of traffic meant we were learning new things quicker than we were able to ship our next iteration.

What’s the impact?

If we’d run with our first snippet design, and our first call to action we would have had about 1,000 new webmaker users from the snippet, instead of 60,000 (the remainder are from other channels and activities). Total new user accounts is up by ~1,000% but new users from the snippet specifically increased by around 6 times that.

One not-very-weird trick to growth hacking:

I said there wasn’t one weird trick, but I think the success of this work boils down to one piece of advice:

  • Prioritize time and permission for testing, with a clear shared objective, and get just enough people together who can make the work happen.

It’s not weird, and it sounds obvious, but it’s a story that gets overlooked often because it doesn’t have the simple causation based hooked we humans look for in our answers.

It’s much more appealing when someone tells you something like “Orange buttons increase conversion rate”. We love the stories of simple tweaks that have remarkable impact, but really it’s always about process.

More Growth hacking tips:

  • Learn to kill your darlings, and stay happy while doing it
    • We worked overtime to ship things that got replaced within a week
    • It can be hard to see that happen to your work when you’re invested in the product
      • My personal approach is to invest my emotion in the impact of the thing being made rather than the thing itself
      • But I had to lose a lot of A/B tests to realize that
  • Your current page is your control
    • Test ideas you think will beat it
    • If you beat it, that new page is your new control
    • Rinse and repeat
    • Optimize with small changes (content polishing)
    • Challenge with big changes (disruptive ideas)
  • Focus on areas with the most scope for impact
    • Use data to choose where to use data to make choices
    • Don’t stretch yourself too thin

What happens next?

  • We have some further snippet coverage for the next couple of weeks, but not at the same level we’ve had recently, so we’ll see this growth rate drop off
  • We can start testing the funnel we’ve built for other sources of traffic to see how it performs
  • We have infrastructure for spinning up and testing landing pages for many future asks
  • This work is never done, but with any optimization you see declining returns on investment
    • We need to keep reassessing the most effective place to spend our time
    • We have a solid account sign-up flow now, but there’s a whole user journey to think about after that
    • We need to gather up and share the results of the tests we ran within this process

Testing doesn’t have to be scary, but sometimes you want it to be.

Overlapping types of contribution

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 14.02.27TL;DR: Check out this graph!

Ever wondered how many Mozfest Volunteers also host events for Webmaker? Or how many code contributors have a Webmaker contributor badge? Now you can find out

The reason the MoFo Contributor dashboard we’re working from at the moment is called our interim dashboard is because it’s combining numbers from multiple data sources, but the number of contributors is not de-duped across systems.

So if you’re counted as a contributor because you host an event for Webmaker, you will be double counted if you also file bugs in Bugzilla. And until now, we haven’t known what those overlaps look like.

This interim solution wasn’t perfect, but it’s given us something to work with while we’re building out Baloo and the cross-org areweamillionyet.org (and by ‘we’, the vast credit for Baloo is due to our hard working MoCo friends Pierros and Sheeri).

To help with prepping MoFo data for inclusion in Baloo, and by  generally being awesome, JP wired up an integration database for our MoFo projects (skipping a night of sleep to ship V1!).

We’ve tweaked and tuned this in the last few weeks and we’re now extracting all sorts of useful insights we didn’t have before. For example, this integration database is behind quite a few of the stats in OpenMatt’s recent Webmaker update.

The downside to this is we will soon have a de-duped number for our dashboard, which will be smaller than the current number. Which will feel like a bit of a downer because we’ve been enthusiastically watching that number go up as we’ve built out contribution tracking systems throughout the year.

But, a smaller more accurate number is a good thing in the long run, and we will also gain new understanding about the multiple ways people contribute over time.

We will be able to see how people move around the project, and find that what looks like someone ‘stopping’ contributing, might be them switching focus to another team, for example. There are lots of exciting possibilities here.

And while I’m looking at this from a metrics point of view today, the same data allows us to make sure we say hello and thanks to any new contributors who joined this week, or to reach out and talk to long running active contributors who have recently stopped, and so on.

Trendlines and Stacking Logs

TL;DR

  • Our MoFo dashboards now have trendlines based on known activity to date
  • The recent uptick in activity is partly new contributors, and partly new recognition of existing contributors (all of which is good, but some of which is misleading for the trendline in the short term)
  • Below is a rambling analogy for thinking about our contributor goals and how we answer the question ‘are we on track for 2014?’
  • + if you haven’t seen it, OpenMatt has crisply summarized a tonne of the data and insights that we’ve unpicked during Maker Party

Stacking Logs

I was stacking logs over the weekend, and wondering if I had enough for winter, when it struck me that this might be a useful analogy for a post I was planning to write. So bear with me, I hope this works…

To be clear, this is an analogy about predicting and planning, not a metaphor for contributors* :D

So the trendline looks good, but…

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 11.47.27

Trendlines can be misleading.

What if our task was gathering and splitting logs?

Vedstapel, Johannes Jansson (1)

We’re halfway through the year, and the log store is half full. The important questions is, ‘will it be full when the snow starts falling?

Well, it depends.

It depends how quickly we add new logs to the store, and it depends how many get used.

So let’s push this analogy a bit.

Firewood in the snow

Before this year, we had scattered stacks of logs here and there, in teams and projects. Some we knew about, some we didn’t. Some we thought were big stacks of logs but were actually stacked on top of something else.

Vedstapel, Johannes Jansson

Setting a target was like building a log store and deciding to fill it. We built ours to hold 10,000 logs. There was a bit of guesswork in that.

It took a while to gather up our existing logs (build our databases and counting tools). But the good news is, we had more logs than we thought.

Now we need to start finding and splitting more logs*.

Switching from analogy to reality for a minute…

This week we added trendlines to our dashboard. These are two linear regression lines. One based on all activity for the year to-date, and one based on the most recent 4 weeks. It gives a quick feedback mechanism on whether recent actions are helping us towards to our targets and whether we’re improving over the year to-date.

These are interesting, but can be misleading given our current working practices. The trendline implies some form of destiny. You do a load of work recruiting new contributors, see the trendline is on target, and relax. But relaxing isn’t an option because of the way we’re currently recruiting contributors.

Switching back to the analogy…

We’re mostly splitting logs by hand.

Špalek na štípání.jpg

Things happen because we go out and make them happen.

Hard work is the reason we have 1,800 Maker Party events on the map this year and we’re only half-way through the campaign.

There’s a lot to be said for this way of making things happen, and I think there’s enough time left in the year to fill the log store this way.

But this is not mathematical or automated, which makes trendlines based on this activity a bit misleading.

In this mode of working, the answer to ‘Are we on track for 2014?‘ is: ‘the log store will be filled… if we fill it‘.

Scaling

Holzspalter 2

As we move forward, and think about scale… say a hundred-thousand logs (or even better, a Million Mozillians). We need to think about log splitting machines (or ‘systems’).

Systems can be tested, tuned, modified and multiplied. In a world of ‘systems’ we can apply trendlines to our graphs that are much better predictors of future growth.

We should be experimenting with systems now (and we are a little bit). But we don’t yet know what the contributor growth system looks like that works as well as the analogous log splitting machines of the forestry industry. These are things to be invented, tested and iterated on, but I wouldn’t bet on them as the solution for 2014 as this could take a while to solve.

I should also state explicitly that systems are not necessarily software (or hardware). Technology is a relatively small part of the systems of movement building. For an interesting but time consuming distraction, this talk on Social Machines from last week’s Wikimania conference is worth a ponder:

Predicting 2014 today?

Even if you’re splitting logs by hand, you can schedule time to do it. Plan each month, check in on targets and spend more or less time as required to stay on track for the year.

This boils down to a planning exercise, with a little bit of guess work to get started.

In simple terms, you list all the things you plan to do this year that could recruit contributors, and how many contributors you think each will recruit. As you complete some of these activities you reflect on your predictions, and modify the plans and update estimates for the rest of the year.

Geoffrey has put together a training workshop for this, along with a spreadsheet structure to make this simple for teams to implement. It’s not scary, and it helps you get a grip on the future.

From there, we can start to feed our planned activity and forecast recruitment numbers into our dashboard as a trendline rather than relying solely on past activity.

The manual nature of the splitting-wood-like-activity means what we plan to do is a much more important predictor of the future than extrapolating what we have done in the past, and that changing the future is something you can go out and do.

*Contributors are not logs. Do not swing axes at them, and do not under any circumstances put them in your fireplace or wood burning stove.

2014 Contributor Goals: Half-time check-in

We’re a little over halfway through the year now, and our dashboard is now good enough to tell us how we’re doing.

TL;DR:

  • The existing trend lines won’t get us to our 2014 goals
    • but knowing this is helpful
    • and getting there is possible
  • Ask less: How do we count our contributors?
  • Ask more: What are we doing to grow the contributor community? And, are we on track?

Changing the question

Our dashboard now needs to move from being a project to being a tool that helps us do better. After all, Mozilla’s unique strength is that we’re a community of contributors and this dashboard, and the 2014 contributor goal, exist to help us focus our workflows, decisions and investments in ways that empower the community. Not just for the fun of counting things.

The first half of the year focused us on the question “How do we count contributors?”. By and large, this has now been answered.

We need to switch our focus to:

  1. Are we on track?
  2. What are we doing to grow the contributor community?

Then repeating these two question regularly throughout the year, and adjusting our strategy as we go.

Are we on track?

Wearing my cold-dispassionate-metrics hat, and not my “I know how hard you’re all working already” hat, I have to say no (or, not yet).

I’m going to look at this team by team and then look at the All Mozilla Foundation view at the end.

Your task, for each graph below is to take an imaginary marker pen and draw the line for the rest of the year based on the data you can see to date. And only on the data you can see to-date.

  • What does your trend line look like?
  • Is it going to cross the dotted target line in 2014?

OpenNews

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 19.48.44

Based on the data to-date, I’d draw a flat line here. Although there are new contributors joining pretty regularly, the overall trend is flat. In marketing terms there is ‘churn'; not a nice term, but a useful one to talk about the data. To use other crass marketing terms, ‘retention’ is as important as ‘acquisition’ in changing the shape of this graph.

Science Lab

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 19.49.55

Dispassionately here, I’d have to draw a trend line that’s pointing slightly down. One thing to note in this view is that the Science Lab team have good historic data, so what we’re seeing here is the result of the size of the community in early 2013, and some drop-off from those people.

Appmaker

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 19.50.57

This graph is closest to what we want to see generally, i.e. pointing up. But I’ll caveat that with a couple of points. First, taking the imaginary marker pen, this isn’t going to cross the 2014 target line at the current rate. Second, unlike the Science Lab and OpenNews data above, much of this Appmaker counting is new. And when you count things for the first time, a 12 month rolling active total has a cumulative effect in the first year, which increases the appearance of growth, but might not be a long term trend. This is because Appmaker community churn won’t be a visible thing until next year when people could first drop out of the twelve month active time-frame.

Webmaker

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 19.51.47

This graph is the hardest to extend with our imaginary marker pen, especially with the positive incline we can see as Maker Party kicks off. The Webmaker plan expects much of the contributor community growth to come from the Maker Party campaign, so a steady incline was not the expectation across the year. But, we can still play with the imaginary marker pen.

I’d do the following exercise: In the first six months, active contributors grew by ~800 (~130 per month), so assuming that’s a general trend (big assumption) and you work back from 10k in December you would need to be at ~9,500 by the end of September. Mark a point at 9,500 contributors above the October tick and look at the angle of growth required throughout Maker Party to get there. That’s not impossible, but it’s a big challenge and I don’t have any historic data to make an informed call here.

Note: the Appmaker/Webmaker separation here is a legacy thing from the beginning of the year when we started this project. The de-duped datastore we’re working on next will allow us to graph: Webmaker Total > Webmaker Tools > Appmaker as separate graphs with separate goals, but which get de-duped and roll-up into the total numbers above, and in turn roll-up into the Mozilla wide total at areweamillionyet.org – this will better reflect the actual overlaps.

Metrics

[ 0 contributors ]

The MoFo metrics team currently has zero active volunteer contributors, and based on the data available to date is trending absolutely flat. Action is required here, or this isn’t going to change. I also need to set a target. Growing 0 by 10X doesn’t really work. So I’ll aim for 10 volunteer contributors in 2014.

All Mozilla Foundation

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 19.52.40

Here we’re adding up the other graphs and also adding in ~900 people who contributed to MozFest in October 2013. That MozFest number isn’t counted towards a particular team and simply lifts the total for the year. There is no trend for the MozFest data because all the activity happened at once, but if there wasn’t a MozFest this year (don’t worry, there is!) in October the total line would drop by 900 in a single week. Beyond that, the shape of this line is the cumulative result of the team graphs above.

In Q3, we’ll be able to de-dupe this combined number as there are certainly contributors working across MoFo teams. In a good way, our total will be less that the sum of our parts.

Where do we go from here?

First, don’t panic. Influencing these trend lines is not like trying to shift a nation’s voting trends in the next election. Much of this is directly under our control, or if not ‘control’, then it’s something we can strongly influence. So long as we work on it.

Next, it’s important to note that this is the first time we’ve been able to see these trends, and the first time we can measure the impact of decisions we make around community building. Growing a community beyond a certain scale is not a passive thing. I’ve found David Boswell’s use of the term ‘intentional’ community building really helpful here. And much more tasteful than my marketing vocabulary!

These graphs show where we’re heading based on what we’re currently doing, and until now we didn’t know if we were doing well, or even improving at all. We didn’t have any feedback mechanism on decisions we’d make relating to community growth. Now we do.

Trend setting

Here are some initial steps that can help with the ‘measuring’ part of this community building task.

Going back to the marker pen exercise, take another imaginary color and rather than extrapolate the current trend, draw a positive line that gets you to your target by the end of the year. This doesn’t have to be a straight line; allow your planned activity to shape the growth you want to see. Then ask:

  • Where do you need to be in Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec?
  • How are you going to reach each of these smaller steps?

Schedule a regular check-in that focuses on growing your contributor community and check your dashboard:

  • Are your current actions getting you to your goals?
  • What are the next actions you’re going to take?

The first rule of fundraising is ‘Ask for money’. People often overlook this. By the same measure, are you asking for contributions?

  • How many people are you asking this week or month to get involved?
  • What percentage of them do you expect to say yes and do something?

Multiply those numbers together and see if it that prediction can get you to your next step towards your goal.

Asking these questions alone won’t get us to our goals, but it helps us to know if our current approach has the capacity to get there. If it doesn’t we need to adjust the approach.

Those are just the numbers

I could probably wrap up this check-in from a metrics point of view here, but this is not a numbers game. The Total Active Contributor number is a tool to help us understand scale beyond the face-to-face relationships we can store in our personal memories.

We’re lucky at Mozilla that so many people already care about the mission and want to get involved, but sitting and waiting for contributors to show up is not going to get us to our goals in 2014. Community building is an intentional act.

Here’s to setting new trends.

The Power of Webmaker Landing Pages

WelcomeWe just started using our first webmaker.org landing page, and I thought I’d write about why this is so important and how it’s working out so far.

Who’s getting involved?

Every day people visit the webmaker.org website. They come from many places, for many reasons. Sometimes they know about Webmaker, but most of the time it’s new to them. Some of those people take an action; they sign-up to find out more, to make something with our tools, or even to throw a Maker Party. But, most of the people who visit webmaker.org don’t.

The percentage of people who do take action is our conversion rate. Our conversion rate is an important number that can help us to be more effective. And being more effective is key to winning.

If you’re new to thinking about our conversion rate, it can seem complex at first, but it is something we can influence. And I choose the word influence deliberately, as a conversion rate is not typically something you can control.

The good thing about a conversion rate is that you can monitor what happens to it when you change your website, or your marketing, or your product. In all product design, marketing and copy-writing we’re communicating with busy human beings. And human beings are brilliant and irrational (despite our best objections). The things that inspire us to take action are often hard to believe.

For the Webmaker story to cut-through and resonate with someone as they’re skimming links on their phone while eating breakfast and trying convince a toddler to eat breakfast too, is really difficult.

How we present Webmaker,  the words we use to ask people to get involved, and how easy we make it for them to sign-up, all combine to determine what percentage of people who visit webmaker.org today will sign-up and get involved.

  1. Conversion rate is a number that matters.
  2. It’s a number we can accurately track.
  3. And it’s a number we can improve.

It gets more complex though

The people who visit webmaker.org today are not all equally likely to take an action.

How people hear about Webmaker, and their existing level of knowledge affects their ‘predisposition to convert’.

  • If my friend is hosting a Maker Party and I’ve volunteered to help and I’m checking out the site before the event, odds are I’ll sign-up.
  • If I clicked a link shared on twitter that sounded funny but didn’t really explain what webmaker was, I’m much less likely to sign-up.

Often, the traffic sources that drive the biggest number of visitors, are the people with less existing knowledge about Webmaker, and who are less likely to convert. This is true of most ‘markets’ where an increase in traffic often results in a decrease in overall conversion rate.

Enter, The Snippet

Mozilla will be promoting Maker Party on The Snippet, and the snippet reaches such a vast audience that we just ran an early test to make sure everything is working OK and to establish some baseline metrics. The expectation of the snippet is high visits, low conversion rate, and overall a load of new people who hear about Webmaker.

By all accounts, a large volume of traffic from a hugely diverse audience whose only knowledge of Webmaker is a line of text and a small flashing icon should result in a very low conversion rate. And when you add this traffic into the overall webmaker.org mix, our overall average conversion rate should plummet (though this would be an artifact of the stats rather than any decline in effectiveness elsewhere).

However, after a few days of testing the snippet, our conversion rate overall is up. This is quite frankly astounding, and a great endorsement for the work that is going into our new landing pages. This is really something to celebrate.

So, how did this happen?

Well, mostly by design. Though the actual results are even better than I was personally expecting and hoping for.

You could say we’re cheating, because we chose a new type of conversion for this audience. Rather than ‘creating a webmaker.org account‘, we only asked them to ‘join a mailing list‘. It’s a lower-bar call to action. But, while it’s a lower-bar call to action, what really matters is that it’s an appropriate call to action for the level of existing knowledge we expect this audience to have. Appropriate is a really important part of the design.

Traffic from the snippet goes to a really simple introduction to webmaker.org page with an immediate call to action to join the mailing list, then it ‘routes’ you into the Maker Party website to explore more. That way, even if you’re busy now, you can tell us you’re interested and we can keep in touch and remind you in a weeks’ time (when you have a quiet moment, perhaps) about “that awesome Mozilla educational programme you saw last week but didn’t have time to look at properly”.

It’s built on the idea that many of the people who currently visit webmaker.org, but who don’t take action are genuinely interested but didn’t make it in the door. We just have to give them an easy enough way to let us know they’re interested. And then, we have to hold their hands and welcome them into this crazy world of remixed education.

A good landing page is like a good concierge.

The results so far:

Even with this lower bar call to action, I was expecting lower conversion rates for visitors who come from the snippet. Our usual ‘new account’ conversion rate for Webmaker.org is in the region of 3% depending on traffic source. The snippet landing page is currently converting around 8%, for significant volumes of traffic. And this is before any testing of alternative page designs, content tweaking, and other optimization that can usually uncover even higher conversion rates.

Our very first audience specific landing page is already having a significant impact.

So, here’s to many more webmaker.org landing pages that welcome users into our world, and in turn make that world even bigger.

On keeping the balance

Measuring conversion rate is a game of statistics, but improving conversion rate is about serving individual human beings well by meeting them where they are. Our challenge is to jump back and forth between these two ways of thinking without turning people into numbers, or forgetting that numbers help us work with people at scale.

Learning more about conversion rates?

MoFo Contributor Dashboard(s) – switching to Plan A

tl;dr:

  • We’re wrapping up work on the MoFo Interim Dashboard
    • The only other data source we’ll add is the badge counts for webmaker mentors & hive community members
    • This is still our MoFo working document for the time being
  • Then, we’ll switch our development efforts into integrating with Project Baloo
    • Baloo is where we will de-dupe contributors across teams/tools etc.
    • areweamillionyet.org will become our working document in time (‘time’ is TBC)

Switching to Plan A

The MoFo contributor dashboard we’ve been working with this year is our *interim* counting solution, and just as we’re “completing” it we’re now in a position to switch from an interim solution to a fully integrated system which is properly integrated with MoCo. This is pretty good timing, but it’s a change in scope for our immediate work so is worth a status update.

Within MoFo we’ve deliberately been working on a Plan B solution. This is a relatively crude, not de-duped, not a single-source-of-truth dashboard, to give us the quickest visibility we could get into contributor trends. But as we’ve noted from the start, this solution keeps in mind Plan A so that we can transition to it when we’re ready.

We started our work with this Plan B because two existing projects were underway that could be our Plan A and we didn’t want to duplicate these efforts and/or sit around idle as we didn’t know for sure when either of these could be used ‘in anger’.

Project Baloo (formerly Wormhole/Blackhole) was the most closely aligned piece of work, but there was also work to issue contributor badges which was another possible place to count the number of people contributing. Both of these projects are complex because they span many teams and systems and the philosophically-quicksand-like question “what counts as contribution?”. So we didn’t know exactly when we could use either of these as our data-store.

As of last week, Baloo is a functioning data-warehouse with working aggregations setup for a number of MoCo teams. Which means we can begin our switch from Plan B to Plan A (or more accurately our *transition* to Plan A, as this will take time).

The dashboard at areweamillionyet.org which was being demo’d with purely github data when we launched it a couple of weeks ago, is now using data from Baloo’s de-duped aggregations across Github, Bugzilla and SUMO activity. For now, the output of this work is sitting in this Google Doc, and graphed with the help of a little node app.

There are many more teams and systems to integrate into Baloo going forward (across MoCo and MoFo), and there’s a fair bit of automation to work out, but this dashboard is a real example of how this can work. This is Plan A in action, and where we can focus our efforts next.

So, for MoFo colleagues, what does this mean in practical terms?:

We should:

  • Continue using the existing dashboard as our working document
  • Continue using the adhoc logger for counting contributions that don’t have a record anywhere else

I will limit the open work on the Interim Dashboard to:

  • Minimal update to the interface
  • Adding in numbers for Webmaker Mentors and Hive members via badges data
  • “Won’t-fixing-ing” some bugs where the effort is now better spent on Plan A

I will file bugs and start working on:

  • Getting raw contribution data into Project Baloo
  • Documenting the conversion points in a way that’s more consistent with MoCo’s
  • Joining up the documentation for this with MoCo’s existing info