*This blog post is adapted from a talk given at WordCamp Rhode Island, September 25-26, 2015
As a society, we’ve gotten really great at tracking things in the last few years. We’re tracking our steps, our purchases, our homes, our habits, and anything else we can think of. We’re obsessed with tracking things, just for the sake and novelty of tracking them – but often struggle to find meaning in all this data.
Albert Einstein once said that “Information is not knowledge”.
We’ve taken that first critical step of gathering information, but without context, all of this data is meaningless.
That’s the next wave that’s already started – finding ways to build meaningful experiences out of the data we’re tracking.
Siri and Amazon Echo are early examples of trying to make meaningful experiences out of data. Fitness tracking apps and email alerts from your nest thermostat are also examples. But even these are still painfully basic – having a computer read data to you and emailing data in a pretty format aren’t exactly groundbreaking steps in providing meaningful context.
Examples in WordPress
Posting Streaks on WordPress.com
In WordPress, there are even a few examples of this starting to sprout. Matt Mullenweg posted about his posting streak on his personal blog, noting that WordPress.com will give you a graphical high-five for keeping up a posting streak. That wraps your data (post dates) inside a meaningful social context that encourages you to keep posting each day.
Jetpack Monitor is another example of data wrapped in context to make something meaningful. The free service will email you any time it detects your site has gone down – but the detection is where they’ve added meaningful context. Monitor won’t just email you the second it notices your site is down – doing this would result in a lot of false alarms and frustration using the tool. Instead, Monitor will wait a few minutes and check your site a second time – and if it’s still down, then send you a message.
You can also see some examples of this in existing plugins. Yoast SEO added in July (version 2.3) a “warning advising to change the tagline, if a site still has the default WordPress tagline ‘just another WordPress site.’” In the Stream 3.0 release notes, Luke Carbis said their focus is to work on adding artificial intelligence to WordPress with monitoring uptime and performance, recommendations for things like plugin suggestions, and more. Taking all of the data available to us in WordPress and creating experiences for administrators that are meaningful and insightful is the next frontier, and I believe we’ll start seeing a lot more examples of this in the next year.
At WetPaint, we’re focused on the marketing data side of this equation. We think there is a huge need for business intelligence in WordPress, and there’s no reason we can’t automate the most basic analysis work in a plugin. There will always be a place for in-depth human analysis (the stuff you’d pay a marketing agency for), but if we can take all of the data about a site – traffic, visitors, sales, and more, and use that data create simple and meaningful suggestions for site owners about what’s popular on their site, how their sales are going, what’s working for them, and what’s not – then we can make a really meaningful impact on the web.