23 August, 2009

From whence came the seeds of belief?

A you tube video prepared to sell a book titled "The Power of Faith Mother Nature's Gift" revealed that Chimpanzee societies create hierarchies of control that revolve around the "alpha" Males of the troop. The thesis of this book is that for all practical purposes the alpha male is the chimpanzee troops supreme being and this "worship" sets the seeds for the origins of religion.

I might be willing to see it as possibly the source of some religions in the past but it can't explain all of them. Leaders die and are killed and if they were the origins of a worship cult the cult would likely die with them. Religions haven't done that precisely because they are not all tied to people (many religions or more generally theistic beliefs, have associated or deified people to join a pantheon of Gods but that is not the same)

I think what really happened to originate religions is a lot more pedestrian. To see it we need to go back to paleolithic times, when roving bands of humans numbered in village clusters that rarely exceeded 50 - 100 individuals (as the hunter gather life style strains to support such a number)

Imagine these bands performing their daily routines of hunting and gathering. The individuals charged with going out to gather food are already esteemed for their usefulness to the survival of the group.


From esteem to preference of opinion

This esteem can easily reflect a measure of respect for the views, opinions and attitudes of those persons. Now, imagine that on a hunt these individuals witness various events in the field that they associate (rightly or wrongly) with their success or failure at the hunt. We have seen this in human cultures all over the globe as expressed by the various trinkets and charms that hunters have created in order to aid their efforts in the hunt or retard 'bad spirits'. But what is a 'bad spirit' ? Ultimately, the origins of such an idea must come from some aspect of hunt that leads to failure. It could be as innocuous as a muddy pass that makes transfer to the quarry difficult, it could be a brooding sky with thunder at the moment that the hunt commences, it could be a sudden flood caused by the breaking of a natural dam unseen up river. The point is, the juxtaposition of these natural events and the hunters task give rise to correlative associations. It is one of our greatest advantages as human beings to have a refined ability to match patterns, unfortunately our brains are so good that they often create patterns where none actually exist, as dozens of visual illusions crafted by psychologists can attest to.



but back to our hypothetical band of hunters. As they go out and perform the mechanics of the hunt that on their own can lead to success, their pattern matching brains also notice those natural events. The sudden strike of lightning to fell a tree and block the path of a deer, or crush an escaping wild boar could inspire immediate association of that event with some god (God of thunder) having a desire to see the troop succeed. However, the stickiness of this meme in the group is only as good as the forcefulness with which the hunters relay this story back to the village and this has to do with the standing of the hunter in the village. Sure, they could be an alpha male and if they are , would be more likely to have their "interpretation" of the natural event as the one accepted by the group but the only way for the meme to survive as a tool of survival , to be invoked in some way indicated by the hunters. "As we moved to the west and paused to take shelter, the thunder struck and felled the tree on our quarry. At that moment I saw this shined stone on the path and knew it was an omen for a good hunt." Now to us such associations are ridiculous but realize how often people make the same types of associations absent of any other data routinely today. It is from these casually made associations that natural events are given supernatural import and the door to Gods (to explain success or failure) is open wide.


Explanation of survival in hunting to survival over all..

While recounting such a story, the villagers will be hard pressed to refute the conclusions of the hunters as they indeed do have the "proof" in life giving meat. What remains is the forcefulness and imagination of those telling the story, the aforementioned hunter could inspire a culture where hunters search for shined stones in order to bless a hunt with a success by the thunder deity responsible for it. Maybe the stones may factor in rituals that the villagers back home use to bring good blessings to the hunters on the hunt in some elaborate ritual. The flowering of possible ways to interpret these chance events would quickly reflect the wide range of religious interpretations that exist today. As human societies moved onward from hunter gatherer to larger groupings and cities, the use of these events to capture the attention and reverence on the masses would be noticed by the clever hunters and later lead to their becoming shaman, grio or spiritual leaders in a position to direct the community in ways they feel are amenable to the Gods of the hunt. Later these Gods were generalized to cover all manner of success for the community and the flowering of regional Gods associated with specific villages or civilizations takes place.


What happens when belief systems touch?

10,000 years ago with the emergence of agriculture and a sedentary life style that allowed people to sit and think far more than ever before the symbolism of previous success morphed into more complex descriptions of not just how to survive but as explanations for why one group is 'favored' to survive over others (who likely see significance in other omens, signs and Gods) the seeds were thus sown for destructive dance that seems almost guaranteed to occur when different "survival philosophies" touch along shared boundaries. The Bible of Abraham, the records of the Egyptians , Greeks and many ancient cultures show this clearly as peoples having different systems routinely slaughter one another simply due to the existence of these differences in philosophies. Soon, with the constant cross pollination of these systems in the Levant came the emergence of a new idea, that worship of a pantheon of Gods or people elevated to God status was inferior to worshiping of one God of all, the first of these "one god" believers followers of the Egyptian God "Ra", quite literally the sun. How ironic and obvious all at once, the Sun is not sentient or caring to our needs but it is indeed quite literally our God in that without it we would not be.



In conclusion, the idea that Gods emerged from worship of alpha individuals in my view is not far from the truth but the jump that must be made from worshiping a living , flesh and blood human to worshiping an immortal God is too great and to me would not be supported by the fact that in real societies (human and chimp) alpha males die and are killed, the Gods of religion have a resilience beyond this for a reason and I believe that reason is that they were created in that fashion as immortal and "all" powerful symbolic avatars to explain the success or failure of the "alpha" individuals as they went out on hunting expeditions. Now it is entirely plausible and possible that the hunters by displays of amazing capability may rise to be worshiped as Gods after their deaths and this idea could be the explanation for the God/demi-God theism of ancient Greece and similar systems but this form of religion was and is not dominant. The most important Gods (Ra, the God of Abraham, a plethora of animal and nature based Gods), although sharing some human qualities, are not (not originally) anthropomorphic entities. So, the seemingly random suite of God types and origins indicates that their source came from the combination of chance events of hunt and nature interpreted by "alphas" in the hunting or gathering troops and then having the memes most forcefully represented in society (by force or by convincing word) spread to serve as a harbinger of further success. Later as different systems spread and then touched, the incompatability of these independently imagined and crafted systems of survival belief led to astonishing acts of slaughter enabling the irony of a system designed to maximize survival being used to ensure destruction of opposing systems.

19 August, 2009

Facebook chat block messages.


I've been using Facebook a lot lately as a central social networking location to spread the word about numeroom.com and otherwise share news and get information about my friends and contacts. I am a pretty fast typist and tend to have a lot to say on most things, as a result I've run into a Facebook chat block message in the past. When it occurred I had been chatting with a friend for just about 2 hours and I made note of the warning (see big red "1" in image) , minutes later I could not respond at all and received an ominous pink boxed message (see big red "2" in image) stating I was blocked temporarily and warning me of abuse. Since that time I had little use of the FB chat feature and several months passed, until today, I was chatting with a friend this time for about an hour when I started gettting the yellow warning messages , after about 30 minutes of trying to "slow down" as suggested by the warning I finally got the big pink box and was blocked from chat. I just wanted to show what the yellow warning and pink box look to those who haven't encountered it.



One thing that I noticed is that it appears the block limit has been reduced as I started getting messages far sooner than I did the first time and I wasn't typing any faster than normal. My guess is the incredibly fast rise in users on Facebook is starting to tax their bandwidth allotments so that they reduced the interval of chat before blocks are invoked. It is annoying but since I rarely use FB chat not so bad, besides after getting the block I had an easy solution. I simply sent an email message to the person I was chatting with in FB and provided a public link to my numeroom so we could chat there. ;) I have no chat blocks on my service (but I must admit it would be a nice problem to have)

Numeroom for business..

One of the coolest aspects of the Numeroom collaboration services is the ability for the service to be encapsulated into a securely accessible and brandable portal for user accounts that have one of the site management service plans active on their account. Site management is made possible by one of the important underlying attributes of the AgilEntity platform, multi-tenency. A multi-tenant architecture is one that cordoned off access to particular application or system functions in such a way that many simultaneous users can make use of those functions with limited awareness of the existence of those other users.

When I designed the permissions system of the AgilEntity platform , the use of fine grained action oriented permissions for all instances of any managed Entity ensures that multi-tenancy would be a natural outcome of a permission based security API. All that remained was for the user interface elements of the applications built on the platform to use the permissions system as a guide for conditional display of elements. The numeroom.com web site is merely a UI front end to the back end collaboration API of a running AgilEntity cluster. The services provided by numeroom in the form of secure, real time chat and share "rooms" are all managed on one "site" created on that cluster. "Site" is itself a managed entity type on the system and as such is subject to all the advantages of action oriented workflows and fine grained controls that all Entities enjoy. This "primary site" is the site that all the Users that sign up for the Numeroom services for individually managed rooms are associated with, however some user accounts are associated with other "sites" these are the Business focused site management plans. When a User upgrades their account from the default service plan or from a paid multi-room management plan to a Site Management plan they now have the ability to manage not just a room but all the rooms created on their "site". They can brand their site, create Users for their site and determine if their site conference portal is public or private to the internet. Many elements of site management that the Numeroom administrators wield over the commercial site are granted to the User accounts that upgrade to Site Management plans.

This allows the Users to delegate their own dashboard agents, create their own workflows for delegation of actions such as User edit or create actions or other actions that can not be done under non site managed plans. Businesses that want to get going with a secure , global network of real time chat spaces for their employees and customers to converse in can license one of these plans and get going immediately. The branding and management then allows them to tie the numeroom services into their existing blogs and company site pages.

The video tutorial below shows a site management plan in action:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIeznaRpPeo

this video shows how to create new categories for a site, these categories are independent for each site managed on the cluster. On the main numeroom site, the categories seen on the main page are associated with the primary site on that public cluster. Since the commercial site is for general use the categories are generalized. However, Site management plan holders can create their own categories to conform to the real time collaboration needs of their entire organization. For example a bank can have categories specific to department or projects. The users then created on the site would be free to move their rooms from category to category when seeking coworkers or clients or customers to engage in those areas. Permission to perform Create, Edit , Delete and other actions on categories can be managed by any Users designated by the original plan creator, no code changes necessary.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBk9tVooC-4

Another of the numeroom services that has a site management context is the TimeLine. TimeLines are near real time feeds of events posted by Users who are contacts on the main numeroom site. For site management plans they perform this function AND also enable site managers to send time line events to a superset of all the Users on their Site. This allows the site managers to send time line events with e-mail notification and thus creating instant newsletters for the entire Site. Since timelines also allow immediate attachment of files on the table of the current numeroom of the sender, the notifications can contain actual files. If the file being delivered is sensitive to the business and should not be routed to the public internet the files can be attached using table to table file transfer, thus content can be shared while preserving the sensitivity of business documents but still by using the public internet. The following video shows this in action:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iozqRW6gVnQ


Another unique feature to site management plans is the guest dashboard agent function. This allows a site manager to delegate Users as dashboard agents and thus giving them access to a dashboard of real time guests requesting assistance via a link added to any of the organizations pages (business or product or service sites, blogs) The dashboard then can be used by these agents to field requests for assistance in real time. This service allows line of business employees to serve as a customer service force for particular business functions that they are responsible for. This allows the business to run more efficiently by allowing customers or potential customers to interface directly with the employees that can best help them in real time. Since the activity of the agents is reported to an xml based report, managers can later determine which agents are most effective, what times have the greatest number of requests and other metrics that can be used to improve response time to addressing guest questions. Watch these videos to see this in action:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrXU-JCdtQY (part 1)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fo4VXVLz6XI (part 2)

11 August, 2009

Magpie testing results part 2

The second major ad campaign launched on the twitter powered magpie service is over and I have been pouring over the results to try and make sense out of the results and try to refine the campaign or possibly abandon the use of the service. As discussed in a previous post, I found the magpie test campaigns I ran for www.numeroom.com and for the sent2null.spreadshirt.com sites to be more efficient in targeting relevant users than the Facebook tests I performed last month, however, getting clicks to the link doesn't necessarily convert to signed up users in numeroom.com or a purchase of a product at the sent2null shop. This latest campaign shows this clearly in both campaigns which I'll discuss separately below.

sent2null shop ad campaign #2

After getting a good amount of clicks for the ad service purchased I decided to fund a $40 campaign with magpie for the ad that I had run during the test campaign. The actual test ad text:

Check out sent2null shop for getting custom limited edition tees. Sarcastic, graphic and geek designs reign. http://sent2null.spreadshirt.com

According to the magpie statistics the ad was clicked on 553 times but was shown to 11,051 twitter followers for a click rate of 5% which is quite good, unfortunately none of those clicks turned into a purchase at the site. There can be many reasons for that, my designs could suck and no users found them appealing or too expensive, the link could have failed for many followers, or the followers clicking are coming from outside the US and are unable to purchase using a credit card or finally, the keywords I've targeted are not bringing the people that want to purchase shirts though it may bring people that don't mind perusing designs. The difference is important. The possibility of foreign clicks is ruled out by the metrics that magpie makes available for each campaign to find out the geographic location of most of the clicks, it confirms an overwhelming majority of clicks came from the US. The possibility of link failures is possible but likely to be very rare and not contribute much to the number of people that clicked, that leaves two possibilities...sucky designs on my part and selection of viewers with badly targeted keywords as opposed to prospective purchasers. Assuming my designs are good enough, and not overly expensive (most shirts under $25) the targeting could be the problem, so I adjusted the keywords to restrict to words that are more likely to attract design purchaser clicks over design viewer clicks.

The new keywords for the next campaign will be:
custom-clothing funny geek limited-edition math nerd nerd-fashion sarcastic science shirts t-shirts tees witty

I reduced the set to less general words and created hyphenated sets of words to describe specific targets. The words "geek" , "funny" , "science" , "math", "nerd" and "witty" are not shirt specific but should target users that would find my designs which focus on those topics more useful. The explicit use of "shirts" , "t-shirts" and "tees" should ensure more specific targeting of followers that are actually looking to purchase items related by the other terms. So I think I'll get both a higher click through rate and finally a positive conversion rate from this new campaign we shall see.


numeroom ad #2

Simultaneously with the sent2null ad I bought the same amount of ad purchasing power for the following numeroom ad:

group chat in any language, share any file, link rooms, follow friends, IM, message, securely, join free: http://www.numeroom.com

This campaign had the following keywords:

attach bookmark business-collaboration chat chat-room customer email embed feed file file-share files follow following invite language link secure service translation

and is subject to similar reasons for not being able to generate conversion (in this case measured simply by the amount of users that create a free numeroom account after coming to the site). The design could be confusing, link redirect could fail, or the keywords chosen were just targeting the curious and not those interested in using the service. The corresponding click numbers for this campaign show that it was delivered to 8,650 followers of which 216 are reported to have cliked through to the site. In the time the ad ran however, not a single user targeted from the campaign created a free account. Though I think it is unlikely that the same fate would befall two different campaigns for two completely different businesses, it could point at a common problem in the targeting of the campaigns, so this campaign will be changed to remove and make the keywords more specific for the next run, the new keywords to hopefully target people that will sign up for the free trial are:

business-collaboration chat chat-room web-chat customer-service email feed file-share language-translation translate collaborate web-im group-chat

This shorter and more focused set of keywords should pull out more account sign ups from those that click through.

So here I go on round 3 of the great marketing and sales expedition. When the campaigns are over I'll provide an analysis which hopefully will finally show some good news in the form of actual conversions from the clicks!

As a final method to ensure that the metrics being reported by magpie match what is occurring at the actual links I have enabled google analytics on the pages targeted by the magpie ad links for both campaigns. Google Analytics allows detailed break down of visitors to the page including the ability to track their navigation history on the site once they land on the site, this will allow me to determine if users are being hung up by a particular page so that I can potentially redesign the pages to make them more clear. It will also allow me to keep magpie honest as I compare the reported clicks to the received clicks at the site. This will be very revealing of what the ultimate source of the lack of conversions for both sites really is and will cost me only $80.00, not bad considering all the detailed visibility that I am getting into the campaigns and the demographics of visitors.

stay tuned.

02 August, 2009

15 new languages on numeroom.com

As the beta period rolls on, we are picking up new users and getting feedback on how to improve the site. To aid providing feedback on the services offered the new feedback tab makes it easy to suggest changes. I'll be using the most voted items on the feedback page to prioritize changes so use the voting system to request the changes you most want.

That said, two new changes were rolled to production last night. First, support for 15 new languages for the language translation feature:


greek
lithuanian
finnish
swedish
czech
slovak
albanian
latvian
norwegian
croatian
maltese
galician
estonian
bulgarian
chinese (tradditional)


The new languages multiply the real time interactions that can occur on the system in any free numeroom. The original vision of breaking down language barriers in order to expedite communication and understanding between people all over the world is quickly being realized thanks to the use of the efficient distributed algorithm that makes this feature possible. The combination of timeline events, file sharing and security makes a numeroom an ideal place to convene all your online friends , business associates and customers. For businesses, the guest customer service allows guests to select their language and implicitly translate the agent language to their own for the new languages seamlessly.

Secondly, a bug which caused premature session time outs for guests has been fixed.
I am busy plotting launching an ad campaign using the previously mentioned magpie twitter third party site that should enable me to reach out to collaboration minded users of that service. I'll be posting on the how that proceeds in posts to come. Stay tuned.