Tech in Motion Recap: Tech & Media Panel

Last Thursday evening, Tech in Motion NYC held their Tech & Media Panel Discussion at Alley NYC. With over 200 attendees, 4 great panelists and an awesome moderator, the event was a huge success.

Our panelists included:

Moderated by: Dennis Berman, Business Editor of Wall Street Journal

Tech & Media Panel

Left to right in photo: Almar Latour, Danielle Fankhauser, Pax Dickinson, Brandon Diamond, Dennis Berman

Together they discussed how the evolution of tech has affected media. They talked about the current or future solutions to the issues tech has caused for media, and how they foresee future tech being used to continue the media evolution.

Here is a more in depth look at the conversations and topics covered during the event.

Tech & Media Crowd

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My Time at “Obama for America”

Gabriel BurtTwo years ago, I joined President Obama’s re-election campaign as one of the first engineers in the Technology department.  I worked hard, learned an extraordinary amount from a host of fantastic coworkers, and was privileged to get to apply my craft to help re-elect the President.

After helping start the Narwhal and Dashboard projects during my first few months, I transitioned to lead the Analytics Technology team with Chris Wegrzyn.  The Analytics department grew to 54 people, busy with managing polling, creating and updating statistical models, and analyzing any and all data to advise campaign leadership across all departments on program strategy and efficacy.

Our team of nine Analytics engineers created, curated, and maintained a 50 TB analytics database, uniting all the campaign’s data into one place – letting us create, coordinate, and analyze holistic, data-driven programs.

Suddenly we could do things like notice a supporter had requested a mail-in ballot and assist them via email to ensure the ballot was cast and counted.  We could analyze merchandise purchased via the mailing list, events, and the online store.  We created a TV-ad purchasing optimizer that got us 15% more persuadable viewers per dollar.

We created a tool (“Stork”) that connected our analytics database with a few key vendor APIs, Google Spreadsheets, mapping, and basic data processing features — and empowered analysts and state and HQ data staff to implement their own automated, data-driven ideas for helping re-elect the President.  We released the tool to users when it had a single function, and let user feedback set the agenda for the next 23.  We often added new features within hours of users’ requests.  Its functions were composable, and served as the basis for several of our own even higher-level tools.

Our process in Analytics Technology was partly agile, but mostly just keep-it-simple and get-it-done.

Our team didn’t have to be web-scale, we just had to be Big Data scale; instead of millions of web requests, we had 6-billion-row tables to join and keep synced, and

200 querying users (and dozens of apps) to keep happy.  And mostly, we needed to move quickly to take as many creative (yet often simple, common sense) ideas and help make them happen while they could still have an impact.  I think a lot of us wished we’d had just a couple more months, and oh what we could have created!
We used SQL (oh, did we use SQL), Python, Ruby, Java, Hadoop, Postgres, Vertica, cron, git, ElasticSearch, EC2, DynamoDB, S3, SES, and much more.  We were generalists, who built and maintained our tools collectively, who seamlessly multitasked on data ETL, Rails apps, database administration, GIS, data-triggered emailers, Hadoop jobs, and much more.


Some personal highlights of the 17 months included receiving extremely kind letters from state staff thanking the team for our work and our tools, giving a man the Heimlich maneuver at State and Randolph on the way into work, and shaking President Obama’s hand.

Mobile Finally Tips

Rumford-SlimSurveys (2) Guest blog post by Rodney Rumford: He is the co-founder and Chief Product Officer of which is a customer insights platform that provides tools for marketers and businesses to gather insights and feedback via micro-surveys.

For many years people have been saying that this is the year of mobile. Well as it turns out, 2013 truly has become the year of mobile. For the first time in history, more email is opened on mobile devices than on desktops. While this might appear obvious to many people reading this, this should serve as a whack on the side of the head for many of the doubters. What has driven the proliferation is a variety of things. But it is not the devices themselves. Rather, it is the apps and the optimized experiences that allow users to experience and do things that were unimaginable just a few short years back. I can pay for my Starbucks and never open my wallet by using the Starbucks app. I can transfer money from my bank and never go to an ATM. I can collaborate with my team on Basecamp while I am not tied to a desk.

What this really means is that many experiences that were built for the desktop originally need to be re-imagined and optimized for the mobile interactive experience in your hand. This is no easy task, and sometime, the entire construct of the experience needs to be re-imagined. Complexity needs to be killed at all costs. Simplicity needs to reign supreme and make the experience pleasant, quick, simple, and valuable to the user. Sometimes this might mean that the mobile version of a site simply has only the core high-value, high-frequency functionality that allows people to get in and do what they want and get out in a very short time.

The fact that most of your audience opens your email communications on their mobile device should make you consider the device on which they will read it. If you are asking them to click a link to do something, make sure that where you are sending them is mobile-friendly. A simple example of this is if you send them a link to take a survey, it better be mobile-friendly and be something that can be completed quickly. Most people have short bursts of free time of 1 minute or less. Such as when you place your order for your coffee, waiting for the train, etc.

When we started, one of the main problems we wanted to solve was the complexity and time required to take a survey, while making that experience very pleasing on their phones. We wanted the surveys to be simple versus complex, and we wanted it to be tap-centric and almost feel like a game and not work. We have solved this problem and now marketers can gather valuable insights and feedback from their customers while these users are on their mobile devices. Mobile has finally tipped and its importance for business will only continue to grow.

Are you doing the right things to leverage this trend for your business?

Journalists, Data, and Measuring Impact

Dani.FankhauserWith the dawn of the web, and then smartphones, we’ve been buried in data. Anyone creating content online soon hopped onto metrics like a bunch of hungry chickens going after grain.

First page views, then shares. The data is there for the taking, but is it meaningful?

Simply do some research on Google search terms and you can optimize content to get lots of page views. Focus on entertaining or utility-driven content, and you’ll nab lots of shares (especially with pretty pictures, thanks Pinterest).

VICE is one example that shows that hard news can make its way around the web if it’s particularly provocative, like this recent story called The Ghost Rapes of Bolivia.

But most journalists will agree that regular watchdog stories are not always the juiciest (we can’t always have mayors accused of sexual harassment).

Even at Mashable, I prefer to not write “X Chrome Extensions For Staying Productive” all the time.

Brands, now creating their own content, are facing a similar dilemma — plenty of data, but what does it mean? Sometimes they do want exposure, so the goofy YouTube video makes sense. Other brands want a quality impression, and will be okay with a few thousand views as long as their logo was next to something awesome. They too will look at both page views and shares, and in addition might do a survey that measures purchase intent, A/B tested against their campaigns.

But I imagine most brands looking to make the best investment into marketing would want to measure impact, too.

So we don’t have a marketing problem or a journalism problem — it’s a communication problem. It is not caused by technology, as it existed before digital, but digital capabilities bring it to light. It’s safe to say we have a growing number of brands trying to be funny on Twitter, and a plethora of digital publications launching with big ideas related to lists and pet photos.

The impact of journalism is like a tree falling in a forest that nobody heard. It is happening, but we haven’t found the metric yet. That metric will help journalism organizations budget in a way that makes sense, and justify grants and public funding. It will help marketers be more efficient with their dollars.

A marketing solution may help journalists, and vice versa. I think this is an opportunity for the two groups to steal ideas from each other. We can all better appreciate the pet photos in moderation anyway, right?

The Lowdown on Cloud Accounting + Tips for Startups and Entrepreneurs

lisapowersquareheadshotIf you’re a startup or entrepreneur, you’ve gone into business because you have a passion for a particular field or role. Maybe it’s a killer new app for businesses or maybe it’s a consumer-focused game changer – or something else entirely. In any case, you’re not enjoying the accounting headaches that come with running your own business. The thing is, it’s arguably one of the most important functions of your business. So how can you make these processes simpler?

To start with, as creators of cloud-based financial tools for small business owners with 0-9 employees, we’re partial to the cloud. You can export your data at any time, it’s always secure, and you can access it from wherever you are. Plus, because you don’t need to install any software, it’s usually free or very low cost. You just can’t get this with desktop software, which is at risk of virus, stolen computers and crash.

The cloud is seeing explosive growth in popularity from accounting to file storing and sharing and much more, so there are a ton of companies to choose from. Make sure you do your research. Not all cloud accounting software will be the right fit for your business.

For example, consider if you’ll need valid records at tax time; if so, you’ll want software that offers double entry accounting. If you need a variety of tools like invoicing, accepting credit card payments, payroll and receipts, consider products that offer an entire ecosystem of accounting support; this way, you don’t need to use multiple providers that each only answer one of these needs. Finally, make sure it’s simple to use but also robust enough to grow with your business.

It’s our goal to liberate small business owners so we’ve put together a list of our top tips for startups:

  • Cloud accounting software should complement, not replace, your accountant. You’ll still need to call them for things like year-end processes. We actually have a guest collaborator function so you can add your accountant as a collaborator, and they can easily check up on your accounts, set up sales tax, files sales tax reports, things like that. It’s pretty awesome.
  • There are things you can do to get paid faster. Our research shows when an invoice includes the ability for you to accept on-the-spot payments by credit card, you’ll get paid, on average, 12 days faster than being paid by cheque. We’ve also discovered people who invoice clients between 7 and 9 a.m. get paid an average of five days earlier, and that Sunday is the best day of the week to invoice clients.
  • Check out for more cool solutions and incentives for startups, covering digital marketing, customer support, web development, email newsletters, online content sharing, education and more, from really cool companies like Zen, Box, MailChimp, Uberflip, General Assembly (and Wave). It’s a great little bundle to make it easier and less expensive to get your business off the ground.

At the end of the day, as much as you might hate dealing with the paperwork, from payroll and getting paid on time to managing receipts and filing taxes, your records paint a picture of your expenses vs. your income, and help you stay on track financially.

Here’s to all the great startups out there!


About Wave:

Founded in November 2010, Wave provides integrated online applications that help small business owners around the world run their businesses. The company has secured more than $19 million in funding. With 1.5 million users on its platform and counting, Wave is signing up tens of thousands of small business customers each month, and currently tracks almost $80 billion in small business income and spending. Based in Toronto, Canada, Wave has offices in Rochester, New York, Vancouver, British Columbia, and Winnipeg, Manitoba. For more information, visit

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The Impact Technology Has Had on Content Creation

Technology has empowered us as content creators. If you don’t write for one of the 70 million WordPress blogs, for example, you almost definitely have a Twitter account or at least a Facebook page. Media’s technical revolution has certainly empowered people by giving them a voice—and it has sometimes spurred real revolutions. Many credit Twitter and Facebook for enabling Arab Spring, political uprisings in recent years that toppled dictatorships in the Middle East. At its best, technology brings power back into the hands of the people. Media driven by new technology cannot and should not be silenced.

Brandon Diamond

Most of us use media to a little less consequence, of course. At its core, media allows us to keep up with our friends, family, and topics that interest us. Any witty thoughts or strong opinions you have are basically wasted if you don’t put them online. The downside to all this content is that it’s getting more difficult to sift through the mountains of data to find reputable, vetted information. And the real danger comes when people feel that they’re doing their part by voicing their opinions online. We have more armchair philosophers and critics than we do activists: the amount of blogs on Tumblr, 125 million and rising, is roughly equal to the number of people who voted in the 2008 presidential election.

Statistics like these are good for people like me. I work for a large media company, the Huffington Post, and I have a vested interest in getting consumers to download the apps I build. I even helped to create HuffPost Highlights, which connects site visitors to content that is especially interesting to them. For those of us at the forefront of the technology revolution, it’s harder than ever to grab people’s attention- but when you succeed, you reach more people than was conceivable even 20 years ago. You don’t have to search for an audience anymore. We’re connected 24/7 via our iPads, smart phones, and Google Glasses, and we’re just begging for quality content to consume via this technology. Part of my job is brainstorming ways to present media and information in ways that feel handpicked without being invasive.

At HuffPost Labs, we spend a lot of time anticipating ways that people will want to consume media in the future. As technology becomes more sophisticated, the ways that media is consumed, shared, and created will grow correspondingly more advanced. In all likelihood, media will continue to become more immersive and present; content more focused and personalized. With these advances, we’ll need to pay careful attention to how we interact with media — we mustn’t become more addicted to information and we mustn’t filter out dissenting opinions. Boundaries will become more important than ever and tools to deactivate the filter will become just as essential as the filters themselves. Panels like these are useful for brainstorming how to take media into the future!