Archive for June, 2013

NYC Python and Chartbeat Are Hosting a Mini-Hackathon

June 28th, 2013 by Wes

Now that we've settled into our new digs, we'd like to reach out to the tech community and start hosting more events. Python is Chartbeat's scripting language of choice, so we're thrilled to host a hackathon organized by our friends at the NYC Python Meetup group. You can find event details here:

http://www.meetup.com/nycpython/events/126627152/

I first started participating in NYC Python almost six years ago, and one of the projects that we started back then was a lovely home page for the group. Since then, NYC Python members have come and gone, and we never really quite got the website to where it should be. This hackathon is dedicated to building a new web presence, and would be perfect for experienced and new Python developers wanting to build a site from scratch. And of course, we hope that it'll use Chartbeat for some real-time goodies! Hope to see everyone there!

From Problem-Solving to Puppytoriums: Take a Gander at the Chartbeat Office

June 26th, 2013 by Cat

We’ve been in our “new” office space for a few months and it’s high time you got an inside look at where your favorite data-crunching nerds spend countless hours building the products you obsess over.

Chartbeat Studios – occupying what was formerly a yoga studio – is a window-filled 12,000 sq. foot space right off Union Square – and we’ll be the first to admit it’s still a work in progress. But thus far the design decisions have centered around reflecting who we are, what we value, and how we work. To break that down: folks are building, brainstorming, and iterating together every day, and we needed an environment that encouraged fresh thinking, diverse work styles, and a whole lot of creativity.

Practically speaking, the space had to support a Chartteamer’s many initiatives: At Chartbeat, someone is a part of several project teams at any given time, and we wanted an office that made collaboration easy, but remained comfortable for all kinds of different working preferences.

Since a few people have asked about our design and decor choices for Chartbeat Studios, we thought we’d share a few key aspects of our thought processes when it came to making this space home.

champ2

1. Think beyond cubicles.

The main Chartbeat bullpen is just a bunch of desks arranged according to product and project teams. Our lightweight (and frankly, inexpensive) desks keep our work areas mobile – you can change where you sit depending on what you’re working on during a 6-week cycle.

But a desk is just one of your many options. A lot of us take advantage of oversized bean bag chairs, couches, and communal tables spread out around the office. If the bullpen gets too loud, you can escape to the back library room for quiet solo work. P.S. – The library is also known as the puppytorium, since its the preferred hangout spot for our fabulous fidos.

Pups aside, your work varies throughout the course of the day – and so can your working style – so we know it’s sometimes absolutely necessary to change up your workspace.

2. Write on (almost) anything.

Meetings happens any and everywhere at Chartbeat Studios. So we’ve designed the entire space so that writing on tables and walls with dry-erase markers, (not permanent ones), is totally and completely acceptable. If you need to draw an impromptu product roadmap or just timeline what you’ve had for lunch this week (kale, kale, more kale), there are plenty of surfaces that function very much like an oversized Etch a Sketch.

3. Reflect your company’s personality in things big and small.

Since we’re a startup, we relied on a few design-inclined team members who volunteered (ahem @thisislankylank) to “hack” the space for a few months. We aimed for clean, simply-designed spaces with meaningful details, much like the mentality we have when it comes to building products around here. For Chartbeat that means embracing our nerdiness and making the work we do front and center in our office.

That means things like displaying vintage tech magazines ordered via eBay (geeking out circa 1983), commissioning data-inspired artwork created by our own designers, and framing portraits of every canine team member (if you can’t tell by now, the dog thing goes way beyond minor obsession here).

More importantly, we’ve created a data-driven space with screens around the office featuring Chartbeat data along with other key analytics that inform the work we do. Similar to many of our clients with Big Boards in their newsrooms, these screens keep the Chartteam up-to-date and in-the-know.
4. Get eco-friendly when you can.

The environmental footprint of a 50+ person company can get huge, so a few key details help make things a bit eco-friendlier. On your first day at Chartbeat, you receive a rad, personalized Greensender water bottle – it’s swag that helps us avoid creating more waste too.

Because we have Joyride Coffee in the office, folks typically enjoy homebrewed caffeine in reusable mugs, which has been another awesome way to reduce our trash output. And if you commute to Chartbeat via bike, we’ve got a bike rack ready for you, plus a shower too, for you and the sake of those who sit near you.

5. Get the whole gang involved.

As you can imagine, the Chartteam felt pretty strongly about their workspace – and they let us know  it. And Chartbeat Studios was all the better because of their opinions and ideas. There’s a shark head on the wall, a seltzer tap in the kitchen, and famous nerd pinups (SFW obviously) in the restrooms, all thanks to suggestions from the Chartbeat crew. Contributions like these helped make the space feel like it belonged to everyone.

A small but substantial initiative also depended on everyone’s participation. Everyone helped build out the Chartbeat library by suggesting their favorite books. It’s a growing collection of peoples’ favorite books (work-related and not) from which any Chartteam member can borrow. We like to think of the library is a physical testament to the collaboration happening around the clock.

Basically, we’re pretty convinced that you can crush the biggest issues, build the best things, whip up the smartest ideas and ultimately do your best work when you’re in a space that fits right into your life. A lot of times that means making things easier, and well, nicer for everyone here, whether it’s the abundant natural sunlight or the fact that you’re surrounded by the stuff you’ve helped build when you’re at the office.

Months later, Chartbeat is almost fully settled in our Union Square digs. We’ve done everything from opening our doors to people during Internet Week to hosting a Chartladies movie night to getting a little design love from Mashable. The environment is all about what Chartbeat is about – fresh thinking, collaborating, and building good stuff – and that’s working out pretty dang well so far.

Hope this paints a good picture for you – swing by any time! PS- Come join the Chartteam, we've got room for you.

New: Chartbeat App for HootSuite

June 25th, 2013 by Joe

DashWithComposeWe love HootSuite. We use HootSuite for a whole bunch of our social media stuff. And we know a good number of you use HootSuite too. So when we had the opportunity to build a Chartbeat app for the HootSuite App Directory, we went for it.

The Chartbeat app allows you to pull key data from the Chartbeat dashboard directly into your HootSuite dashboard and then react to that data and take action in directly. An example? Say you notice one of your top pages is performing well without any social media activity behind it? Or you see an article coming out of nowhere and catching fire with your audience? Use the power of the Chartbeat app in the HootSuite dashboard to share those messages across all your social media channels – and see how much of a difference you made with your articles and your audience by taking action in real time.

StreamOnly

The HootSuite App Directory is “a collection of extensions and applications that HootSuite users can add to their dashboard to create a customized experience.” We like being a part of collections. It makes us feel collectable. More importantly, it’s great to see the Chartbeat name up there with SurveyMonkey and ContentGems, all part of the Class of June 2013, as well as other companies we use, value, or just respect the hell out of (Instagram, Tumblr, HubSpot, Reddit, Vimeo, to name a few.) Take the Chartbeat app for a test drive and tell us what you think! Already a HootSuite customer? Install the app here. Don't have a HootSuite account? Click here to learn more.      

Takeaways from Open Analytics NYC

June 20th, 2013 by Josh

On Monday, I spoke at the Open Analytics Summit here in NYC. I talked about our system for measuring Engaged Time: our research into measuring it, the backend that we’ve built, and some places where engagement data sheds an interesting light on users’ experience on the web.

I know you folks are busy, so I summed up my talk in three key points:

1) If the current metrics you have available don’t give you the information you need, develop new metrics instead of trying to back into results with faulty data. When we started thinking about measuring user engagement, we quickly realized that our questions couldn’t be answered with event-based metrics like clicks and social shares. Rather than trying to proxy out engagement, we built a new system for tracking time.

Turning to the conclusions we’ve gotten from our engagement data:

2) Many users don’t engage with a page, but once they do they tend to stay engaged. As we talked about in our recent piece in Slate, a substantial number of users don’t read past the start of an article. But, once a reader starts to scroll, they’re more likely to read at least a few thousand pixels than they are to stop reading. Your key as an editor is to get people to take the first step toward engagement.

3) There’s substantial value in engagement. Through a variety of large studies, we’ve seen that users who engage with content for longer are more likely to return to a site and may be more valuable to advertisers.

 

Thanks to everyone for coming, and, for those of you who missed it, feel free to ask questions in the comments!

 

Sound and Color: Data as Art

June 18th, 2013 by Danny

As an engineer at Chartbeat, I’m obviously a believer in the power of data visualization. When you have the right data displayed in the right way at the right time, you gain a deeper understanding of the world and can make more thoughtful decisions based on that.

This belief has made me very curious about what happens when you bring data and technology to fields where they’re traditionally absent. I’ve worked on a number of projects exploring alternative data visualization and interaction, ranging from SoundQuake, the winning piece at Art Hack SF, to Living Los Sures, an innovative documentary piece from PBS’s POV Hackathon last summer. I often use my Hack Week time at Chartbeat to try to visualize and interact with our data in new ways. 

Data as Abstract Expression
We usually visualize data in very literal ways to make sure we’re getting a concrete sense of what it means in real world terms. Numbers, charts, graphs - these take a data set and convert it to something very tangible. You can understand the Average Engaged Time of all users by converting the Engaged Time of each individual user into a single number. You can understand which sites refer traffic to your site more than others by looking at a pie chart of referral traffic which translates percentages into literal segments of a circle.

But I was curious what would happen if you broke that literal connection and tried to convert a data set into something more purely emotional, active, and formless – if you could connect the data to the subconscious in a way that yielded a different understanding of it. My expectations were that it would be “kind of cool, but probably not that useful.” The result, Chartbeatnik (the name seemed more clever at the time...) was an interesting first foray into this idea.

Chartbeatnik uses d3 and SVG to convert real-time data into an abstract expressionistic dripped-paint style visualization. Each visitor will be painted on the screen and the Engaged Time of that visitor will affect the size and shape of the form. So rather than seeing the Engaged Time of your visitors as a single literal number, you see it unconsciously in the energy and spirit of the forms. 

Data as Synthesized Sound
I’m a musician and have been very interested in sound as an expressive form for a long time. For one of my more recent Hack Week projects, I wanted to see if I could convert a data set into a soundscape - a kind of data synthesizer. I was also curious to experiment with Web Audio. I ended up making Chartwave, which takes a historical data set from Chartbeat's historical traffic series API and creates a soundscape based on the series data returned. You can modify which series it uses by adding something like '?fields=return,social' to the end of the URL (the available values are listed in the app itself and the API documentation).

The first parameter controls the frequency of the tones played. The set of possible frequencies spans 5 octaves, harmonically centered on a G major chord. As you go up in frequency, the harmonic focus shifts occasionally to A major. The subset of frequencies playing at any given time is determined by the value of the first parameter at that time relative to the maximum value of that parameter. So if the first parameter is 10% of the maximum in the series, then the lowest 10% of tones will be playing. The bottom 2 tones are always playing no matter what. Each tone plays for a random amount of time between 0 and 5 seconds, with a 1 second cooldown before it can play again. So not all tones that can be played will be played at any given moment - a given tone might already be playing, or in its cooldown phase.

The second parameter controls the level of distortion and reverb applied to the output. This is controlled similar to the first one, based on the value of the second parameter at any given time relative to the maximum value in the series. So if the second parameter is 50% of the maximum in the series, 50% of the output will be routed through the distortion/reverb channel.

For those curious about slightly more technical details, the routing graph is detailed here. The first parameter basically controls the gain levels of the spectrum of oscillator nodes. The second parameter controls the relative gain of the MasterWetGain vs the MasterDryGain - to increase distortion/reverb, more of the output is from the MasterWetGain. It uses the Web Audio API, jQuery, Underscore, dat.GUI, Html5Boilerplate, and the Google Visualization API.
Data for everyone
Beyond being "kind of cool," these experiments are interesting to me because they don't assume that everyone sees the world the same way. Maybe for a lot of people numbers are the fastest, most useful way to understand something about the world, but there are probably other people for whom numbers don't quite have the same power as sound or color. We should be open to the idea that in some contexts numeric information could be converted into expressive forms that might be more meaningful. If you have any ideas for future hacks involving abstract data interpretations, please shoot me an email or add suggestions in the Comments section.