Numbers Too Big to Make Sense

I was at the ACCELERATE conference in Atlanta yesterday, the classy Web analytics conference run by the (rapidly growing) Web Analytics Demystified team. The presenters and content were top-shelf across the board, as you would expect from such a talented and experienced group. Josh West, Partner at Demystified and Adobe Analytics expert extraordinaire dropped this bomb during Q&A:

More mobile devices are activated each day than there are babies being born.

Huh? Say again? What the? I don’t think I heard anything else for the next 10 or 15 minutes as my brain tried to get some kind of handle on this data-point grenade. How many mobile devices is that, really?

“In the first decade of the 21st century, the number of people connected to the internet worldwide increased from 350 million to more than 2 billion. In the same period, the number of mobile-phone subscribers rose from 750 million to well over 5 billion (it is now [2013] over 6 billion).”1

UNICEF estimates that an average of 353,000 babies are born each day around the world. The CIA World Factbook puts the number at 367,576. Even if we round way up, and say 375,000, just the number of Android devices activated each day is 1,500,000.2

So, at least 4 times the number of babies being born - JUST for Android devices. Whoa.

Motorola DynaTac
Photo: Rene Walter

There are (roughly) 7.2 billion people on the planet. That number includes lots of little ones in diapers. OK, yes, some older ones in diapers too. Let’s just call them outliers or non cell phone users. In May of this year, the International Telecommunication Union estimated3 there were nearly 7 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide. “This is equivalent to 95.5 percent of the world population.”

“Ericsson have forecast that global mobile internet subscriptions will reach 4.5 billion by the end of 2018, with the mobile phone remaining the most frequently used access device”.4 So more than half the planet will have mobile internet subscriptions? The Web in their pocket. We’re gonna need more cat pictures.

Mary Meeker points out there’s still A LOT of upside potential in smartphone growth as a percentage of total mobile subscribers, as only about 30% of mobile is smartphones today, but as smartphones continue to get cheaper, that accelerating growth rate should continue to follow the steep growth trend of the recent past.

These numbers are freaking me out a bit. How much traffic is running over the tubes through all these pocket computers? Cisco5 says that in 2013, global mobile data traffic grew more than 81 percent, year over year, to 1.5 exabytes per month.

Exabytes? I work on the Web all day long and I can’t guess how many bits and bytes that is. Apparently, that’s the storage capacity of 250 million DVDs. Two hundred and fifty million DVDs worth of cat pictures, animated GIFs, Snapchats, Insta-flickr-book-face photos, Vines, and who knows what else going through CELL PHONES. Every month. Really?

If Kevin Kelly6 is right (again) and “the internet is still at the beginning of its beginning”, we still have some time to work out all of those mobile strategies we keep hearing we need to fix, and pivot, and execute. Numbers like these make me think “mobile first” should really think long and hard about the “mobile only” generation, which appears to be coming up in the rearview really freakin fast. Like a multi-exabyte tidal wave. Better clench up, Legolas.


  1. Schmidt, Eric, and Jared Cohen. [The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business](http://www.amazon.in/New-Digital-Age-Reshaping-Business/dp/1848546203/). S.l.: John Murray, 2013.

  2. “Eric Schmidt: Google now at 1.5 million Android activations per day”, Engadget, http://jffc.us/googdroids

  3. “Global mobile statistics 2014 Part A: Mobile subscribers; handset market share; mobile operators”, mobiThinking, http://mobithinking.com/mobile-marketing-tools/latest-mobile-stats/a#subscribers

  4. Mobile/Smartphones, ETC Digital Portal, http://etc-digital.org/digital-trends/mobile-devices/mobile-smartphones/

  5. “Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast, 2013–2018”, Cisco.com, http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/collateral/service-provider/visual-networking-index-vni/VNI-Forecast_QA.html/index.html

  6. “You Are Not Late”, Medium, https://medium.com/message/you-are-not-late-b3d76f963142


The Little Things

Fish Underwater
Photo: Petr Kratochvil

“Should I buy a dive knife for the lessons?”

“What do we do about the sharks?”

Without a doubt, these were the two questions I was asked the most when I was a scuba instructor. Learning how to scuba dive happens in three places, usually—the classroom, a swimming pool, and in the ocean or a lake. I worked in South Florida, so it was the ocean for me and my students. Most of them were boiling over with questions about sharks and boats and fish. And the knife, always about the knife.

There are lots of little details that can divert your attention along the way from clueless beginner, through “I know enough to be dangerous”, all the way to competent open water diver. But these are not the point. What kind of depth gauge did you get? Is your suit 3mm or 6mm, shorty or full? When I clear my ears, my face feels funny. All relevant at the time, but all very irrelevant to the whole point.

Paying attention to small moments may sound easy, but it takes respect, imagination, and curiosity. —Robert Maurer

People would travel from all over to the generally warm and calm water of South Florida for a relaxing vacation, so it always surprised me to learn how they imagined a scene from James Bond, or a SEAL Team mission. They soon learned that diving is more like a kid blowing bubbles in a bathtub than a soldier swimming with a knife in his teeth. It is fun and exciting to see all the colorful fish and coral, and to visit what seems like another world. But somewhere in their minds they’re thinking fun and adventure means use my knife and choke-hold underwater spies, which of course, it doesn’t.

Scuba diving Indonesia
Photo: Ilse Reijs

After putting some time in, you realize the trick to having a fun and successful dive is to chill out, see cool stuff, and stay safe and comfortable.

Of course, our expectations and preconceptions can paint a picture that’s very different from the reality of any experience. This is one reason why most people don’t like change—for most, they like things their way, the way they expect or imagine.

At all times, the true warrior has to expect nothing, but be ready for anything. —Kato Kiyomasa

When you can breathe under water, there’s no hurry. Of course, there’s no email, no iOS 8 Tweet-nado, and no electronic annoyances either. Nothing to distract from the effortless floating, the colorful coral, the fish, and the sound of your bubbles. The little things are everything. The little things are the whole point.

But the vacationers and new students would sometimes come all loaded down with their expectations - their idea of what should happen, and what they should see, and how it should feel. And the gap, between the reality and the expectation, was usually a disappointment to them. The beautiful scenery and warm water and sunshine just wasn’t quite “what they imagined”, and it often left them wanting.

Others would have an open mind about it all. They focused on the little lessons and the gear and the techniques, and of course, the bubbles. Since they had no set expectations, no agenda (and no thoughts of buying a dive knife), they were free to enjoy the moments as they showed up. They loved learning how to clear water from a mask just because they could blow more bubbles and have more fun.

We could all do with a bit less expectation, a little less premature judgment, and a whole lot more bubbles, sunshine, and fish.


Be Good and Get Better

Web analytics, or digital intelligence as the cool kids say, is a means to an end. Much is written and discussed about the various bits and stuff-we-deal-with as digital data analysts:

  • Technical systems and tool implementations
  • Reports, charts, graphs, dashboards, data visualizations
  • KPIs, metrics, predictive indicators, statistical significance, and more

None of these is really the point though, right? The point is to help our businesses achieve their goals, and most businesses only have three kinds of goals:

  1. Increase sales
  2. Decrease costs
  3. Turn customers into raving fans

If our ditigal intelligence objectives and tactics don’t boil down to supporting one of these three goals, then we need to review and refocus. And we need to stop shaving yaks.

Marketers and Analysts, Venus and Mars

Most salespeople, marketers, merchandisers, copywriters, content owners, managers, and executives have goals that are different than ours. Shocker, right? Our customers have a different focus than we do. Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson, in her book Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals says, “Psychologists who study achievement have been particularly interested in the differences that arise when people focus on performing well to demonstrate ability (being good) versus focusing on progress, growth, and gaining mastery (getting better).”

“Psychologists refer to the desire to be good—to show that you are smart or talented or capable, or to outperform other people—as having a performance goal. When you pursue performance goals, your energy is directed at achieving a particular outcome…” Most of our customers - the people who need our reports, analysis, insights, and recommendations - have goals that are different than ours because they are focused on being good, on their performance goals.

Web analytics / digital intelligence practitioners are generally focused on getting better - on mastery goals. “Psychologists refer to the desire to get better—to develop or enhance your skills and abilities—as a mastery goal. When people pursue mastery goals, they don’t judge themselves as much by whether they achieve a particular outcome—like getting an A or surpassing a sales goal. Instead, they judge themselves in terms of the progress they are making. Am I improving? Am I learning? Am I moving forward at a good pace? It’s less about any one performance and more about performance over time.”

When a marketer spends six figures in three weeks on paid search campaigns, if you’re the person spending the money, you’re not focused on getting better, you’re focused on being good—you want to make a profit from your investment in paid search—now, not later. You are generally not thinking about the longer-term picture because your job depends on executing effective campaigns now, and not so much on learning how to make your campaigns better over time. Yes, continuous improvement is part of everything on the Web, but the main concern is performing well when they get up to the plate and start swinging.

When we analyze the data from those same campaigns, report on their effectiveness, and provide insights and recommendations to the paid search team, if we remember this difference it can help us tailor our work to our audience, and make it more relevant and specific to their immediate goals. And that makes us more valuable to them - our customers and hopefully, our fans.