On shattered iPhones, AT&T, and insurance

Scene I

I pull up outside the daycare. I want to check the time. I reach for my phone from my back pocket. Something feels odd. I pull it out, bring it round so that I can see it, and see immediately that the glass on the screen is shattered. Not only that, but it’s splintering, the tiniest shards are coming off it.

Scene II

If you run your finger over it, you can feel the edges of the splintered glass. And pieces are still falling off. My phone is going to live in a ziploc bag for now.

Scene III

I make an appointment for the following evening at the nearby Apple Store. I recall Maggie telling me that we have Apple Care, so hopefully it won’t be too expensive to get this fixed. I’m still not really sure why this happened in the first place.

Scene IV

In fact, we don’t have Apple Care. Maggie purchased the AT&T insurance instead. The sales assistant in the AT&T had assured her that it was a better option than Apple Care because it also covered lost phones. “It’s easy, you just file the claim and they’ll replace your phone.”

Scene V

Of course, it’s not actually AT&T’s insurance. It’s offered by Asurion, which provides device insurance to lots of carriers. It’s a privately owned company that has thousands of employees and made nearly $4bn in revenue in 2010. I can only assume that figure has grown a lot with the huge increase in (expensive) smartphone ownership. I complete their online form, only to then have to enter the information all over again in a pdf, which I then upload back to their site. I have to upto 24 hours.

Scene VI

My claim is approved! Just follow these steps to complete your claim. Step 1: absurd login procedure. Step 2: confirm your address. Step 3: pay the deductible of $199. ONE HUNDRED AND NINETY-NINE DOLLARS. I can’t really fathom how that can be reasonable. Apple, which presumably has premium pricing for screen replacement, charges $109 to do it out of warranty ($79 “service fee” if under Apple Care). So the “insurance” option is the most expensive (even before you consider the additional $7 a month that I already pay.

Scene VII

The San Francisco Apple Store at 6pm. It’s chaos and there’s no way I’m going to get the help I need. I try anyway. A patient (but irritatingly so) man wielding the guest list for the Genius Bar assures me that the phone was “stress tested” and it’s made from Corning Glass, so really, they’d done everything they could. It’s just not right that it broke so easily, I insist. He prods at his iPad again and offers an appointment for Saturday.

Scene VIII

The AT&T store at 6:15pm. The sales associate that smiles and greets me must have given the bat signal early because within seconds the manager appears and I’m being ushered to a corner of the store where other customers can’t hear. He’s empathetic (overly so, it turns out — he concedes that he’s seeing a ton of iPhone 6 cracked screens, including his own!). He too has an iPad to prod at, but I can tell his UI isn’t nearly so pretty as the one in the Apple Store. He prods a lot. And scrolls. Maybe I’m valuable enough to AT&T that they’ll give me a new phone just to keep me happy. Fat chance. He confirms that the insurance deductible is $199 because you’ve only just started the account. “It’s your right, as a consumer, to choose between AT&T’s insurance and paying Apple to fix it.” Ah, yes. The rights of the consumer. Be fucked by us, or be fucked by someone else. Consumer choice! I was pretty livid. Another bat signal, because now the security guard is hovering nearby. I leave. How much do those guys with the banner I keep seeing outside different Market St restaurants cost for a day, I wonder? AT&T insurance is a scam! The iPhone 6 screen is overly susceptible to getting smashed BY MY SKINNY ASS!

SCENE IX

I re-booked with the Apple Store, but my local store in Corte Madera. It was pretty busy. I figured that might be the case, so I took my computer along and did some work at the Genius table until they were ready for me. The guy that came to help was friendly, and sympathetic. As soon as I said that I was surprised that it had broken so easily (and splintered), he listened, and asked questions. How did it happen? Which pocket? He agreed that it sounded wrong. No lectures about Corning Glass or stress tests. “Is it bent?” It had never occurred to me to check. I thought only the iPhone 6s were bendy. It was bent. More iPad prodding. This was going one of two ways… more expensive or… “we’ll replace the phone for you,” he points at the screen where it says $0.00, “no charge.”

FINALE

Apple made good in the end. I guess I didn’t expect any better from AT&T but given that they have made (and will continue to make) more money from me than Apple (this account is relatively new, but I’ve been a customer of theirs since I first arrived in the US nine years ago), it seems like they could have made a lot more effort. I don’t really have words for the insurance scam. That they would charge a deductible that is higher than the cost to fix the problem seems outrageous. I’m amazed that they’re allowed to lower the deductible price over time. Insurance is about hedging risk, and it seems to me that Asurion has figured out how to assume almost no risk, while making customers think they’re helping them. I guess that’s how to have a multi-billion dollar business. I’m sure AT&T gets a healthy cut.

But now I’m wondering what to do with this phone. I like keeping my phone in my pocket. Should I stop? I might swap it for a 5S. This thing could just be too big anyway.

Ebay Valet

There’s a big box of stuff that I’ve been wanting to sell forever. The number of items in the box has steadily grown, while the value per item has steadily declined. Some of those gadgets used to be in demand (looking at you, Nike FuelBand).

As the amount of stuff increased, so the idea of posting all those different things on Craigslist or Ebay became increasingly overwhelming. So I was pretty happy to discover Ebay Valet.

It’s pretty simple. I used the app to take a picture of each item, recorded a voice message about what it is, its condition, and any other useful information. Once I’d done this for the dozen or so items I wanted to sell, I printed a shipping label (no charge) and put everything in a box.

A month or so later, 9 of the 12 items have sold. Together with the unsold items, there’s a check for nearly $300 on its way to me (Ebay Valet kept 30%). I’m thinking of that as almost pure profit — those things were destined to end up in an electronics recycling bin sometime in 2016.

Tools for Growth at WordPress.com

I tell anybody that will listen that much of the work I do on growth and analytics for WordPress.com wasn’t really possible until the last couple of years; and that’s almost entirely due to a couple of applications that we use. Of course, some of these have been around for much longer than that. But as a group, these applications (sometimes interoperable) help us to understand our users and their engagement, and the impact that our new features and experiments have.

KISSmetrics

Kissmetrics is a user-level measurement and analytics tool that tells you what things users do on your site, and lets you report on those activities. Internally we’ve been referred to as the ‘Kissmetrics team’, and with good reason: it’s the hub of our data for experimentation. We record dozens of individual key user events, adding up to hundreds of millions every month. It’s also the place that we record properties about users: everything from the device they’re using to the amount of money that they’ve spent on upgrades; it’s how we record details about cohorts that we assign them to.

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I think that Kissmetrics solves two big problems that it would be hard for a company of our size to solve ourselves: first, large-scale data storage and retrieval. Second, a great reporting interface that allows us to query and analyze our user data.

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Something of a distant third, but still incredibly useful, is the integration with a handful of other testing tools. Which brings me nicely to…

Optimizely

Optimizely is a front-end a/b testing tool that we use for homepage and signup flow tests. It’s great for experiments with logged-out WordPress.com visitors and really easy to use. If you’re scared of code, the easiest way to use Optimizely is to use its drag and drop editing interface. You drop a line of javascript into your page, and Optimizely pretty much figures out all the rest.

Because we’re not scared of code(!) and prefer to keep the code variations in our own files, we just use Optimizely to set cookies for users and then determine which variation (controlled with javascript) to show a given user. Then Optimizely lets Kissmetrics know which variation of an experiment was shown to a given user.

We rarely use Optimizely’s own results for a test. I tend to much more interested in how a change to the homepage affects a user’s likelihood to do something much further down the line: it could be signing up; publishing their first post; maybe even whether or not they’re still engaged a month later. Optimizely can track events besides clicks on that page, but it’s much easier to have the data all in one place, so we use Kissmetrics to determine the winner instead. Because of this, we created one Kissmetrics report that tracked some of our key metrics for early users and we were able to use this same report to measure the impact of successive tests on the homepage.

Qualaroo (formerly KISSinsights)

If you’ve never seen a little popup survey appear on a website, you’ve not traveled the world wide web very much. Many of them are the work of the team at Qualaroo, which makes it incredibly easy to create these little one-off polls that can help to elicit qualitative data from users at specific points in an application.

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One of our current uses is for asking users immediately after they sign up for a little detail about what they plan to write about. Just like Optimizely, you can have those responses sent to Kissmetrics. We’ve found pretty interesting insights by cohorting users based on their responses to the survey, and then comparing publishing and other engagement metrics across the cohorts.

Recently, this helped us to understand the increase in signups that we see every new year: we’ve always had to guess what kind of users make up that early January bump; this year we had much richer data on the users, and were able to compare publishing and spending rates across the different cohorts.

Mission Control

MC (for short) is where we keep our internal data. It’s the one true source that we rely on for our internal metrics. I like that the app we use for our experiments (Kissmetrics) is different from where the canonical record is kept. It lets us be fast and scrappy, and not worry too much if we record the wrong piece of data every now and again, or decide (as happened around six months ago) to empty all of our data from the account and start over. Evan provided a more in-depth look at how some of the MC data is visualized, if you’re curious.

Google Analytics

The original… but no longer the best. Google Analytics serves a handful of intermittently useful functions for us:

  • Provides great data on audience demographics and technology (both for our publishers and our consumers).
  • Allows us to track trends in visitor referral data.
  • Provides a sanity check for internal and other app measurements.

These days it’s used mostly as a reference tool: the per-user based tracking that Kissmetrics provides us makes Google Analytics’s Goal Tracking functionality seem pretty old!

Excel

The original… and amazingly, still the best. Kissmetrics reports cover lots of important bases, and are particularly good for at-a-glance trends and understanding funnels. But my most frequent workflow involves exporting their People or Power Report data into csv and then manipulating it in Excel. It’s by far the most comprehensive tool for things like Pivot Tables and quick charts. Hey, if it’s good enough for Nate Silver…

Other websites

isvalid.org is a project built by my former colleague, Evan Solomon. It’s a great tool for measuring significance in test results, especially when combined with the bookmarklet which lets you grab your experiment data from the page you’re on and sends it to isvalid.org.

Tableizer lets you paste data from Excel and then turns it into an html table. Automattic is a completely distributed company, so we communicate with writing a lot (on blogs, of course). But however you work, you probably write up your results, so you may find this handy too.

Clicktale might be my favorite thing for gathering qualitative user data. It allows you to record user sessions and watch them back in real time. The user never knows, so they’re acting under entirely normal conditions.

UserTesting.com I prefer in-person user testing, but if that’s not an option, directed online testing with an app like UserTesting.com is really efficient.

We’ve been playing with some SEO tools as well, I’ll maybe write up a separate post on those another time.

Other products are available

Of course, there are alternatives to all of these, and I’m sure there will be new products in the coming months that may well end up displacing some of the ones that I’ve written about here. It’s also likely that over time (and as the company appreciates more the value of the data in product development) that we’ll build more of this capability ourselves.

Skype update fail

Every time I restarted Skype it promised a new release of 6.0 that it would download but then fail to update:

Skype was unable to install the update because the old application can’t be overwritten.

Pretty unhelpful error message.

It was an ownership problem: I finally found the solution today in this thread in the Skype forum:

1. Open terminal

2. sudo bash

3. ls -l /Applications

    check which non root owns most apps (third column)

4. ls -ld /Applications/Skype.app/

    check which user owns the Skype app

5. If Skype.app is not owned by the usual user then

    chown -R whateveruser /Applications/Skype.app/

The WordPress user pyramid

There are very many WordPress sites on the internet. At the last independent count, 17.4% of the web’s top one million sites (according to Alexa) are running WordPress. But that only  accounts only for 174,000 site, and we know of least a couple of hundred times this number. We estimate the current total to be nearly 60 million.

At the recent Pressnomics Conference I gave a presentation in which I talked about the (vast) numbers of WordPress websites, and how I try to think about these when it comes to the business opportunity around WordPress. It’s basically a rough user segmentation:

I don’t have any great numbers about how many sites fall into each group. But some kind of order of magnitude scale starting at 10,000 ‘Big Enterprise’ sites might not be that far off. What I do see is the patterns that work alongside the pyramid. These users have varying needs that frequently scale up or down depending on whether they’re at the top or bottom of the pyramid:

Top Bottom
Price Sensitivity Low High
Security needs High Low
Sales Process Extensive Quick (to non-existent)
Support required Lots Still need some
Payment terms Months Minutes

It’s pretty crazy that WordPress is able to serve all these different segments so well. It can also be a big distraction (especially for businesses): I do not believe that it’s possible for another product to serve all these markets and be a viable business at the same time.

Focusing on just one segment is helpful: you can learn about its needs and build your business around it. For example, if you hate the sales process, you probably shouldn’t be in an Enterprise business; if you’re into providing rock-tight security, you should be focusing on high end customers that are willing to pay for it.