OnBlog: The Onboard Informatics Blog

Conversations on the Art and Science of Information

Posts Tagged ‘Onboard Informatics

Why More Data Makes People Happier

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When potential buyers consider what they want in a community, what comes to mind? Are they young hipsters looking for an apartment closest to the most live music venues? Or are they looking for a chiropractor in the vicinity? The priorities consumers have when buying are as varied as the consumers themselves, and it takes a warehouse full of information to satisfy them all.

Local Amenities, one of the most important products and services Onboard Informatics provides for its customers, is the transformation of raw data into meaningful information about the services available in a particular community. Each month sees new additions to the data records we maintain, meaning that the overall picture of a community that can be created is even more inclusive.

Last year at this time, Onboard was supplying 2,221,609 Amenities records to its clients. Currently that number stands at 4,084,253 records, almost double that.  New categories have been added that give a more comprehensive overview of community offerings. If you can think of something you’d want to have in the place you live, chances are that the data is there to tell you whether or not it’s available.

In 2007, if you were a health nut looking for eating and drinking establishments that specifically sold health foods, you were out of luck. But organic food fans, never fear — new Amenities records can help you find the nearest Whole Foods. Working parents who need childcare services? The most recent Amenities data lets you search for nearby Gymborees.

As for education, new data about student housing and vocational schooling has been added to existing records on Catholic, public, and private schools (as well as higher education). In addition to the information Onboard offers about education under Amenities, clients also have access to School Profiles and Reviews. The increase in data records can be seen here, too, since we’ve added about 5,600 reviews over the most recent month.

The more data you have, the more informed you are. As data records in areas like Local Amenities and School Reviews continue to increase, the results can only be more knowledgeable and more satisfied clients. Plus, now they’ll be able to search for the nearest spas in a community — does it get any better?

Written by Tara Powers

August 5, 2008 at 6:19 pm

The Process Behind the Alienation: A glance into the art and science used for a “Best of” story…

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As Onboard Informatics continues to be “the” data provider for publishers, we are proud to be the unsung heroes of the success of this year’s latest and greatest place to reside story.

But how do we go about selecting places to be highlighted by our publisher clients? Well when we aren’t throwing darts at a big map of the United States, while counting our bribe money for letting Gary, Indiana on the list we actually use very exact methodologies that produce the best results possible…

I want to give you a very high level over view of how the process goes; I don’t want to be too specific as to not reveal our secret sauce (As much as I wish, it is not Thousand Islands dressing… L)

So our hypothetical magazine will be Murph Digest, and they want to do a story that will highlight the Best Big City to Live.

In the very beginning of the process is where we unfortunately start to alienate some really great places to live. Sorry Gary, Indiana next year will be your year… But in all seriousness, good screening criteria are vital! It will ensure that the places selected truly represent the focus of the story.. Because our hypothetical story will center on large cities, we will establish a population threshold that Murph Digest considers large enough to consider that place a “big” city. So every city that is left will at least meet the bare minimum in the population field.

Now that we are only left with places that qualify as “big” cities, we can proceed to the next step. While working with the client, we identify what data points they are interested in for their story. We want to know who their readers are and what are their readers are interested in, i.e what market are they targeting. Onboard Informatics experience and expertise is invaluable during this part of the process. Besides the obvious data, we have data on some of the most outlandish things and methodologies for aggregating it that never cease to amaze our clients. So for Murph Digest, low crime rates and the number of divorced women are the only two fields that they are interested in.

After gathering the crime rate data and the number of divorced women for all the places that qualify as a “big” city, we can rank the places. Getting input from the client, we select the best weighting technique (lots of secret sauce here), and we can send over a simple spreadsheet to the client with the data filtered ahead of time. Once the spreadsheet is in the client’s hands, they can play with the weights and base their decisions on their own preferences; and apparently low crime is only worth 10% and the number of divorced women is worth 90% to Murph Digest. I guess their readers are cougar hunters!!!

Written by John Paul Murphy

August 1, 2008 at 3:52 pm

Bulldog Pride! …Or Why I Will Never Look at School Mascots the Same Way Again

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bow wow wow

I’ll bet you thought your school mascot was pretty awesome. No other school’s paltry representative could hold a candle to your Mustangs or Lions or Wildcats.

Well, guess what? There are hundreds and thousands and millions (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating) of other Mustangs, Lions, and Wildcats out there. How do I know this? Because I’ve tracked down all of their Web sites.

Well, maybe not all of them (although at times it felt like that). For the past several weeks, part of my work here at Onboard Informatics has included updating our (rather extensive) list of invalid school Web site URLs.

For instance, a link to Willow Grove Elementary School may not lead where it’s supposed to because:

a) there might be a misspelled or incorrect address in our database,

b) the link was correct at one time, but now isn’t because the school district has updated or moved its Web sites, or

c) it actually does lead where it’s supposed to, but takes longer to load and so is coming up invalid.

What to do? Well, since Onboard has the school name, address, and district information available as well, we go out to the Internet to search for that school’s current, working Web site. Oftentimes, searching by district is the easiest way to go about tracking down these schools. Since the data is grouped by district in our file, a group of schools that all come from the same district can be taken care of by finding just one district home page.

But of course, nothing is as easy as it sounds.

For one thing, did you ever stop to think about exactly how many Springfield School Districts there are? (Answer: A lot more than you’d think. One in Massachusetts, Oregon, New Jersey, Missouri, and Illinois, and that’s just the first page of Google results.)

What about those pesky Colorado school districts that follow every normal name with an alpha-numeric code? And don’t even get me started on Missouri and its Roman numerals (Harrisburg R-VIII? Really?).

Then there are the schools that, try as you might, you just can’t find. Maybe they’ve closed, or the district’s Web site really isn’t functioning, or they’re in a rural area whose schools may not have set up Web sites yet. In cases like those, we delete the invalid URL that had previously been misdirecting users, but we leave the field blank — from a data perspective, it’s better not to have a Web site listed for a particular school than to supply an incorrect one.

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When the sons of Eli break through the line

All of these school URLs are helpful to have on hand when providing information about the offerings of districts in a particular neighborhood. At Onboard, we have valid, school-specific URLs populated for almost 40,000 of our schools — roughly 33 percent of our total listings. We also have a school or district URL populated for close to 80 percent, or 100,000 schools.

Out of about 36,000 distinct total school URLs that were validated, 3,500 changed their URLs over the last year. Of the remainder, we were able to provide valid URLs for about 15,000 schools for which we previously had no information.

After going through all 36,000+ of those school URLs, we ran the modified data through a check to pull out any links that were still broken — only about 1,000 (a much more manageable number, relatively speaking). And when that 1,000 is compared to the approximately 6,000 invalid URLs we finished with last quarter, that averages out to around 3,500 broken links Onboard deals with over a quarter.

Making sure that the data out there is as clean and accurate as possible is a vital part of what we do at Onboard, and keeping data that is constantly being modified, the way school data is, up-to-date is an ongoing task.

So maybe your school’s mascot isn’t the one-of-a-kind Golden Eagle (or other unstoppable creature) you thought it was, but you can still take pride in the fact that your school has a fully functioning website. Just do all of us data collectors a favor — don’t set all 25 links on your home page to blink simultaneously. Trust me, that’s never a good design…

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Quick and Random (and not statistically accurate) Fun Facts:

Most popular mascots — Bulldogs, Eagles, Tigers, Lions
Most unique mascots — Winged Beavers, Atom Smashers, Awesome Blossoms, Fighting Quakers, Cheese Makers
Most “interesting” school names — Slaughter Elementary School, Stalker Elementary School

Written by Tara Powers

July 30, 2008 at 10:41 pm

How a “Best Places to . . .” article is formulated: A data comparison

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I would like to make something perfectly clear . . . I grew up on the uninhibited, care-free love of fun and adventure projected in the cinematic classic The Goonies! But we’ll come back to that . . .

Let’s say that you are interested in publishing a “Great Places to . . . whatever” article, but you’re coming up short on neo-engineers responsible for data standardization—the people who would know about articles and data. Well, Onboard Informatics has plenty of them, and we’ll be more than happy to have a passionate conversation about data with you. If I should be lucky enough to talk to you, I will explain that choosing data is very similar to choosing a spouse. You want attractive data but not stupid data; which means that the data should be impressive to look at, but not only momentarily significant—it should be annually critical. We want to avoid “one night stand” type of data (there is no integrity protection for that little indiscretion). Your data should have standards, respect, and be able to speak for itself. If you don’t hang up the phone after my spouse/data analogy, we would then discuss the weight of your data and how it helps to shape your article’s conclusion. (I’m sure someone is making a “data/spouse + weight=funny” joke . . . shame on you, not classy!!). Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Michael Demetriou

July 21, 2008 at 11:25 pm

The End of the Beginning

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One of the challenges I took on when I first arrived at Onboard Informatics was to take a long hard look at the overall corporate brand.  I knew from day one that Onboard was one of the strongest companies in its niche, but it really was not well known outside of its immediate circle of clients.  I also felt that it wasn’t clear what our company did for a living, nor did our brand presentation accurately reflect the level of professionalism and expertise that was in place here.

Furthermore, every time I told my friends where I worked, they would ask me for discounts on cruises.  Turns out, there’s a company out there that publishes a magazine for the cruise ship industry with a website at www.onboard.com.

So we undertook a detailed investigation into our brand, into the perceptions of clients, internal staff, and of industry participants.  That work initiated a lengthy soul-search about who we were, who we are, and who we want to be.  In other words, your typical brand identity strategy discussion.

It has proven fruitful indeed.

New logo, new name, new stationery, new business cards, new collateral, a new website, and of course, a new blog.  OnBoard LLC has transformed, has grown if you will, into Onboard Informatics.

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Written by -Rob

July 21, 2008 at 4:15 pm