Predict Conference – Great Analytics Starts with Great Foundations

Predict is an analytics conference that took place in Dublin’s RDS in October 2016. Its mission was to:

mobilise an international community to solve important human challenges through the power of data and predictive analytics.

The theme of this year’s event was the Journey from Data to Predictive Analytics.

It was my first time to attend and present at the conference and I wasn’t disappointed! I gave a talk on what it means to deliver great analytics and shared the 4 key areas that my team and I in Intercom have been focusing on to build a strong analytics team. Specifically:

  1. Foster an open feedback culture
  2. Develop close partnerships
  3. Use a common language
  4. Educate

RecSys 2016 – Highlights

This year’s RecSys was jam packed and fantastic. The dual track 3-day conference took place in beautiful MIT in Boston and showcased lots of great talks around advances in recommendation system algorithms and approaches.  Below are some of my highlights from the conference.  Full proceedings are available here

#1 Awesome Industry Track

I co-chaired the industry track along with Paul Lamere, Director of Developer Platform at Echonest / Spotify and Hrishi Aradhye, Engineering Director at Google. This involved selecting and curating a set of industry track talks / speakers from a diverse range of companies who actively work in the recommender systems space.  The industry track resulted in a set of 15 talks across 3 sessions featuring speakers from Mendeley, Meetup, Bloomberg, Foursquare, Spotify, Netflix, Pandora, Stitch Fix, Expedia, Nara Logics, GraphSQL, Retail Rocket, Quora, Google and Pinterest. Here’s just some of the awesome industry track talks that were presented.

#2 Record Attendance at Women’s Lunch!

I co-organized a women’s lunch with Tao Ye, Principal Scientist at Pandora. We had a record number of women attend (almost 50). The lunch resulted in a range of action items for next year’s conference including (hopefully) the organization of day care and a listing of female speakers so that future organizers can choose from a set of talented female researchers and practitioners who want to speak at conferences.

RecSys2016_WomensLunch

#3 Combining Machine Learning with Human Curation

A prominent theme at this year’s RecSys is the combination of machine learning techniques with large-scale human curation to improve recommendations. Stitch Fix, a clothing delivery service where customers get their own personalized selected of five clothing items called a “Fix”, gave a great talk on this topic. Stitch fix employ over 3000 stylists across the globe! They have a large algorithms team who build recommendation algorithms to help the stylists choose what to send to customers. Customers keep only what they like and send back the rest so it’s important that the recommendations are good! Katherine Levins, a data scientist from Stitch Fix talked about how they approach understanding, measuring and optimizing the role of human selection in a recommendation system. It turns out that they employ a combination of cognitive research, eyetracking, and machine learning models to tune the behavior of stylists. As data related initiatives like merlin take shape in Intercom, it feels like this combination of algorithm and human curation is something we could learn from and try going forward. Katherine’s talk is available here. Earlier this year Katherine published a great related blog post.

#4 Deep Learning

There were lots of talks around deep learning at this year’s RecSys, with several papers accepted accepted to the main conference track and an entire workshop dedicated to deep learning for recommender systems. Paul Convington presented a really interesting talk on deep neural networks for YouTube recommendations. The problem he’s working on is how to predict what movie a user will want to watch next. He discussed how they’ve implemented an age feature designed to remove the bias towards recommending movies / videos from the past. What was most intriguing is that despite the promise of deep learning to advance the field of recommendation, he said that they still have to do lots of feature engineering in YouTube. And overall they have found that user’s interactions with similar items are the best features for improving recommendation.

#5 The Explainability Spectrum & Signal Decay

Shashi Thakur, a Distinguished Engineer and head of the Google Now team gave an interesting keynote on personalization, recommendation and exploration in Google Now. Shashi talked about the importance of setting the right expectations for users and explaining why recommendations are being made at a given point in time. He talked about the explainability spectrum where on one end a recommendation is so clear that it doesn’t require any explanation, and on the other end the recommendation is higher risk / less clear and so needs a clear, concrete explanation. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the recommendation and the person for whom the recommendation is being made, the spectrum of explainability will shift in one direction or the other. I thought this was interesting to consider in the context of merlin and how we surface merlin’s recommendations.

Another interesting point raised across a few talks (including Google and Netflix) related to signal decay. The general advice is to revisit recommendation features often because signals that were once useful may not longer be as useful / as impactful as when the recommender system was first built.

MobileHCI 2016 – My Highlights

MobileHCI is a conference near and dear to my heart and one  I’ve been involved in for almost 10 years. I’ve been publishing and attending the conference yearly since 2007. I’ve also helped organize different tracks over the years — I gave an invited tutorial in 2012 in San Francisco and co-organized the interactive tutorials track in 2014 in Toronto. This year’s conference took place in beautiful Florence, Italy. And I was one of the conference program chairs alongside Prof Antonio Kruger from the German Research Center for AI (DFKI); Prof Jonna Hakkila from the Industrial Design at Faculty of Art and Design, University of Lapland; and Dr Marcos Serrano, from University of Toulouse.

Cheesy smiley photo overlooking the Ponte Vecchio taken by the lovely @aquigley

Cheesy smiley photo overlooking the Ponte Vecchio taken by the lovely @aquigley

I also took part in an invited panel on the Future of Mobile Interaction, Computing and Life. My fellow panelists included Daniel Ashbrook, Associate Professor in Rochester Institute of Technology; Anind Dey, Director of the HCI Institute in Carnegie Mellon University (CMU); Kori Inkpen, Principal Research at Microsoft; Lucia Terrenghi, UX Researcher and Designer at Google; and Kaisa Väänänen, Professor in the Human-Centered Technology Group at Tampere University of Technology. It was an amazing conference and while there is just too much to mention, what follow’s are just a few highlights from this year’s conference.

#1 All about Emoji!

There were 3 emoji related research papers which shed light on how and why people use emoji in their communications. Super interesting and fun! We’re looking into exploring similar patterns of emoji usage in business communication at Intercom so watch this space!

#2 The Future of Communication

Adrian's keynote on Everysense Everywhere Human Communication

Adrian’s keynote on Everysense Everywhere Human Communication

Adrian David Cheok gave a super opening keynote entitled Everysense Everywhere Human Communication. He talked about new types of communication environments which use all the senses, including touch, taste, and smell, to increase support for multi-person multi-modal interaction and remote presence.  Some of his quirky demo’s included:

  • A device that attaches to your mobile phone and enables you to feel (and give) a kiss remotely
  • A device that attaches to your mobile phone and emits a smell/scent instead of audio sounds to act as an alternative alarm clock. He demoed an actual use case — Oscar mayer, the bacon company in the US, have an alarm called called “wake up and smell the bacon”!! 
  • A device that enables taste signals to be transmitted virtually. This prototype “digital taste machine” was featured on BBC One’s Tomorrow’s Food and enables people to taste certain things like sweetness, sourness, etc.

While much of what Adrian presented is pretty out there, it opens up a bunch of questions about the future of personal and digital communication 🙂

#3 Handling Notifications

Demos, demos, demos!! Photo courtesy of @aquigley

Demos, demos, demos!! Photo courtesy of @aquigley

Notification management was a key theme in many talks. That is, understanding if/how the growing number of mobile notifications impact on people, how people attend to notifications, the cost of interrupting the user and methods for helping them manage inbound notifications they receive on their mobile phones and smartwatches. Research included:

In fact there was an entire workshop dedicated to the topic of notifications and attention management.


Lightening Talks from Intercom’s 1st Analytics Meetup

In April 2016 we held our first analytics meetup in Intercom, San Francisco and had a fantastic lineup of speakers from Twitch, Wish, Keen IO, Google and Bayes Impact, along with panelists from Social Capital, Mode, Zenefits, ClearSlide and Luminant Data!

We recorded all lightening talks from the evening and recently published those recording online. If you’re interested in anything related to analytics I bet there’s something in this list for you! Happy watching!

Our 1st Analytics Meetup in Intercom!

Excited to announce that we’re organizing our first analytics meetup in Intercom, SF on Wednesday 13th April 2016. We have a fantastic line up of leading experts in analytics, data science and quantitative research to speak about ways in which they, alongside their teams, have built, grown, and pivoted a data culture in their companies to drive product impact. These include:

I’ll be MC’ing a panel on Building a world-class analytics team and setting them up for success. The list of panelists include:

If you’re in San Francisco next week that please join us. Tickets are $5 dollar donation and all proceeds go to Bayes Impact, a non-profit that does data science for good 🙂

Excited to be joining Intercom as Product Analytics Manager

After 2.5 years in Yahoo Labs, I’ve decided to leave the world of industrial research labs and  join an exciting, mature Irish startup called Intercom as Senior Product Analytics Manager. While I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience and journey in Yahoo and have learned a great deal from my colleagues there, it’s time for a new challenge and the next chapter.

At Intercom my task is to help build up and lead a product analytics team who will work closely with product, design and research teams to generate insights and metrics that will inform the design, development and measurement of Intercom products. The role starts here in San Francisco but is based in Dublin so in a few months time my family and I will be moving back home to Ireland after almost 8 long years away!

Overall I’m super excited about this next venture. In particular the opportunity to work at such an exciting company who cares deeply about user experience, the challenge of leading a product analytics team and shaping a culture around data, the potential to have such a positive impact on Intercom’s products and of course the opportunity to return home to Ireland.

Intercom’s mission is to Make Internet Business Personal. And they are achieving this through an integrated platform of products that enable businesses to acquire, engage, learn from and support their customers.

We’re hiring!!! So if you’re interested in data science, quantitative research and analytics with a passion and interest in product, then please get in touch! Here’s to a very exciting 2016 🙂