Whit Andrews

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Whit Andrews
VP Distinguished Analyst
14 years at Gartner
18 years IT industry

Whit Andrews is a vice president and distinguished analyst in Gartner Research. Andrews covers enterprise search and enterprise video content management.Read Full Bio

The Times Takes Up Our Kind of Interactive Video

by Whit Andrews  |  January 12, 2014  |  Comments Off

My colleague Adam Preset and I recently mused in research about how, as video gets shorter, organizations must prepare to assemble it in new models — and we chose broccoli and brussels sprouts as our metaphors. Broccoli has branches that branch again and then end; you travel down a broccoli branch and eventually you’ve made choices you can’t back out of easily. Putting lots of little videos together that way is like a configurator — a viewer who makes choices eventually might find the perfect video, but imperfection makes the viewer feel frustrated and trapped in the shrinking fractal prison he grew for himself.

This image brought to you by Steven Lilley, who made it available under the Creative Commons license at flickr.

On the other hand, there’s Brussels sprouts. That’s a somewhat different perspective, where the stalk stretches in one direction, and the sprouts offer brief single diversions off that inexorable progress. We think that model makes more sense for most assemblies of short videos, because as you travel down a definite linear path, the detours you might choose to take don’t ramp you somewhere you can’t get back from. Things feel less final.

Brussels Sprouts Stalk

This image brought to you by Arnold Gatilao, who made it available under the Creative Commons license at flickr.

I was truly delighted to see last week that The New York Times picked a slight variation on the Brussels sprouts model for a very interesting new news delivery model. The “story” (or video, or whatever) is about high-rise buildings in the city and elsewhere. The story has a linear path, but the viewer can branch out and then return at various designated locations to get more complete or detailed information about particular areas they may be interested in. Perhaps not a Brussels sprout stalk as much as it is cucumber vine, since some branches have more than one segment, but you get the picture. Maybe. (Grape arbor? Work with me.)

The video is delightful. It’s easy and a little quirky, nice matched to its topic (a diagram of it feels a bit like a skyline, not coincidentally) and you can treat it as a sit-back or a lean-forward experience. Oddly, the narration rhymes, although with a rhythm-less spirit that removes it from the realm of the singsong. It’s an excellent model for what informative, and possibly inspirational, video should look and feel like. I imagine it took a significant amount of resources in its conception and possibly also its execution, because it uses some interesting visual tricks like subtle animations of historical imagery. Most organizations could never spend the money that I’m sure it cost more than once a year on executive messaging, but less spiffy efforts are certainly achievable for training and customer service.

How videos will develop is being shaped by consumer behavior daily, and we don’t know how people will react to such art or how that will affect their expectations in their organizations. But consumerization means that such reactions will tell us where to go next.

If you’re a Gartner client, you can find more detail in Enterprise Video Must Be Short, Specific and Searchable to Suit Viewers’ Tastes.

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Twitter’s Still Here…And I Am Too #throwbackthursday

by Whit Andrews  |  January 9, 2014  |  1 Comment

Thanks to NextDraft, a marvelous collection of commented-upon links of the now-venerable “‘zine” format type, I learn in a short bit (Me, Myselfie and I)  that people who have narcissistic tendencies tweet more and Facebook more.

As a person who is just starting to blog and tweet again (and who never — literally never — closes the Facebook tab in his browser) this brings me some pause. The study is extensively quoted in the Pacific Standard (with an ad offering me “free Twitter followers,” clearly unnecessary as I have 62 tracking my new work-only account WhitAndrews_) but I am not buying the full version of the document, at $20. I can’t therefore see if the study authors did regression testing on their sample, but if they didn’t, it appears to be sufficiently skewed and self-selected to make it less than credible. (If they did, mea culpa.)

For this throwback Thursday, I decided to see what I had said about Twitter when I was blogging, before. At least once, I captured much of my sense of the service, in “No Twit,” when I said I just didn’t understand it. What I wrote then about not understanding a CEO that chattered about his personal ife still goes, and I still do get it when people use it professionally to provide solid advice and a sort of ongoing stream of professional consciousness. I am interested that my friend Dan Tunkelang still mostly tweets professionally, although the occasional personal detail does drop in.

But the mass of use is so much greater now that the value is significantly higher for me, too. I have a personal account (@whita) that I rarely post to and where I focus on my outdoor activities and pictures, and the work account I noted above. I follow smart thinkers about startups and early stage businesses, which is an area I’m trying to learn, so Twitter is ideal.

Back then, I also noted that Modista was a lovely way to understand the opportunities and challenges of post-literate, post-textual searching. It vanished in some lawsuits, but in a truly delightful throwback surprise, it’s back! More to come on contemporary search models, which promise to be less textual by the day (or the startup). This week brought us Jelly, and I look forward to discovering if users understand how to take advantage of its elegant, simple attempt to reimagine searching with a purpose.

I’m glad that my wording back in 2009 was judicious. I didn’t say Twitter would vanish, although I may have thought it then. (Can’t remember.) I honestly said I didn’t understand it, and I honestly can say the same now, but I’m getting there. I learn best through reading or doing, so I’m not always such a throwback, after all.

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Phones for Eyes and Printers for Fingers

by Whit Andrews  |  January 5, 2014  |  Comments Off

Gartner used the word consumerization for the first time ever in 1997, long before any of us could have the smartphones that are at the heart of this blog entry. (Wait for it.)

We meant something a little different then from what we mean now: At the time, we were writing about how consumers now were driving the market for printers, through their hunger for more sophistication. Now, we use the term to indicate that “consumer acceptance will…drive enterprise adoption,” to quote the otherwise now far less topical research note “Microsoft’s Indigo Will Advance Web Services,” in which we first used the term as we now mean it. (We published that note in February, 2005.)

Today I read a story that flared how central this has become to our careers in IT. The New York Times story lays out the benefits of the “DJI Phantom 2 Vision Quadcopter,” and of course I want one, pretty much right now, or maybe tomorrow. The drone can hover and take pictures and videos. I cover video content management — the “enterprise YouTube,” speaking of consumerization — and you’d be amazed at how many power companies call, hoping to be able to post video of safe repair procedures. I can see this being a very useful way to capture that kind of video. Another organization, which maintains pipes and waterways, wants to post video of their submerged drones doing diagnostics and repairs. And so on.

You can already think of ways to use this thing, I know, right? Maybe safety and evacuation videos for your physical plants? Investigation of physical property? My law enforcement clients are going to want one for high-speed chases, for investigations of brush fires.

You’ll get it because of the power of the consumer market, of course. If you can afford one — and if you can afford a very good SLR camera, say, then you can afford this (instead). (It’s about $1,200 on Amazon as of now.)

I talked to a client today that was sorting out the value of a product that has, at its heart, a camera and audio recording device. My answer was that consumerization will tear the heart out of that product, as surely as a drone will be featured some time in the next five years in a divorce case.  (Hasn’t happened yet. But I’m not the only person to think of the issue. I’m guessing it will be on Law and Order within 10 years.) The Phantom 2 drones use smartphones as control devices; I’m sure that other drones will use them as capture and transmission devices in the near term. (And I’m sure someone handier than me has made it already, anyway.)

This is a pace layer issue, in which any element of a project or device that can be swapped faster will be, and the more likely that the element can be satisfied by a consumer product, the faster that “layer” will renew itself. Today, drone control is renewed very quickly, because it’s a smartphone doing the work. In the future, we’ll see devices like 3D printers used as the output core of larger devices that are used in manufacturing, so you can swap out that layer. Anything that has a consumer market will do the same thing.

Swappable microchips have long serves as the brains of larger systems; now we’ll see toys and phones and printers and other things you can buy in the electronics department be their extremities and senses as well.


POSTSCRIPT: Interesting post on fun stuff at CES, including such drones.

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Making Friends Lists, Checking Them Twice

by Whit Andrews  |  January 3, 2014  |  3 Comments

The Facebook conveyor belt is not working all that well these days for me either.

2010-10-30 Geeste, Moormuseum 007

(picture of a museum-resident conveyor belt by Allie_Caulfield, who tagged it as usable for such purposes)

I joined Facebook about 620 friends ago — that’s six years, in your likely measurement. After careful feed management, the creation of some custom friends lists (“Real Friends” and “People Who Like New Profanity” are examples),  and the occasional purge, I am now confident in saying I have absolutely no freaking clue why I see what I see.

I could read about it; this is true. I remember when I thought of “social media optimization” and Googled the term to discover that there were, like, three mentions of it on the Internet. (2007?) But I don’t want to read about it; I just want to sit down, look at Facebook, and see it working. I don’t want to learn how the algorithm works, and more important, I really don’t want to have to find another social media network, the way most younger folks seem to. (Yes, I’m on Instagram, but it’s very post-literate, and yes, I’m on Line, but it’s anti-literate, and yes, I know that’s me being old, but guess what? I kinda am.)

My friend Jim Tobin just wrote a fine, crisp blog entry on the issue of the Facebook feed’s freshness.  He couldn’t be more right about the feed’s confusing present, including in particular its problem with seeming stale. (Why do these same posts keep coming back? Yes, I know why. It’s a rhetorical question that means make it stop.) I’m also quite clear on how much I pay Facebook, which is nothing.

What stops this from being a rant (well, makes it less of a rant) is the simple fact that this is a major business stress. Facebook is at a point where it needs to find growth in what it sells, not in getting new customers. It has to scale, and scaling is the scariest thing I run into for companies of any size. The feed is standard, and Facebook knows that users like me — who create lists, tweak settings, learn the process — are quite rare. Most of us just accept the default, and responding to what we like is generally excellent business. Follow the data, like Google, and perfection will follow.

Maybe not. Artists of data analysis are difficult to find, and this is a hard place that Facebook finds itself. Twitter has no algorithm, and nor does Instagram, which makes them easier to parse, but they’re different businesses — not virtual kitchen tables, but virtual streetcorners. Facebook needs charisma, and the certainty of its mission. I hope it rights its algorithmic slide. Until then, I suspect I need to make better lists to defeat it.


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Establish Goals for Your New Venture

by Whit Andrews  |  December 23, 2013  |  Comments Off

I’ve been with Gartner 14 years come April, and the first question I have learned to ask all my clients is this: What do you want to happen?

I have been going to start-up events near me. I find the question is always welcome. The question is just as relevant at very large companies, where someone wins the responsibility for a product or product line that will include its future.

This is how I ask the question: “What does ‘success’ mean to you?”

When a recent TechSandbox meeting featured Green Door Labs, this was a key question that came up for us when we were assembling advice for the founder. Kellian Adams was exceptionally engaging, very nearly a Joan of Tech whom one wished to follow across the battlements to certain victory. But a key question when we listened to her ask for ideas and suggestions was whether we knew how to help her achieve her goals for the small company, which has a staff of just a few people. We wondered if we had understood her goals, and how to help her think them through and consolidate them.

I once worked with a colleague who was deeply dispirited after a presentation. We sat down together with a scratch pad and sketched out what we felt a presentation should do. We decided on this list:

  1. Fill the room.
  2. Get good evaluation scores.
  3. Make a difference in clients’ lives.

This is, in essence, our work as Gartner analysts in many ways, but specifically oriented toward our work onstage. I can (and do) recast it to my written research, which needs to attract readers, give them value, and allow them to have better professional lives as a result. This is what “success” meant to my colleague in this context.

In writing this, I found myself asking myself what I want my blog to do now that I am writing it again. What will “success” mean for it? Scribbling out a few entries helped that. I’ll take it one entry at a time, of course, as some will have one audience and others will have another (entrepreneurs in some cases, larger established vendors whom I cover in others), but it is certainly a good idea to focus on this first issue:

Get the right audience.

That means more use of twitter, more networking, more SEO-friendly topics and more self-marketing. That’s scary, isn’t it? I had a cookie party last weekend, and the hardest part is the first 30 minutes, when you wonder if the room will fill, and if you’ll get to make the mini-candy apples you practiced the week before. Acting like you care whether people come to a party is hard, because what if they don’t? Then, you feel like a buffoon. Writing a blog like it matters has the same risk. Going all heart into a new company is the same.

little apples with sugar

I got the recipe from Vegetarian Times. But these are my actual apples How cool is that?

While I’m doing getting my audience, I need also to deliver value. (Who ever follows people who just say “follow me”? Really. On Twitter, or anywhere else.) Out of that will come the difference I can make in people’s professional lives — including my own.

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Ecclesiastes Would Not Invest in Snapchat

by Whit Andrews  |  December 8, 2013  |  Comments Off

I read the New York Times’s Hundreds of Start-Ups Hope to Be a Copycat Start-Up and very nearly climbed through the screen to express my dismay with the blog entry, which is an exceptionally uninspired piece that seeks to convince me that startups think of nothing new.

The blog entry laments — and I choose “laments” based on the lede where he describes many new companies as “astoundingly unoriginal” — that entrepreneurs tend to think of ideas that echo existing successes. As I pointed out myself a few days ago, it’s good to have a quick description. (A commenter says it even better: Just because Chipotle could be described as Starbucks with tacos doesn’t mean it’s not a bad business plan.) But there are even better reasons, not the least of which is that evolution is a heck of a lot faster than making life from scratch. “We point at the successes as inevitable and forget those slight variations that, for timing or luck or skill, didn’t make it,” said another commenter. (I thought comments were supposed to always be lame?)

Indeed, venture capital has funded many astonishing successes that threw a twist on something that didn’t go well the first time (or the fiftieth), such as Google following Alta Vista.

I’ll count myself as among those who misunderstood an opportunity because of my eagerness to say it had already been done. Not only did I once upon a time say we didn’t need Google because we had Alta Vista (smart one, there), I also said we didn’t need Instagram because we had flickr.

Yet PlanetAll begat SixDegrees begat Friendster begat Myspace begat Facebook. It may be true that, as it reads in Eccelesiastes, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” But it’s another thing entirely to equate that with failure. What has succeeded before may do so again, in part and in whole, and what failed may not.

I’m learning now to remember without scorn. Business need not be novel to be a new opportunity.

Darkling Sun

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Making Parallel Tracks in Video

by Whit Andrews  |  December 6, 2013  |  Comments Off

We are all moviemakers now, something I discover again every time I talk to IT managers who are trying to sort out how to use video media effectively in supporting workers and customers. Last night, I had the privilege of inquiry with an Australian client in government that is trying to sort out how best to get video training and executive messaging to workers and constituents distributed across that massive continent.

They’re just getting started, and weren’t aware of the extraordinary video “Dumb Ways To Die,” which accompanied an Australian safety campaign. (Safe for work? Well, if you can watch South Park in your cube, yeah.)  But being a moviemaker doesn’t just mean being an entertainer — it also means being an editor, a customizer, a developer and an interaction design specialist. Making video, my clients tell me, takes far longer than making a text or a graphical message. More impact? Absolutely. But something like 5x or 10x the time to get there.

One key concern they have is the ability to make videos for custom markets, with either internal or external use in mind. Language-specific talk tracks are an issue they raise, as are swappable elements to address aging of some video elements (parts naming, say) while other elements remain evergreen (such as product usage). They want the ability to have videos be parallel tracked for decomposition and dynamic redesign, which of course is easy to do — for creative professionals who make movies and music, and work in software designed to generate canonical, final drafts, rail journeys that are repeatable and predictable.


(Image courtesy of flickr user Daniel Zimmerman, whose content is tagged as OK to use thus.)

My colleague Adam Preset and I took a briefing from Equilibrium this week; the most interesting part was the discussion about the multi-tracking and swapping of video elements or sub-elements as necessary to keep them fresh. I can’t imagine that most organizations have the sophistication to treat video the way they might code development — I dealt  with Service-Oriented Architecture in the early 2000s, so I have some sense of the difficulty of making the transition to dynamic thinking — but it’s a necessary capability for some.

Many clients wonder when dynamic translation will happen to allow them to record once and speak anywhere, and recent developments imply that’s getting better. Language flexibility, for now, means different audio tracks, sometimes by the dozen for global organizations. And then there’s different messages, different devices for consumption, differing lengths for different audiences. Such capabilities demand new ways of thinking about content and messaging.

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How To Pitch Your Business Idea Quick and Fast

by Whit Andrews  |  December 3, 2013  |  4 Comments

Last night, I dropped by the Pitch Fest & Fest at TechSandbox, a (fairly) new accelerator in Hopkinton, near where I live. People with new ideas got 180 seconds to pitch a business idea. I had also recently attended and judged at a business plan contest at Worcester’s The Venture Forum. Here’s my advice for anyone getting ready to deliver a sharp pitch, based on what I have seen work.

  1. Focus on the audience’s expectations. What works is telling the audience what it needs to hear. If it’s angels, tell them why your product is the one that will make them rich. If it’s venture capitalists, explain what your success arc will look like so they know you fit their target investment style. Analysts want to understand who uses you and why. Prospects need a call to action.
  2. Set the context. Choose data evidence that touches what you do, even if it’s not a perfect match. Last night, one entrepreneur selling a wound evaluation product told us how many people have chronic wounds. It’s not a marketing plan, but this is short form. Don’t tell us how many people there are with PC’s; do tell us how many of them buy a new one every year.
  3. Express why you care. I see the advice everywhere, and I add my voice. Why should anyone believe you’ll stick with this? A woman pitching the ability to make customized jeans explained that she has a condition that results in persistent body asymmetry. A good friend of mine from school has started ShugaTrak to help people know that people they care about with diabetes are doing their tests. People he loves are diabetic. When he says he wants to help, he means it.
  4. Draw a comparison. You see mockery of Hollywood pitches all the time: “This movie will be like ‘Being John Malkovich’ meets ‘Alien.’ ” But story pitching in the entertainment business is the very definition of economy of expression. Last night, the guys at Trilio Data gave us a bunch of very interesting slides with lots of information that I was enjoying crunching mentally — but then, I’m an analyst. Then they said, “It’s like [Apple's] Time Machine, but for your applications and their workflows.” Or, something like that. Know what I heard? ” ‘Time Machine’ for the enterprise.” That I get.
  5. Say what you’ll sell. When I started at Web Week magazine in 1996 (ouch!), I asked my editor, the redoubtable Robert Hertzberg, what business reporters could ask when they didn’t know what to ask. One thing he said is to always ask, “What is your business model?” I heard too many pitches last night that didn’t tell me where the money comes from. Always tell us where the revenue is.

It’s been a while since I blogged. (OK, four years.) I’m back. Thanks for reading.


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The Blog Entry on Chrome: Hype Seed or a Nod to Formalism?

by Whit Andrews  |  July 13, 2009  |  2 Comments

My colleague Brian Prentice, a sharp and distinguished practitioner of our occult trade, is utterly whelmed by the possibility of an exciting new operating system, at least insofar as evidence for its delivery is currently available mostly via a spare blog post.

Many of my colleagues sort of threw up their hands at the Google announcement. (You can find a somewhat running summary of our thoughts, including many other blog posts, on an earlier posting from this blog. A First Take slouches toward publication as I write.)  They felt, all but in unison, that a simple blog entry is a ridiculous indicator of a strategic direction with — frankly — global implications for the future of many companies, Microsoft included. More, even, than the blog entry, they felt that media reaction implied a slow news day. Sarah Palin was no doubt delighted she had picked the comparatively sleepy holiday weekend to drop her own farewell-for-now message into public discourse, as it meant over-the-shoulder graphics of the Google and Microsoft’s logos crossing swords were no threat.

But — BUT! — I need to respectfully disagree.

One of the things that Google has failed at dismally from time to time is communication of its plans and efforts. Not so much the Wave-style announcements, where they turn up in your breakfast cereal with an announcement that sets the technological world aflame with hype, so much as the failure to provide them. Ask Microsoft or Oracle or IBM what they’re going to do in the next generation of a product and they are likely to tell you. As an open source community and they’ll give you the email address for the key developers and a list of their goals. Ask Google, and sometimes all you get is the sound of waves sloshing up and down inside an ocean borne electrical generator.

Yes, the blog entry is talking about something that probably won’t be real for quite a while — shipping on devices in 2010, impact in enterprises later, circa 2012. But it is better for Google to tell us — and you — what it is doing than that it continue to labor in the server pits, splurting out occasional gouts of slag and plumes of gold all a-sparkle. (For example, I respectively think here of the first generation of Google enterprise search, an ASP model that cratered in the early 2000s, and Picasa, which is a thing of beauty where I squirrel all my images.)

One blog entry will not be enough to satisfy the community of peerers and observers we analysts and our constituents represent. But its existence — the idea that Google owes its vast prospect base transparency of strategy and detail of tactics before they become fact, is an extremely good sign. The key is to adopt an intelligent perspective on Google’s communications. (We can help with that. Sorry, that’s my rent-paying gene talking.)


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Google Analytics: New Research Note

by Whit Andrews  |  July 12, 2009  |  1 Comment

Gartner’s redoubtable Bill Gassman has published a new research note on Google Analytics. It’s a lengthy, careful, detailed look at the Google Analytics product that serves as an effective window into the state of the current Web site analytics market. (Warning on that click — Bill’s note is behind the paywall. Sorry, folks; that’s how we pay the rent here.)

Gassman’s note is worth considering in the context of the Chrome OS announcement for a number of reasons. Let’s look at how Google Analytics fits into the recent history of site tracking analysis and other research:

1. Google started out slow. “…the initial offering was primitive when compared to commercial, subscription-based competition…” writes Gassman of Google Analytics in his extended review of its value, which tracks to other Google products I have dealt with, including the search appliance (which was extremely primitive when it launched, but which did what many enterprises needed done). Google likes to let functionality sort of trickle into a product to add flexibility in a kind of reverse fossilization.

That’s not going to be OK with an operating system. Yes, Ray points out (along with many others) that it’s a New Kind of of OS, but it will need to be highly stable and mature. No one wants a wonky operating system. Perhaps Chrome (the browser) was the necessary scaffolding on which Google will have developed its strategic direction. If not, and even to some degree if so, releasing an operating system is a significantly different commitment to releasing an email service that doesn’t exit beta for a long time.

2. As Google Analytics matured, many felt the site analytics business was so totally done. When I started at Gartner, we agreed that site analytics would become part of business intelligence, and so it did. Nevertheless, there was room and has been room for many new perspectives to emerge on Web site analytics, from action-oriented systems like Baynote to ASP-centric solutions. OS’s looked pretty done, but obviously there’s ample space for another kind of OS, whether you want to characterize it as a cloud OS or a network-centric one or – and here my skepticism, cynicism and opportunistic bent will out — an advertising-friendly one.

3. Disruption is certain. “Competition is driving Google Analytics forward and forcing competitors to innovate at the high-end of the Web analytics market,” Bill writes. In enterprise search, the Google appliance line served to force a final evolution of less-functional, inexpensive products — and dragged giant Microsoft into the business to customers’ likely benefit. Google outsold all comers for a significant period of time, and now Microsoft — no bit player in the OS drama — is responding through a mature, intelligent search strategy targeted at similar customers and more strategic opportunities as well.

Certainly, Google’s institutional patience will be tested as the drumbeat of competition for Chrome OS builds ahead of its release, and as vendor impatience for an effective foil for Microsoft (and Linux, too) also swells. Chrome will demand it address its practices differently and with new kinds of initiative.

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