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“Active” users

by Greg Robertson on January 5th, 2015

I recently read a great post by Ev Wiliams, one of the co-founders of Twitter. Ev’s post is titled, “A mile side, an inch deep”. He makes some solid points about his frustration with user metrics. The post stems from a recent report that Instagram has surpassed Twiiter in total number of users. To which Ev responded… “I frankly don’t give a shit if Instagram has more people looking at pretty pictures”. Hubris? Not really.

“Ask any junior high student which rectangle is bigger, one that is three inches wide or one that is two-and-a-half inches wide, and they’ll tell you it’s a nonsensical question unless they have more information — specifically, the height.

And yet, we literally say one company or service is “bigger” based on a single number — specifically, number of people who have “used” it in the last 30 days. Even without even getting into how “use” is defined, this is dumb.”

This got me thinking about the debate of usage and “adoption” rate of third party software programs in MLS markets. Questions like, what metric should products be measured upon? Is it one metric? Is it several?

To make matters worse some vendors call an “active user” someone who logs in to the service one every 90 days, some say 60 days or 30 days. It varies, so its always hard to compare different services apples to apples.

This discrepancy also shows up when vendors report how many customers they have. Some vendors report that anyone under a site license (which are technically paying customers) are active customers. Even though many of those MLS members have never used their software.

When my company (W&R Studios) launched Cloud CMA we wanted to “open the kimono” on usage rates. We think this a key best practice for any Enterprise SAAS vendor. So in every MLS market we launch Cloud CMA we include a real time MLS Dashboard. The MLS Dashboard contains a ton of information including:

Have many users signed up/created an account?:

today
yesterday
this week
last week
this month
last month

How many reports were created?:
today
yesterday
past week
past month

What types of reports were created?:
CMAs
Buyer Tours
Property Reports
Flyers

Some MLS providers have also asked us to include:

Unique visitors in the last 30 days

I tend to focus on how many reports are being created. But, we also track all kinds of other metrics too. One of my favorites is the number of seconds it take a new customer to create their first report after signing up, our fastest is just over 2 minutes (156 seconds). Which we think is a good measure of how intuitive the software might be.

The point I’m trying to make, and Ev does a much better job, is that there is no “God Metric”.

“Numbers are important. Number of users is important. So are lots of other things. Different services create value in different ways.”

Good food for thought.

As a side note I’m going to be a panelist at Inman Connect NYC later this month. The topic is:

“Does Building Business Around Big Data Make us Stupid?”
Thursday, January 29 2:35pm to 3:00pm

The panel will be moderated by David Charron. My other panelists will include John Heithaus from RealEstate Business Intelligence, LLC (RBI) and Matt Shadbolt from the New York Times.

It should be fun so please join us!

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