Friday, 11 September 2015

The right tools for the job

This is a bit of a tangent but a relevant and useful one!

Having got the e commerce research group back off the ground after a rather long sabbatical, I have found myself re-visiting the various bibliographic tools I used to use in order for the group to attempt to manage the somewhat jumbled knowledge we have and are steadily accumulating. And lo and behold, I think I have finally found the holy grail;  a web based management tool that does everything I want it to.  Mendeley ( did exist 5 years ago, but steady development and updates has resulted in a slick and intuitive piece of software that is just as happy living on your phone as it is within your browser or on your desktop.  What’s more, it has some nifty functionality that I have struggled to find elsewhere.  For me, the greatest strength of Medeley is its’ ability to suck up an entire folder of research articles (in full text) and instantly format them into tidy, exportable references.  Yes you can do this as you go with various extensions, but the simple drag and drop function works very well and enables me to continue researching in the way I always have then worry about the bibliographic management later on.  The ability to create multiple groups to collaborate on research topics is another key feature of Mendeley.  Yes Dropbox or Google can do this but the functionality you get with Mendeley (annotations, highlighting, notes, tags etc) is hard to beat, and open reference lists are a great way to share what you are doing with the wider world.

As you would expect, Mendeley has adopted the standard freemium model;  you get 2GB of storage for free (which isn’t bad considering the average size of a PDF), £3.99 a month gets you 5GB, £7.99 gets you 10GB and for £11.99 you can store as much as you like.

Another, more specific tool in the context of our research project that I feel is worthy of a quick review is 
Wappalyzer ( )   . This Browser extension has proved invaluable for the initial stages of our data gathering as it provides simple details of the back end technologies on which a web site is built.  The information is displayed directly in the browsers address bar as icons that can be clicked on for more in-depth statistics. And that’s it; simple but effective.  The extension is available for all major browsers and is free.

Right, now we have the right tools for the job we can crack on!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Finding 'Real' companies to research for E-Commerce

The start-up we are looking for
Part of our methodology in researching ecommerce activity of companies is to find which companies to research. We are interested in having an approach that allows us to take different sets. Currently we are taking an interest in recent startups in Merseyside. But we might want to, for example, look at comparisons between startups on Merseyside and in the South East, or manufacturing companies in the core cities. Given that we are searching for web presence, we can’t start with the web as this would be a self selecting group.

The start-up we might find
Therefore we have started with a list from, FAME (Financial Analysis Made Easy) which provides financial information on major public and private U.K. and Irish companies. We have used a selection criteria to allow us to choose the area of research interest (currently startups in Merseyside). Then we have given each company a random number and ordered them, starting at the top of the now randomised list.

 The first step of our methodology is to see if we can find the company basically Googling them (also BING, DuckDuck Go, Twitter and Facebook), whether companies have any presence is one of the things we are measuring. Our current startup Merseyside list is showing about 20% of the companies we choose have some kind of presence, 80% have no presence at all apart from the ubiquitous company house clones. It is probably different for more established companies, we shall find out later.
What is a Real Company

However what is a company? As human beings we can easily look at a company and work out whether it is a real company. However, we need a more scientific method of deciding what constitutes a real, distinct company for the purposes of our research.

Of course for starters a company could be listed with a registered address at their accountants in a different part of the country.

The waters are being muddied by tax and crime driven concepts. In recent weeks the media has noted the proliferation of dodgy shell companies (Limited Liability Partnerships) popping up in Scotland, BBC on Dodgy Edinburgh Companies, the BBC alleges that the Anderson Group and presumably others are encouraging firms to create micro subsiduaries to take advantage of national insurance breaks aimed at small companies. (BBC on company multiplying tax dodge).

It is a pain working through these special purpose companies to search for a web presence, but it is not just a matter of increasing the research cost. We could find that if these companies are regionally unevenly spread it would affect results. For example I guess we might find that companies registered in a single house in Edinburgh with 420 companies and I am guessing no web sites this could certainly derail a statistical analysis of e-commerce uptake in that part of Edinburgh.

Francis Muir, Chris Taylor, Johnny Read

Thursday, 2 April 2015

E-Commerce Observatory tooling up to measure maturity

After several years of radio silence on this blog we are again picking up the quill to update people on our various thoughts.

In particular the self styled 'E-Commerce Observatory' team is gathering data on E-Business Maturity. We have previously examined a methodology for examining trends in companies use of E-Commerce systems and how to grade this in terms of a maturity model.

Our outline methodology is to start with a known group of companies in a geographical area, industrial sector, size range, or life cycle state. Then to determine what kind of on line presence the company has by examining and scoring a number of visible factors. From this scoring we will then map onto a maturity position.

Since we last looked at this area social media based platforms have become more central to the outlook of small companies, for example a Facebook Page might be the primary means of communication for a small cafe rather than relying on a standalone website, but it's function is equivalent. Our existing set of ecommerce variables do not include a factor for this and it does not map immediately onto our previous maturity levels.

Image result for myspace 2010
Measuring maturity when the latforms keep moving.
We are hence currently piloting a review of a series of companies with some potential new variables to examine how we integrate this into our models. We are also pondering which social media platforms are appropriate. For a consumer facing company such as a cafe we might expect that Facebook or Twitter are currently natural media. For a business to business operation we might imagine that Linked In and Twitter are natural media.

We would like to observe how individual companies or types of companies mature their use of Ecommerce over time but the rapid development of the platforms themselves could make this difficult. Can we work on the basis of a 'social media' platform rather than a named platform, hence cope with the changing fortunes of Twitter, GooglePlus, Facebook and others or do we just doggedly stick to rating companies on their MySpace account.

Obviously it would be nice to get to some conclusions about trends in E-Commerce, but for now we are resigned to having work a bit harder on out methodology before we can extract any authoritative data let alone conclusions.