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Playing With Data for Fun and Profit

I've been meaning to share this for a while now. I was asked to talk at Howard University to their digital business class, which focuses on the use of Social Media, Mobile Apps & Platforms, Data Analytics, and Cloud Computing as strategic assets to be utilized in business.

I wasn't really sure what to do, so I decided to tell some stories about how I've used data in my businesses.

I also built a demo to let the students learn about and play with sentiment analysis in real-time. It used the Movie Review corpus from Cornell. It's a very primitive keyword based system but I thought illustrated the concept well.

Sentiment Analysis Demo

Remembering Affinity Lab

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It feels only appropriate to write something today. Today is the first work day I haven't had a place to go work from in about four years.

I joined Affinity Lab at the beginning of 2011. It was the only game in town back then. There was a waiting list and I had to apply for membership. The prospect of working from home was terrifying. I had tried it before and the result was being incredibly unproductive and depressed. Working from home wasn't (and still isn't) an option.

I didn't warm up to Affinity Lab right away. I had an incredibly stressful test drive (a day where you go and spend it there to see how well you like it and how much people liked you). I couldn't parallel park and didn't have enough time to get to a metro with normal parking beforehand. So off I went driving down to U St with hope and a prayer that a really easy parking spot would be somewhere in the vicinity. I had even considered not going because of this.

But I got lucky that day. There was a spot right on the corner I could pull into and Affinity Lab turned out to be the best decision I've made in my DC life.

The test drive was ok, I really don't remember anything that happened day, but it went well enough for me to want to make it a regular thing. Although, I parked in Bethesda and took the Metro in for the next six months or so because of my fear of parallel parking.

Bowling with Pierre, Greg, Berit, Joey, Philippe, Olivia, Stephanie, Ambica, Mike, Sarah, Joe, Grant

The first real day I remember there was bowling night. I was in a space where people were all doing their own thing(s) but collaborating and having fun together. When this photo was taken, I don't think I really knew anyone well. But it was my first chance to really talk to many or most of them. And looking back at the picture now, I keep in touch with nearly all of them despite most of them leaving Affinity Lab in the years since that picture was taken.

Bowling Night was the first of many nights (and for those of you that know me, I only function at night). Movie night (a personal favorite of mine), laser tag night, the annual tubing trip, board game night, happy hours and many others.

Affinity Lab quickly became my social life and friend group, as well as my office. For any fellow entrepreneurs out there, many probably sympathize with the difficulty of maintaining non-entrepreneurial friendships. Your personal life often becomes synonymous with your business life. It's hard to explain or justify it to people who don't get it. I never had to explain or justify it here though. It was implicit. Everyone understood and was going through or had been through the same or similar experiences. I was surrounded by people like me and I was happy.

I met a lot of really amazing people over the 4 years at Affinity Lab. I am lucky enough to consider many of them my good friends. I wouldn't have been able to launch my startup, Review Signal, without the direct and indirect support of the people I met at Affinity. I wouldn't have more than half the clients I've had over the years if it weren't for the mailing list and leads fellow members shared. I'm not sure I would have reached the same level of success in my professional life without Affinity Lab.

So today is an incredibly sad day. Affinity Lab has shut its doors forever and DC has lost an entrepreneurial landmark. The silver lining is that over the past 13 years Affinity Lab had some of the best and brightest minds comes through, learn, share and make the world a better place. It's legacy is now in the hands of those alumni. It's a great responsibility to carry, but if anyone is up to the challenge, it's them.

I've included all the pictures that were running on the slideshow in the lab below to remember what it was like:

The Worst Part of the Global Startup Battle at Startup Weekend

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I recently participated at Startup Weekend DC which was part of the Global Startup Battle where we built Stream Motion, it turns a #hashtag into a photo stream designed specifically for events. (Try entering #SWDC to see what Startup Weekend DC was like)

I've participated in a lot of Startup Weekends, once as an organizer and countless other times as an attendee. I love it. I always have a great time, meet awesome people and get a chance to work on something interesting.

This one had one element I really disliked: The Global Startup Battle Hashtag Battle

Look at this screenshot:

The #1 ranked team has 22,000 tweets per hour. Let's consider how much that is.

22256 / 60 = 371 tweets per minute.

If every tweet took 1 second to post that's 6.18 human hours wasted per hour tweeting.

But looking at these numbers, we all know they are fake. There is no way any event was legitimately generating that volume of tweets.

How do I know? Because I've written different bots and tools for Twitter for years including my Master's Thesis. I turned on a few during the DC event for fun because I had them setup already. Most of the 24,000 tweets in DC were caused by me playing with my bots (probably 20,000 or so were me).

Every city in the top 6 definitely cheated (and probably ones below as well).

So what's the point?

I had fun toying with my Twitter bots, but I've attended a lot of events and the experience isn't new to me. I think it does detract from the whole experience overall though.

There is/was zero benefit for participants to take part in the Hashtag Battle.

It was a giant distraction that obviously captured the attention of a few people, judging by the volume of cheating. And since it's just a cheat-off, what benefit does it really have for anyone?

I think Startup Weekend should be about the event itself, the 'global' battle component can happen with actual startups competing instead of #wastingtime.

TL;DR: Global Hashtag Battle is a stupid waste of time and it should never be done again

Can I live and work from anywhere? An attempt at becoming at digital nomad

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My work view, Koh Lanta, Thailand

I have lived in a few countries and traveled to dozens of others. The idea of living anywhere has always had some appeal to me. I have traveled to a lot of places where I thought, I could live here.

There is this fantasy of having the freedom to live and work from anywhere. Coupled with the technology to communicate nearly instantly, a new trend has emerged: the digital nomad. A location independent worker.

I decided to give the digital nomad lifestyle a trial run this year. I bought a round trip ticket with 3 months of time set aside to travel and very little in the way of plans.


I started thinking about traveling around September - October 2013. I knew that I wanted to skip most the of frigid winter in Washington, DC (which coincidentally, experienced the worst winter weather in my lifetime). However, I knew that I wanted to spend Christmas with my family and New Years with friends. So, leaving in January made the most sense.

The next question was "Where did I I want to go?" I had been to Thailand on a number of occasions and loved spending time there. I also have family that lives there, which makes going without any plans much easier. Thailand is pretty cheap as far as cost of living goes. There are also gorgeous beaches. The internet is ok and picking up a sim card and 3G plan is quite easy. I also really wanted to do a lot of scuba diving and there is some great diving available there.

I also didn't want to travel alone, so I was planning to travel with a friend (although that part of the trip fell through). I ended up traveling alone and meeting a few new friends during my travels.

Diving Site, Ko Haa Lagoon, Thailand


Traveling on a budget is definitely possible in Thailand. The flight was the most expensive part.

I wanted to build up a good cash reserve before leaving. I had no idea what all I was going to get into on the journey, where I would to end up traveling or if I would earn any money along the way.

As soon as I decided that I wanted to travel, I started trying to find any sort of contracting work available. I thought that finding clients and work could also prove to be potentially helpful when traveling if I did want to earn money while I was abroad. Luckily, I also have a startup that earns some money, but I can't simply earn money every day by putting hours into it. Or, at least the correlation isn't as direct and immediate as contracting.

I saved up enough money so that I could live comfortably abroad for at least three months (in reality it was probably closer to a year).

I eventually bought my ticket on January 2 to leave on January 21 and shared my trip on facebook. Right away, a friend of mine told me that he was going to be in Japan at the end of my trip, so I changed my ticket. That turned out to be fortuitous because I was flying through Japan to Bangkok anyways to have a few extra days in Japan on my way back to the US.

View from Tokyo Skytree of Tokyo Tower with Mount Fuji in the background.

Home Base

The idea of a home base while traveling abroad is quite appealing. I was in the very fortunate position that I have family living in Bangkok that I could stay with. My initial thought was to travel around to different parts of Thailand. Having a home base meant I could leave a few things (like winter clothes) at my family's house. I also had a standing invitation to stay there. It certainly took away a lot of the stress about traveling to places I knew nothing about. If anything went wrong, I could simply return back to my Thai home.

Actual Trip

Washington, DC → Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo → Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok → Koh Lanta

Krabi → Bangkok

Bangkok → Koh Samui

Koh Samui → Bangkok

Bangkok → Hong Kong (30 days were up on my visa)

Hong Kong → Macao → Hong Kong

Hong Kong → Bangkok

Bangkok → Koh Phi Phi

Koh Phi Phi → Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta → Bangkok

Bangkok → Tokyo

Tokyo → Washington, DC

Working Abroad

My primary concern was always having a reliable internet connection. All the business that I do is on my laptop. So, I spent a lot of time searching Agoda's reviews to find places which specifically mentioned good internet. Bungalow separate from the main building with no wifi? Sorry, that just won't do. Every room I stayed in had pretty good internet. There was a power outage in Koh Lanta for one night which left me using 3G on my phone, but other than that I had fairly reliable internet. Maybe I got lucky? Maybe the hours and hours of reading reviews paid off. Hard to tell. I always booked only a night or two to start off with so that I could have a place to put my stuff down. If I didn't like something, I could always switch after a day.

The biggest issue I ran into was routine and schedule. At home, I work from a coworking space in Washington, DC (Affinity Lab). I wake up, have a morning routine, go into the office and work. I come home and generally keep a pretty regular 5 days a week schedule for work.

Traveling took that routine away from me. I was left with 24 hours of unstructured time per day. I didn't have an office, friends to see or commitments to keep. It was chaos.

I had a couple project deadlines while traveling. None of them were particularly large projects and it normally meant setting aside a day or two and just working. That was the easiest part of working.

The hardest part of working was my own work. I worked on a big article about benchmarking and comparing managed WordPress hosting companies.

That's about the only noteworthy thing I accomplished for my own business while traveling. I initially set out thinking that this would be the perfect opportunity to work on finishing up a lot of side projects which never got finished or polished before. These projects include Domainling, a domain name search engine and suggestion tool. FMK, a Facebook game that works but is horribly designed and needs a lot of polish. I also wanted to finish a gambling odds calculator for scratch offs in Washington, DC.

I didn't so much as open the code for any of these projects. Oops.

I had no routine, I spent a lot of time outside (and underwater). I would often come home very tired and never really planned time to work. So, things kept getting pushed back. Eventually, time ran out and I never made any progress on these projects.

The most productive time I had was probably in Hong Kong when I stayed with my friend. He was working a normalish schedule which pushed me towards his work routine.

What I spent most of my time doing, Diving, Hin Daeng, Thailand


I spent three months in Asia and didn't lose money. My napkin math puts me at about even for the trip. A little consulting work went a long way in Thailand.

I met a handful of friends who either came to visit me or happened to be traveling in the same area and we met up. I made a few new (and temporary?) friends whom I probably will never see again. I don't think I created any meaningful relationships with new people.

I earned my advanced open water certification for diving and had a lot of awesome dives.

I started to miss good friends with whom I forged deeper friendships. I also missed the mundane social activities and structure of my life back home in DC. While traveling, I met a lot of people but I feel like I had the same conversation hundreds of times with new faces saying the words.

I realized the dream of being a digital nomad was better than the reality of it. For me, at least in this incarnation of it.

Friendly Manta Ray, Hin Daeng, Thailand

What I would do differently

Just because I started to miss home and wasn't as productive as I had hoped doesn't mean that I've given up on the idea. It just means I didn't get it right. Yet.

I want to do a trip similar to this one again. The biggest change I hope will be not going alone. I have a handful of good friends who all work in careers which would allow them to work remotely. Convincing a few of them to join me would be a step in the right direction.

I also think staying longer in a single location will allow me to get into a better routine. When moving around a lot, I get this urge to see and do everything before I leave. That pushes back other priorities, like working. I also think friends who need to do work can help each other be mutually accountable.


I chased a dream and it wasn't as good as I had hoped. But I learned a lot about myself and will hopefully adjust and try again.

View from View Point Resort, Koh Phi Phi

Does Facebook Hate Christmas?

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Linkbait title aside. This is the story of a holiday card gone wrong because of Facebook's advertising rules.

Backstory: I work at a co-working space in Washington, DC called Affinity Lab. This happened to one of my co-workers, Mike who works at a company called ISG.

His company created a virtual holiday card and shared it on Facebook. It seems innocuous enough. In his words 'it's a no brainer to boost posts for $5, it goes from 10% to 100% for us.' This wasn't the first time he's done this and he's never had any issues. He just wanted all his clients to see the post.

And then it wasn't boosted.

And then this notification came through.

So the issue was too much text in a holiday card.

So we checked out with Facebook's tool. And it was astonishing how they calculated that it broke the rules. I can imagine a lot of content that is really awesome that you couldn't promote if this rule is really strictly enforced (every infographic ever?). I understand the spirit of the rule, but in practice it seems quite flawed.

Benchmarking Asynchronous PHP vs NodeJS Properly

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I had fun this evening working on this with Samuel Reed. Performance and programming language choice is always a hotly debated topic and it's always fascinating the explore. It was truly interesting to see async php code. I know NodeJS is known for it, but PHP really isn't at all.

The actual article is here:

GoDaddy Purchased the Domain Name Market Today

Today is an interesting and perhaps historic day in the domain industry. GoDaddy has acquired Afternic and SmartName from Name Media. Name Media is probably best known for the BuyDomains brand. They own one of the largest portfolios of domain names in the world at nearly 1 million domains.

GoDaddy is the largest player on the consumer side of the domain market by a wide margin. However, they aren't the biggest player and/or have serious competition in a lot of the secondary and domainer markets.

Domainer / Secondary Markets

Market Large Players
Domain Registration GoDaddy
Selling Domains (Secondary/After Market) Sedo, Afternic, BuyDomains, GoDaddy, DomainNameSales
Expired Domains NameJet, SnapNames, Pool, GoDaddy
Domain Parking/Monetization InternetTraffic, Google, Yahoo, Sedo, (many more)
Domain name Conglomerates Demand Media, Marchex, GoDaddy, Name Media, Oversee

Why Most Of These Markets Don't Matter Anymore

The expired domain names market is drying up as companies switch to pre-release agreements. With pre-release, the registrar where the domain is kept automatically sells off the domain and there is no competition. As GoDaddy grows bigger, they will capture more of the this market automatically in the long run.

Domain Parking and monetization has seen a pretty steady decline since about 2007-2008. Consolidation is happening, the market is shrinking. The vested interests are large portfolio holders, which GoDaddy doesn't have like all of the other conglomerates.

The Conglomerates with the exception of GoDaddy all have their own domain name portfolios. They are focused around monetizing their assets rather than customers. Almost all the conglomerates have failed to see major growth (Demand Media just turned its first profit in 2012).

What Does Matter?

With GoDaddy's acquisitions from Name Media today they have taken a serious foothold in the secondary market. Afternic is one of the largest markets and GoDaddy is probably on equal ground in terms of selling domain names from Premium Listings (pre-acquisition), although they don't publish any numbers that I could find. If we were to assume Sedo, Afternic and GoDaddy were similar in size, GoDaddy just became the dominant player by 2:1.

Why does it matter?

GoDaddy's strategy has long been economies of scale and cross-promotion/cross-selling products/services. They dominate the consumer side of the market and have the audience to sell products to. Now they own the market for secondary sales as well. They already charge a minimum 32% commission to sell a domain name with them. My intuition tells me they've struggled with getting the best inventory and streamlining the process to their liking. This isn't the first time we've seen them partner up to sell secondary market domain names, they tried it once before with Domain Distribution Network but there hasn't been much talk about the results. There was even a short termination between the companies over the deal. This deal expired on June 7, 2013 according to DNN. I could find no evidence of it being renewed.

Meanwhile, Afternic has solved this problem. AfternicDLS has a deals with many of the biggest registrars: Network Solutions,, Enom, Moniker,, and more. This solves the listing and selling problem. Their current Premium Listings only work for domain names at GoDaddy. A lot of domainers don't use GoDaddy and don't want to put their domain names there. Acquiring Afternic solves the technical and business problems that may have blocked GoDaddy in previous attempts to gain more of the secondary market.

What About SmartName?

I am not as sure about the SmartName play for GoDaddy. They could be trying to make a more serious run into the domain monetization space with a parking platform. They could be looking to upgrade their auction platform. Both of these could improve their bottom line, and it makes them more attractive as a larger one-stop shop for domain services.


GoDaddy is now the biggest player in the domain name sales channels both for new registrations and selling in the secondary market. With the upcoming release of new gTLDs, they couldn't be better positioned to sell more domain names and make more money. It doesn't hurt that they offer fairly comprehensive offerings for business owners such as web hosting, email, marketing and more. Economies of scale are real and GoDaddy is taking advantage of them more than anyone else in the business.

Consumers may actually be the big winner here. If this gets executed well, the customers who use GoDaddy will get access to a larger inventory of domain names listed on the secondary market and purchasing them may become as easy as registering a new domain name.


(9/20/2013) I made a mistake with saying the auction platform was Smart Names, it's actually Afternic. Also, someone linked me Godaddy's auction stats. They don't give dollar values, only sales volume. So it's still apples to oranges to pears with Sedo/Afternic/GoDaddy.

I have also received a lot of criticism because of the company in question comes off in a positive light. My startup tracks GoDaddy's reviews and it's overwhelmingly negative. I understand a lot of people don't like them for a multitude of reasons. That being said, the point of this article was to acknowledge a very prudent business move by them. I went into this open minded and came out surprised. I think this is a win for consumers in the short to medium term because it's reducing the friction and pain involved with buying domains in the secondary market. It makes it far more accessible and easy than it ever was before with a brand consumers recognize. Consolidation of the secondary domain market also puts a downward pressure on domain prices if it stays integrated as an option versus buying new registrations. The consumer who is thinking about spending $10 is far less likely to spend $100,000 instead. But $100, $500, $1,000 may be more reasonable and likely to induce a sale on the secondary market.

Analyzing the EIG (HostGator, BlueHost, HostMonster, JustHost) Outage

I just published an article looking at the impact of the major outage that occurred yesterday (August 2, 2013) when EIG's Provo, UT datacenter failed. I also predict what to expect based on previous major outages.

There was definitely a major spike in data produced and I got down to analyzing it.

Full Story:

National Day of Civic Hacking: Exploring Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Data

This weekend I participated in the National Day of Civic Hacking.

The project I decided to work on was working with the CFPB data (and also used some census data).


The CFPB released a large complaints database that contained information about what type of financial products people are complaining about. It also gave information about where the complaints came from, what they were complaining about and resolution information. Some of the data was released literally a day earlier. So I was given a chance to take a look at, analyze and visualize information that nobody has really seen yet.

It was an exciting and interesting opportunity. Since it was very fresh data with little to no previous work, much of what I got to do was more general analysis. I created a handful of graphics (click them to see full size) and maps (click to use the map) which I have included below:

What products are people complaining about the most?

The biggest product people are complaining about is mortgage related products. There is a category for other mortgages that people can choose and it seems most people seem to select that. I wasn't sure why until I looked at the issues people were having.

What are the most common issues people have?

Foreclosure, Loan Modification and Collection. Intuitively, this makes a lot of sense. I probably don't care what type of mortgage it is when they are trying to take my house away. This particular issue dwarfed everything else, so I had to use a log scale to even see what the other issues people were facing.

What are the most common issues people have? (log scaled)

This gives a more in-depth picture of the issues, but the first graphic really shows you the most common and/or pressing financial issue for people.

Which companies had the most complaints?

Then I explored which companies were receiving the most complaints. This data is NOT normalized. That means that just because a company has more complaints doesn't make it worse than one with less. For example, if company A had 10 complaints and 100 customers and company B had 5 complaints and 20 customers, company B would be worse (if we measured complaints as a % of customers). I didn't have easy access to a database with any dataset that would normalize these banks, so this is for curiosity more than any meaningful insight. It probably is a proxy for the largest players in consumer finance though.

[MAP] Where are the complaints coming from in the US? (Normalized for state population)

This map shows where people are complaining the most. DC won that dubious honor. Maryland, Delaware, New Hampshire, California and Florida were also high on the list. All the numbers were adjusted to reflect complaints relative to population of a state. So we can clearly see there are differences and we can probably make educated guesses for some of them. DC for example is probably the highest because of the highest awareness of CFPB (since it's based in DC). Maryland probably has a high awareness too. Florida and California had big real estate bubbles and perhaps were hit especially hard. New Hampshire and Delaware are a mystery to me, although a woman from New Hampshire at my event told me that she complained to the CFPB and told all her friends as well. Perhaps an above-average awareness of the CFPB caused the higher complaint rate.

Top 10 Companies by Complaints and their Disputed Resolution Rates

Next I explored disputed resolutions. Companies alert the CFPB when the matter is resolved and consumers are allowed to tell the CFPB they were not satisfied with the resolution. I graphed the top 10 companies by complaint volume and what their disputed resolution rates looked like. It's interesting to see such big differences between companies but without further information about how they handle disputes, it's impossible to say anything confidently comparing one company to another.

[MAP] Disputed Resolutions by State

Finally, I created a map graphing disputed resolutions by state. There was a surprisingly large variation between states. Alaska, for instance, had a disputed resolution rate of over 26% while Wyoming had a measly 16%. I have no idea why, but it's interesting and worth looking into further.


I had a lot of fun exploring this fresh set of data and there is a lot more to be learned from it. I want to give a big thanks to Ana from the CFPB and Logan from the Census Bureau who attended the event and helped participants navigate the data provided their respective organizations.

Hurricane in the Cloud: How Hurricane Sandy Impacted Web Hosting Companies

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I just wanted to share the newest blog post, titled Hurricane in the Cloud: How Hurricane Sandy Impacted Web Hosting Companies, on the Review Signal blog

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