I just attended CODE. The set of people interested in digital experimentation have very diverse backgrounds encompassing theory, machine learning, social science, economics, and industry so this seems like a good subject for a new conference. I hope it continues.
I found several talks interesting.
- Eytan Bakshy talked about PlanOut which is language/platform for flexibly specifying experiments.
- Ron Kohavi talked about EXP which is a heavily used A/B testing platform.
- Susan Athey talked about long term vs short term metrics which seems both important to address, a constant problem, and not yet systematically solved.
There was a panel about the ongoing Facebook experimentation controversy. The issue here is complex. My understanding is that Facebook users have some expected ownership of the content they create, and hence aren’t comfortable with the content being used in unexpected ways. On the other hand, experimentation is so necessary to the functioning of all large modern internet sites that banning it or slowing down the process by a factor of a million (as some advocated) would badly degrade the future of these sites in practice.
My belief is that what’s lacking is education and trust. W.r.t. education, people need to understand that experimentation is unavoidable when trying to figure out how to optimize an enormously complex system, as there is just no other way to systematically make 1000 right decisions as is necessary for basic things like choosing the best homepage/search result/etc… W.r.t. trust, companies are not particularly good at creating trust in general, but finding the right mechanism for doing so seems critical. I would point out Vanguard as a company that managed to successfully create trust by design.