Data for Good – Hilary Mason @ UrbanRethink May 6, 12

A few Sundays ago, Hilary Mason (bitly‘s Chief Scientist) dropped by UrbanRethink.  UrbanRethink is one of Orlando’s collaborative hubs for artist, hackers and designers to meet and work. On top of that, it keeps a calendar full of events throughout the month.  This was one of those talks.  I need to keep a better eye on their events calendar.  This talk was great.  Hilary talked extensively about ‘Data for Good’.

Many of the ideas and topics covered were notable to me.  Here follows some of the more worthy ones. 

Disclaimer: This is a recollection of my own; any errors are my own; talk was all accurate and all great.

About Hilary. I didn’t know:

  • Founder of HackNY
    • Non profit encouraging kids to get into computers.
    • The typical path on NY for Comp Sci students is the financial sector.
    • Puts kids thru real life experience they summer packed full of events.
  • Likes to ask hackers: Asking hackers: What is your craziest Idea?
  • She sits as advisor of some capacity in NY.
    • Its like steering and elephant.
    • …key points where elephant changes path.
    • What for receptive person or moment and then deliver package

About Bitly. I didn’t know:

  • Does not use hashes anymore. Too many collisions.
  • HTTP Redirect. From this comes analytics service. I am not sure I know what the business model is yet.
  • Can see link jump thru social networks
  • Has sister company that does real time analytics. 
  • See more about other companies here
    • I would read the careers page of each of these before finishing this post.
  • Bitly came, about 3 years ago, from a failed endeavor of company.
  • They were originally doing real time analysis of web page traversal and collaboration.  
  • About being a scientist
    • Build models.
    • Design System to use models.
    • Help thru insight gained.
  • Biggest contrast to me is the outline of how they sees what they do as a task that will, hopefully, make money in the end.  
  • Most often, I feel encumbered with having to be profitable in everything I do. And it feels bad.
  • Analyze things in time and space.
  • Talking about different half-life per type of link type.
  • Bitly reads locale and language from browser.
  • 20% of links shared are evergreen content (Happy kittens etc.).
  • Breaking news links have about a 15 minute half-life.
  • People do not always read what they share.  i.e. – read some thing but share other things.
  • Showing maps of topics illustrating how distinct topics are linked to one another they links.
    • Topics that do not relate to any other topic: Chemistry, religion, adult content
  • Talking about Hadoop. Crickets in the crowd.
  • Talking about other companies/things made using data.
  • Right conditions for creating a company.
    • Intersection of art, science and business.  Otherwise, it is a hack.  
    • A company can justify (sustain) and encourage growth of both art and science.
    • Hilary said it much more eloquently that this.
  • Talking about model of Providence, Rhode Island and transformation to more tech-y place.
  • On being observant and curious.
  • Importance of failure. How it lands you in unexpected places.
  • Carnegie melon, statistics and statistician there.
  •’s tech stack uses tornado, redis, phyton


  • Computation literacy  
  • On the future (we have futurists in the room), people ask:
    • Commodity of complicated things
      • I think like Google BigQuery
    • Image, Video data
      • I think this has been in many unfulfilled dreams already.
    • Interconnected networks and devices.
    • Collapse healthcare.
    • Collapse of education system.
  • On growing community. Typical successful hacker approach. I say typical, yet I don’t do.
    • Bring press.
    • Connect with other local resources, like-minded.
    • Bring businesses.
    • Do good in community, highlight.
    • Promote those doing good in community.
    • I say lowering the price of doing good would help me.
    • Get dark geniuses of community to come out.
    • Github search for other local people.
    • Simplify complex things, communicate insight.
  • Things were big changes are coming
    • Healthcare.
    • Communities of people ‘suffering’ a serious disease and sharing information on it for benefit of others.
    • Self measuring – make it automatic to measure your activities, etc.
      • Talks about runner friend who can predict when she will have an injury by looking at data (7 yrs of running collected)
      • Wealth of data this will create
      • New models of insurance

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