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Natural Lines of Drift In An Online Environment

I’ve been very fortunate to have some very smart and very capable people in my life, especially as I transitioned out of the Marines and started my own business in the private sector.  Every time that I talk with people who are marketing professionals or business owners (people who have thrived on successfully predicting human behavior in any shape or form) I walk away with greater appreciation for how the concepts that you will find on this site are principles that apply well beyond just The CP Journal.

A Little Context and Background

Last week I was having a conversation with Callie Oettinger as she was preparing a company profile for a series of articles on Steven Pressfield’s blog about startups, writers, entrepreneurs, and those who “do the work.”  Up to that point, I had attempted to maintain two blogs for my company.  This is the first site, where I have tried to only publish posts on topics relating to behavioral analysis and how people can develop their ability to read others quickly and accurately.  Any posts that I wrote about something other than behavioral analysis were posted on the Active Analysis Consulting site, such as articles that related to business, the security industry, hiring veterans, or company announcements.  At the time, I was doing this for two reasons. The first was that I didn’t want to pollute the Journal with anything related to advertising or shameless plugs for my company (even though many of these posts were not written in that context) because those sort of things make a website horrible to read and would turn readers away from the site, so I kept those posts in a separate spot.

After our conversation, Callie’s questions and suggestions helped me realize that my approach was counter-productive and I was failing to take into consideration reader behavior and interests.  Essentially I was forcing a reader to deviate from the path of least resistance by making someone interested in reading both types of posts go to two different sites.  I failed to take into consideration the natural lines of drift that exist across the web.

How It Applies

When we see a dirt path worn through a mulch bed connecting the mall parking lot and the front entrance, we can use that observation to identify how people who are familiar with their surroundings will move through their environment.  Behavioral analysis uses these pathways (natural lines of drift) to not only separate those familiar and unfamiliar with their environment, but more importantly to predict where people are going to walk because those lines are the path of least resistance.  People will take the quickest, most simple and safest path available to them to move from Point A to Point B.

Callie helped me realize that it is no different in an online environment; people simply aren’t going to check two different sites, written by the same person, to see if there is any new content. I was adding in an extra step and failed to see that I was forcing readers to change their behavior and change their patterns if they wanted to read the additional posts.  Deviating from the path of least resistance is never easy or “natural” thing to do, but I was hoping people would anyways.

Plus, Callie made me really look at the type of readers who come to the this site.  Many are active and former members of the military. When I post information on my company’s site about ways veterans can improve their chances of getting jobs following their career, I didn’t realize that many would never read that post (or even know it was available) because I had put it in a spot not seen from the natural line of drift.  The same situation exists with another segment of my readers who come from the private sector and businesses I’ve provided seminars to.  So when I post content about the “business of security” on the Active Analysis site or write a book review, such as my recent review of Rework, which is written for that audience, it is unlikely to be read because the draw is to the The CPJ site to learn about reading behavior.

When it comes to predicting behavior, whether your goal is to identify criminals, understand patterns of movement, or predict customer behavior, the understanding that people follow the natural line of drift is helpful in seeing where they could be going in the future.  Behavioral Analysis relies on identifying the observable indicators on the ground that can alert us to this concept, other companies use data-analysis to find customer trends and track their movement across websites and find the online path of least resistance.  The goal is to find that path, and, once you identify it, to use it for your goals. In my case, this involves simplifying reader’s daily “blog time” by putting all of the information that I write on one site.

While some company related information will come up on this site now, I’m still not going to put plug after plug for Active Analysis here because no one wants to read posts like that, but take a look at the new tab on the menu bar for the “Veterans, Business and Security” and see the posts that have been added to this site that were previously posted on the Active Analysis Consulting Blog.

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1 Comment

  • Glenn McGovern

    While admittedly I have never thought of it in terms of “Natural Lines of Drift”, when conducting a vulnerability assessment of an individual who is or is believed to potentially targeted by a hostile individual or group, one of the things I assess is the routes of travel. With the advent of the Internet, I have found that one of the easiest means to obtain this information is using the various mapping services. Enter the start and ending locations and instantly I am provided with a route(s) of travel (there is occassionally some variation amongst the services). When meeting with the “client”, more often than not, the route identified is the route traveled (by car). From the perspective of the adversary, this is an extremely easy method of obtaining a “baseline” of natural lines of drift, all with nearly no chance of compromise. From here, it is relatively easy to confirm the natural line of drift, with limited chance of compromise. I mention this only to highlight the use of this concept can easily be used against us.

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