Identity and Generals

August 17th, 2017


“I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”

— Gen. U.S. Grant recalling Appomattox

In this day of virulent revisionism of history all over the world, we again hear of the greatness of the southern gentry (who fought to maintain and extend slavery) and how rosy was their nationalism. Comparisons to “TJ” and “The W” are bandied about, like so much candy at halloween. When the office of the presidency seeks to confer grace upon “southern culture”(read: slavery and it’s accoutrements), we stand in danger that quite a few citizens might start wondering about the history that they have been taught.

Let’s try to elucidate three key differences between the founding fathers and southern generals of the War for the Abolition of  Slavery (yes, the civil war was almost entirely about that).

For one thing, the former were fighting for freedom and against tyranny of a government who was giving the colonies no heed and treating them with barely concealed contempt. The latter had declared war on their own citizens whose only provocation was to have elected a candidate, Mr. Lincoln, who favored the gradual end of slavery.

The North did not start the fight. The South fired on Fort Sumter!

Secondly, these generals didn’t ever flinch from promulgating slavery. At every juncture in the war, when black people confronted the southern armies, they suffered untold calamities. The exchange of prisoners in the war was stopped because the south refused to countenance the black man as an active combatant. This directly led to Northern prisoners of war languishing in prison camps like Andersonville. These gentle Generals did nothing to recognize the humanity of the black man. The founding fathers, with all their faults, wrote a declaration beginning with the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Thirdly, and most importantly, unlike the founding fathers, our erstwhile gentlemen of the south, gave no thought before resorting to rebellion against their duly elected government. Gen. Lee’s declaration to Gen. Scott that he would not raise his sword against his own state smacks of nativism and lack of thought. There is no moral uprightness to what they did.

They were brave no doubt, but so were other military men who served odious regimes before and after them. Gen. Lee’s disbanding of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox rather than carry on a guerilla campaign is thought to be the act of a statesman. It was, rather, the recognition that the horrors of war would increase for the south in this war of attrition.

In conclusion, while we may remember the military campaigns as actions of distinction in war, much like Mongol cavalry tactics are considered very impressive, there is NO moral equivalence between the men of the south and the founding fathers. The former championed the worst government of their time, very much like the neo-nazis and the KKK propose to do today. Let us not forget that.

The limitations of hive idea generation

July 22nd, 2017

We all know how disruptive ideas can change our lives significantly. I am writing on one. The very imagination required to think that we human beings will require an auxiliary device to write on is not more than 50 years old.  The power of ideas is all around us. We have become a hive mind. All of us feeding off each other’s ideas and building new and engaging things. This is all great news.

However, there are a few limitations.

  1. The hive think : As more and more people enter this hive, structures of thinking and innovation materialize so that all can stay organized. The “minds” have to think within this box if their ideas are to be husbanded. Think Microsoft products. Great in themselves but very much part of a structural system so it takes a while for any truly original thought to arise. The kaizen thinking approach has this huge problem of not being able to absorb really different ideas coming from without. The good people at Apple are in this position right now where their best selling product is the Airpod and there seems to be no other disruptive product left in the bag.
  2. The competition for a better kerosene : While the oil makers a century ago were perfecting the kind of kerosene that will burn with the least amount of smoke, other more adventurous people came up with the car and upended the entire oil producing industry. The quest of a product that is slightly better than other products of the same ilk is quite natural but adds to the paucity of good ideas because the minds are employed in an ever shrinking tunnel vision. We had Web 2.0 a decade ago, where is web 3.0? We have had no Google or Facebook come up recently because the people who would produce these great ideas are not focused on creating disruption anymore. Also these giants are gobbling up any competition or new product idea that they see.
  3. Too much of a good thing : The hive is built around ideas that were generated and nurtured in a small part of the world: mostly silicon valley. They cannot be really transferred across the various different cultures now accessing and playing a part in the hive mind. The problems of war-torn sub-saharan Africa do not find any cognizance, forget the desire to solve them. The great firewall of China has no desire to let people of the middle kingdom be part of this hive. South Asia has a huge consumer base ready to consume products not built for them. The lack of participation by a large group of humanity means that there is very little new thought that percolates in this hive. There is a lot more homogeneity than is desirable.

Well, so what do we do about it? As people who make or design products and services, we need to ground ourselves in the problems that we are trying to solve. Instead of sitting in sunny california(this is not a fair dig, I know) dreaming for the world, product creators need to differentiate between different cultures, their norms of work and life and try to fit in there rather than vice versa. Facebook, Google and Microsoft in a very well-meaning way have tried to create teams based on regions but have not been successful because they are always looking for talent that is a “good fit” for the original organization.

There is a lot of thought that goes into building new products but they are almost always for the haves, never for the havenots. It will be a warm and sunny day if we can think up services like airtime as money transfer, solar batteries, cheap smartphones for South Asia, etc. Let’s hope and work towards that time otherwise the next disruption will probably dismantle this hive that we have carefully built.

The Mirage that is Direct Traffic

July 19th, 2017

All of us have seen it. Few talk about it. Most of us don’t want to admit it.

What is this ghost called direct traffic? How could customers/readers suddenly divine my name and land on my homepage. There are various reasons that someone can be captured in this catch-all bucket. All of them point to either incorrect implementation of the Google Analytics code or limitations of it.

These days, with lots of fragmented social networks, much of this direct traffic can also be attributed to links shared via Whatsapp and other channels with no attribution tagging. I would urge marketers to consider these channels too within the share buttons.

So, should we just ignore it? In essence, all that is happening is that the referrer domain is null for some sessions landing on our site.

I posit that we can still find some uses for this nullity. What can they possibly be?

  1. Proportional allocation: Attribution of traffic in such terms as Google Analytics can show us, is not only simple but also simplistic and illusionary. An article about your business or a mention of it somewhere online does not mean that a user will click on it immediately. I see a lot of ads for products that might be interesting and then just go type the URL. Does that make me [direct]? Not at all. I am responding to your branding in media channels. I have known social campaign launches to create a significant increase in direct traffic. I would actually attribute an increase in direct traffic proportionately to all my branded marketing spends.
  2. Use as Control: Some marketers have argued that as much as 60% of direct is actually organic traffic. While that maybe true in experiments that they ran, it will not be the case for you if your implementation is correct. I would propose to use direct traffic as your control traffic. They are not attributed to your marketing efforts so the behavior of this traffic should contrast with your mailings (be a dear and use UTM parameters), social media, paid media etc. This difference in behavior (read conversions to goals) that you will have induced from your marketing will tell you how successful your marketing efforts really are.
  3. TV spends: It is notoriously hard to determine the success of TV spends. Several great analysts have written about it but no one really has a rock-solid method to determine the success of TV campaigns. However, if your Direct traffic goes up in the vicinity(time and place) of TV spends, you know they are working. We can slice and dice our traffic based on geography as well as DMA and have a clearer idea of the impact of TV. One thing to remember is that TV will impact other channels too so please compare and contrast direct with all of them. It has been shown that direct will move the most. Of course, this is quite subjective and I would use it carefully.

Anyone else using direct traffic in their analysis?

Notes from a trip to Shaker Heritage Craft Fair

July 15th, 2017

Local crafts people are your best bet there is when thinking of gifts for your loved ones. We tootled down to the craft’s fair looking for this reason and also just to have fun with the kids on a warm and sunny Albany Sunday. Needless to stay it was a very good time had by all and the children enjoyed themselves immensely, looking at the turkeys and drinking delicious lemonade.

It was also amazing to see that all the small crafts people have easily integrated technology into their way of life. I remember a time not so long ago when one had to go to these kinds of places with cash in hand because no one had credit card machines. In this fair, I saw everyone was armed with Square . We were able to pay with our credit card easily and seamlessly. I wonder what the shaker community would say to it if all of them had come alive today!

There were a lot of people who were selling clothes, baskets as well as foods and spices. Let me show you some pictures and some websites. You can go to check out the products that we saw. Yes, everyone had a web presence and I was tickled pink by that!

Pure Pottery: This father and daughter duo had wonderful pottery pieces for decoration as well as home utility. To see more of their work please go to this site.
Pure Pottery

Mr. Jackson of Kirby Mountain Wood had some stunning wooden pieces of art. This is the first time I have seen actual wood used in a lampshade.

Ms. Sandy Salada had some wonderful woven baskets with beautiful and intricate designs too.

There were also a few artists who were willing to teach their craft. Check out Patty Keelen of “As The Wheel Turns” and Nina Zanetti with her Mountain Dulcimer. I was rather intrigued by the equipment. It looks so lovely and so much like a Sitar, almost.

So that was an interesting trip to a crafts fair. The experience was made richer by the welcoming attitude of these craftspeople and their willingness to engage with the visitors. This summer, I am going to try and make all such events as I am told that “Winter is coming!”


How to track UserID in Google Analytics

July 13th, 2017

Why do we need to do that?

Ostensibly Google says that you do this for tracking true users of your site. Since multiple devices generate a visitor cookie each, they get counted as different visitors. You can stitch sessions cross-device by creating a userid view.

However, if we want to track CAC and LTV by referral sources and we have only Google Analytics and an internal database around, we can piggyback on this method to them.

It is tricky and will require some testing before it runs in your environment. However, it works and I have managed to figure it out in Google Tag Manager and will lay it out for you dear analyst, step by step.

Step 1: Create the User-ID view in Google Analytics.

Go to the Property and expand “.js tracking Info”. Then follow the prompts as seen in the picture below.







After you have set this up, let’s go set up a dimension to store userid data into.

Step 2: Create the UserId dimension in Google Analytics

In the same property column, below the PRODUCT LINKING tab, sits a place to create custom dimensions as shown in this picture below.




Click on create dimension and add the custom dimension as shown below:
















Please note that you have to name it userID. This is because I am going to name the data layer variable later the same. They have to be so to capture your user information.

Step 3: Have your awesome developer pass the user-id value to the data layer variable called userID. The values that it should spit out if you click “view-source” on your site should look like this:

dataLayer = [{‘userID’: ‘yyyyyy’}];
dataLayer.push( {‘event’:’uidAvailable’, ‘uid’:’yyyyyy’} );

They can push this change live anytime and will be quite thankful for the Starbucks drink you will treat them to.

Make very sure that this userID being made cannot be Personally identifiable information(PII). So no names, email addresses, etc.


Step 4: Ok! Let’s push on now to the Google Tag Manager and the last part of this implementation.

Open up your tag manager and on the left hand side where it says, variables, click and add a user defined variable. We will call it userID.

Now, on the left hand side open up the tags section. On all the tags that have anything to do with an event or page view, we will make slight edits. Let’s start with the Google Analytics tag (it should be set to universal Analytics otherwise this will not work).

We add two variable to be filled when the tag fires, one is the userId(please note that this is the exact name you need to set. The other is the custom dimension that we have created in Google Analytics so we can run reports based on our own user-ids, which I am sure, are aligned to email addresses.


Step 5: Now, let’s set our workspace on Google Tag Manager to Preview the changes that we have made. If this works, the Real-Time reports in Google Analytics will immediately start collecting data. Once it works, then go ahead and publish the new tags.

Now, you should be free to download the userID and referral source. You can download the LTV and userID from your own database and analyze in Excel or any other spreadsheet of your choice.

You would have noticed that I keep harping on the name and case of the variable “userID” and “userId”. I thought to name all variables the same and it didn’t work. However, hard-coding the variables works only!


If this doesn’t work, write to me and I will help you make it work. (ateeqahmad[at]gmail[dot]com)

Migrations to kinder shores

July 9th, 2017

What is this desire to go to a better place? The will to conquer all the challenges before you so that a better life may be made for your kin. We live in times where mass migrations are very visible and people have been clamouring to move out of dysfunctional countries and societies to gentler shores.

It has always been so but the rush of time and the obviousness of such a desire did not mark them as very visible events. Some migrations caused enormous upheavals and are still debated. Take the migration of the Aryans into India. The word is usually termed as an invasion among most historians. Here were a group of pastoralists moved from around the caucus and made their way into the fertile lands in Indus and Gangetic plains. Perhaps it was an invasion, mayhap not. However, the heat is felt these days in India because the Hindu right-wing cannot abide by being somehow related to “foreigners”. They don’t want to be clubbed with Muslims, Christians and Jews who came later.

Take another example which still lives in people’s mind. That of Alaric and the Visigoths sack of Rome. It was inevitable that the empire fall into ruin at some point. No empire will ever last for eternity. In modern times, the fate of the British Empire’s fall has been quite keenly felt by Britons. Churchill’s attempt to hold it together during and after the second world war are well documented. Getting back to the sack of Rome. The Gothic migrations on the frontier into the Roman empire due to the depredations of the Huns, and the subsequent ill treatment at the hands of the romans caused the same Goths to rise up and defeat Valens at the battle of Adrianople. From then onwards, the prize of Rome was there to be taken. I do hope we don’t read too much into this history and equate the migrations into Europe from Syria and Africa with those.

Let’s look at a still later example where the migration was the culmination of a dream for jews: the establishment of the independent state of Israel. During the first world war, the Balfour declaration had overwhelming support in Great Britain and Europe at large; not only because of the sympathy felt for jews but also in a perverse antipathy for their presence in “Christian lands”.  After the horrors of the holocaust, sympathy predominated and most European states agreed to an establishment within the Palestine mandate of two different states: Israel and Palestine. Of course, as was the wont of Imperialist powers at that time, nobody thought to seriously engage with the people already living in the land. Of course, calamity ensued…and it is still unfolding.

Migrations need to be very carefully managed, particularly by host countries, otherwise there is hell to pay. In modern times there are very few such instances. One very satisfying instance is the resettlement of refugees from Pakistan in India after the horrors of partition. Many families in Delhi can trace their lineage back to Pakistan within a couple of generations. The good news is that assimilation was quick, relatively speaking, and no one even talks about it as an issue.

The other migration, which is now causing a lot of upheaval is the one from colonized countries from Asia and Africa into the colonizing countries of Europe and Americas. Overall, it has resulted in the betterment of both the migrants and the local population. However, it has to be recognized that to get to this point, lots of effort has been put in by the host countries too. Multiculturalism has been targeted by a lot of xenophobes but it generally work well. Much better that the alternative of denying those entry who would die otherwise.

I have migrated twice to the United States and both times the support systems in place have warmed my heart and made my life very easy. From healthcare to free utilities like libraries, schools and financial support, there is a lot of giving in these societies. A lot of heart goes into putting together these programs and i think that is why a lot of people are seeking out the West.

Migration to kinder shores can work for the betterment of all concerned and is the natural order of our species. Let’s embrace it and each other.

A Framework for Measuring SaaS Product Success

June 13th, 2017

This is a generic framework I would use to measure the success of any web-based SaaS tool. It could be an app, a website, or even your own blog. This could apply to any tool but that is too broad a base and tons of books have been penned on the subject.

Grow Visitors/Users
It is imperative to grow visitors so that we can improve the visibility of the tool.

1. Where is the traffic coming from? (SEO, PPC, Social Media channels etc.)
2. What are the main landing pages on the site? ( are they optimally designed)
3. What are the main partners or referrers to the tool? ( any referral entities or affiliates)

Grow Registration/Subscriptions/Orders

1. Minimize steps to sign up or to shop.
2. Are registration pages/landing pages based on different personae?
3. What are the calls to action? Are they prominent enough?

Improve Onboarding

1. What happens when a user subscribes or signs up? How do we drive them quickly through the process?
2. Track sharing of information, queries through chats, email etc.
3. Is there an onboarding video walk-through for the users so they can quickly see what they are getting?
4. Improve Usability & UX based on user testing of people navigating after entering through the paywall.

Improve Speed and Performance
1. This is where you look at your technology and ask if you need to migrate to better code.
2. Improve all landing page speeds by using either CDN’s or removing external elements ( Youtube videos) that will slow it down.
3. Enable tracking in such a way that the technology and product teams are always aware of the load that each page inflicts on the servers.

Pricing and Retention

1. Every product has several pricing options online that have to be tested and optimized every year. Your costs go up every year but SaaS pricing people are very reluctant to do anything with product prices lest customers be driven away. If you communicate the reasons clearly, your customers will agree to small price changes without a problem.

2. What happens when a customer cancels? Is there a churn management system? How are customers enticed to continue on?

3. Is there a way a customer can upgrade to the next pricing tier? Are they emailed or otherwise contacted about it?

Gather Customer Feedback
1. I have already mentioned usability testing but talking to customers and how they want information packaged will be very important for any tool.
2. Customer satisfaction surveys and NPS scores, if used properly can help the product owners and hence ultimate user experience tremendously.

There are going to be hundreds of KPI’s that you can build on these measures but I urge you to have as few vanity metrics as possible. Otherwise, you will be drowning in unnecessary data that is of no use to anyone.

A voyage, long and strange indeed.

June 3rd, 2017

Review:  Indica – A Deep Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent by Pranay Lal

Publisher: Penguin Random House India, 2016, 384 pages, Hardcover

For long ages, we have read accounts of how the world came to be – from the supercontinent of Pangaea to the continents of today.  This book is unique because it focuses on the voyages and indiscretions of a small bit of Pangaea that went its own merry way and speeded through the oceans, finally crashing into Asia with a dull and rather sickening thud. This little sort-of-triangular land is India. This lovely book is about this beautiful and bounteous land.

The author takes us on a rollicking journey with India, from its origins to the present day, recounting all the adventures in between. What makes it very interesting is that this treatment has never really been done for the lay reader. God knows, it is hard to get people interested in geology but the author manages it easily.  Just see his introduction of the landscape of Bengaluru which goes like this:

“Closepet granite was formed between 3 and 2.5 million years ago and can be found in the district town of Ramanagaram close to Bengaluru. If the granite rocks of Ramanagaram, some of which seem perched precariously one on top of the other look familiar, it is because they provided the hideout of the archetypal villain Gabbar Singh in the film Sholay.[emphasis by author] “

Figure 1: Courtesy


What a great marketing pitch for a book on geology! Now every Hindi film fan who has a predisposition towards paleophilia is hooked. The author takes pains throughout this book to paint pictures (the illustrations are fantastic), even giving latitudes and longitudes for places so you can look them up in Google Earth/Maps if you are so inclined (I did look at them all). This makes the book even harder to just skim through.

Lest you think that Mr. Lal confines himself to geology, I would hasten to point out that this work encompasses much more than that. He takes into account all the wonderful plants and strange creatures (Rajasaurus, anyone?) that dominated the migrating landscape throughout its history. The book almost parallels the history of the planet looking from the perspective of the Indian subcontinent which further draws the Indian reader to it. The great calamities like mass extinction events are considered for the impact they caused in the migrating continent of India as are the formation events of the terrain like the Western Ghats and the Deccan Plateau.

This book is so interestingly and evocatively written that even after having read it two months ago, I am fascinated by the formation of the Deccan traps due to the rupture of the earth’s crust when India blundered into the deep mantle plume near the Reunion islands. It is theorized in some circles that this could have contributed to the great dinosaur extinction event 65 million years ago. Reading it definitely helped me make up a geologist’s pickup line which goes like this: Baby, your eyes are like Deccan traps; 4 million years of molten lava!

Hey, geologists are human too! In fact, that is one of the main strengths of this work. It is particularly written for those who wouldn’t know the difference between an igneous and a metamorphic rock. India’s geological journey, from the split up of Pangaea, to the squabbling and bitter splits with Antarctica, Australia and Madagascar, to the formations of the Giant Himalayas is narrated beautifully.

Interwoven as it is with facts about the flora and fauna that evolved and went extinct along the way, from Barapasaurus – the giant vegetarian dinosaur, to Titanis – the Terror Bird that preyed on ancient horse ancestors, add very much to this narrative. The story of how mammals evolved in India and how they migrated from or to the subcontinent (tigers are not native to India) when it joined with Asia are also very beautifully covered. I had no idea that the ancestors of early whales arose from the inland Tethys sea (which is now the large Thar desert in Western India and Pakistan).

This book really does remind one, with significant nostalgia, of the great biologist Stephen Jay Gould. He also did a lot to explain evolution and its intricacies in very simple language to all of us interested in natural history. Those who have read the famous geological texts of John McPhee, specifically “Annals of a Former World” and “Basin and Range” will notice that Mr. Lal gives the same treatment to India and its geological formations that Mr. McPhee gives to the continental United States. To some, this will also feel like a travelogue. Indeed, this book of science and travel most resembles in its humour, lucidity and vast range, “A short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson.

To all those who are interested in India’s geography, geology, fauna and human interaction with them will find this book very hard to put down even though it is a relatively long one. The reader gets that rare feeling that the author could write another book with his research material (the bibliography and notes take up more than 60 pages!). India is not done yet. It is still on the go, pushing up the Tibetan plateau on its way. I hope Mr. Lal is not done telling this story too!!




The Education of a Web Analyst

May 20th, 2017
There are really two streams that we can see these days coming out of Master’s programs. One is the marketing/product Analytics practitioner and the other is data science practitioners. At the initial levels we need to learn  both streams because it will not really be clear to a student where their capability or interests truly lie.
Based on this premise, I would like to suggest a few types of learning that web analyst in particular need to imbibe in the start of their careers.
Business Writing is factual journalism.

I have experienced a lot of analysts coming in with lots of capability with numbers but none with writing business stories. I also see many analysts who don’t know the first thing about how to use stats tests in real life situations. Did the pricing change lead to more leads? Are the results statistically significant?

Several online course providers offer creative writing, business writing or journal writing courses and I think they should be part of any Analysts formative education.
Knowledge of the tools.
We need to provide hands-on understanding of the tools that are used in typical business analytics. I have seen a lot of spreadsheets(Excel wizardry can take you lots of places) being used.
There are some statistical packages like R(open sources and free, hence very useful), SPSS and SAS that the analyst should be familiar with. More importantly, they need to be able to live and breathe statistics because the core fundamentals are always useful. Some elements of data mining and clustering should also be learnt as needed or as a person’s curiosity demands it.
These days, data visualization done correctly, explains half the analysis by itself. So, some experience in Tableau, Microstrategy, Qlikview is very important in explaining the information clearly.
At the end, it is all code.
Whatever the environment of development in an organization, the analyst should have a fair idea about it since all the measurement hooks are mostly encoded. Even the ubiquitous Google Analytics is run based on a javascript pixel. A solid grounding in Python, PHP would be important so we need some intermediate technical courses to get a well-rounded technical perspective.
Understand the data river as it flows downstream
Although, large amounts of data exists, we don’t get training in information architecture.. How do you get unstructured data to structured data, to BI tools and to reports and metrics is something that needs to be taught too. The analyst can use some BI tools and data warehouse development and maintenance skills. As it become more common to build self-service reporting systems, we need to be able to teach some rudiments of this skill to our budding analysts.
Project Management
Most Analysts end up in large project teams as core members in-charge of numbers. So we need to teach them principles of project management and the current techniques like Agile and kanban. This will help them build their managerial skills too.
Design and Analytics
A good analyst will have a strong creative streak, not just have a good head for numbers. We need to be able to look the system that we are trying to improve (or make profitable) from a design perspective too.
In fact, a lot of web analytics is done just to measure and influence the design and flow of the information on the site for the customer. Conversely, not many designers are just going to rely on their intuition while building a site. They would ask the analyst about measuring the success of a particular design. So, a couple of introductory courses on creative design are essential for the education of an analyst.
I hope these make sense dear reader. Please let me know your thoughts.

In praise of inefficiency

April 2nd, 2017

Setting sun

What price Efficiency?

The glory of the dying sun on the plains of India stirred interesting thoughts. Why is so showy? Why are we so gaudy about everything? Is the beauty of the universe reliant on the waste of energy?

These are heavy thoughts and perhaps belong to the philosophers, poets and mystics among us. On to more prosaic matters, a few weeks ago, I read an article on how Amazon had figured out a no-friction way to make shoppers get what they want. Just this week, the Economist brings in an interesting article on why too much efficiency can be a bad thing. The one-click ordering from that makes me buy too many books or the no-click Pizza buying from Domino’s through it’s app comes to mind.

Similarly, in SAAS products, we try to make the funnel narrower and thinner all the time to induce the customer to buy right away. What we forget many times is that subscription products are longer terms commitments and do require some thinking before the “Buy” button gets clicked. It may help to introduce some inefficiency the process by required watching of a training video or some demos from experienced sales folks before we allow users to swipe their cards. “But we will lose a lot of orders”, you might say. Well, perhaps. Have you considered the amount of churn you already generate by allowing anyone to just swipe their card and then cancel a few days later. I bet, that impacts more of your bottom-line than people taking their time ordering pricey services online.

The Volga Vikings

Talking of inefficiencies, let’s talk of these tribes of marauding Vikings who traded and raided all over Europe, sometimes to everyone’s credit and at other times, just causing mayhem all around. It is conjectured that these people came to so ferocious because a cataclysm(a meteor or comet) hit Northern Europe in the middle of the 6th century. It caused lots of hardship and caused the people to spill out looking for food and provisions for their families. Couldn’t they just trade, one may ask?

Two excuses come to mind. One, there were already established trade networks in Northern Europe and the raiding of Monasteries was to break their stranglehold on these networks. Two, there was lots more loot to be had when you could use physical threats with those you traded, Imperial East India Companies of later years come to mind.

They had mastered the sail and some raided on the coasts of Europe to get loot and other went the route of the Volga and traded with Byzantium and Baghdad. They brought in slaves and furs and traded them for gold, silver and spices.

Volga Trade Routes

Some of these groups of Vikings settled lands like Iceland, parts of Greenland and some early settlements can be seen in the coastal United States and Canada. The trade route linked to the famous silk route and so flourished until the Abbasid Caliphate had control, petering out in the 12th century.

To learn some more of their achievements, please listen to this lovely podcast and read about them in these lovely books.