Learning from Data…

One of the awesome yet potentially scary byproducts of us as a culture using technology and the Web especially as a medium for consuming media is that we generate TONS and TONS of data which gets fed back to massive central computers and is stored forever.

Think about all the different online tools that you use on an online basis.   I buy a book of Amazon.  There’s data there.  I review a restaurant on Yelp.  There’s data.  I do a Google search.  There LOTS and LOTS of data there.

Every time we do anything online we allow people to pick, probe, and analyze our beviors that would have never been otherwise possible.

When companies have more data, they can more effectively test against what technique reaches you more effectively.  Is layout #1 or layout #2 going to give me a higher conversion rate on my Web site?  This is really great.  No longer do we have to make our decisions based on hunches or poorly made assumptions.

Think about all the great things that Google Analytics (GA) has allowed us to do.  I launched a Web site for my church here in DC back in November.   GA has been so good to me.  As we look to phase 2, I now know which pages people like, which we need to double down on, and which we need to completely rethink.

But what about other mediums?

I was at Social Web Foo Camp last weekend.  In one of the sessions, we were talking about the future of the social book.  We got into talking about the Amazon Kindle.   I hadn’t thought about how, by turning the book into a digital medium, you’re making it possible to grab all kinds of attention and engagement data about how people read books.

If you were an author, how cool would it be if you could know how far your reader got in your book, how many times folks had to flip back pages, what words people looked up, or how long people were staying actively engaged with the book.  Technically, you could gather that data with the Kindle and I’d be shocked if they weren’t.  “Well… only 23% got all the way to page 400.”  Maybe, when you write the second edition of the book,  you need to beef up right around page 400 because most folks are getting lost.

Also… with more data, you’re able to give your users more customized and more personal experiences.   The obvious examples are things like Amazon or Pandora, which give me recommended items based on my previous transaction history.

A cool example that I hadn’t thought of is the Firefox plug-in Ambient News.  Some really smart guys at Mozilla were trying to solve the problem of how can we create an RSS reader for our users with out them having to go through the crude process of manually subscribing to an RSS feed.  They made a plug-in which looks at the data around which sites you go to (they call this the ambient layer) and automatically put together a page of news feeds setup just for you.  It’s just magically there with all of your favorite sites.

But, so… we’re getting all of this rich data and these rich experiences because of the rich data that we’re generating for it.  What do we give up in the process?

Are we going to get to a point that all these services offer us such rich benefits but you first have to sell them your life… sell them your soul?  That’s one of the message that I took away from the movie We Live in Public, which you should all see and I want to write about later.

What do you think?

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3 thoughts on “Learning from Data…”

  1. Interesting observations – the privacy aspect of data will scare, shock, and bedazzle technophiles and non-technophiles for the next fifty years.

    It appears right now the tools in which data is held and analyzed have become so prevalent that we are in a “golden age” of open and accessible data everywhere. How data is used, spread and ultimately sold will determine whether the public will accept it and whether 50 years from now we know more about each other or less.

  2. Hey Justin,
    I read an interesting book by Stephen Baker last year called the Numerati. Both the book and your insightful post emphasize how we are quickly becoming statistics. Perhaps more alarming than the increasing levels of data sharing is the ease with which our actions can now be predicted and influenced. Choices which we feel ‘we’ are making are increasingly becoming a product of subtle influential marketing techniques. Will we still have free will as access to our data becomes increasingly prevalent? I hope so. As you suggest though, as marketing campaigns are improved to cater for deficiencies identified through the data, the potential influence of these campaigns is likely to increase further.


  3. I learn a lot from Data. Like that you should name your cat spot, and that sparating the saucer while at warp will rupture the warp field.

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