Worth Reading?



Data is cheap. (Or perhaps not in all cases.) But in any case, insights from data have even more value. Much as learning to create art has a lot to do with being able to see, gleaning insights from data requires asking good questions in the first place. Levitt and Dubner make a variety of explorations very accessible, entertaining, but most importantly, thought-provoking.

Since Freakonomics was published in 2006, others have written what can perhaps be called follow up. Bill Tancer’s “Click” and “Mastering the Hype Cycle” from Gartner have a similar flavor. Tancer takes his own flights of fancy into his Hitwise data. And though the Gartner book really speaks more to their methodology in describing the hype cycle and methods for innovation, somehow their case study approach reminds me of Freakonomics’ style. Specifically, their use of data in their attempts to divine meaning and direction. And yes, of course, that’s what case studies have always done. Nonetheless, these recent works have a modern flavor in their pointers to modern tools for perhaps solving some of today’s online marketing mysteries.

What’s really interesting to think about is what kind of new questions are going to be asked given the beyond stunning amounts of user behavioral data being gathered on ye ole’ Interweb. Privacy issues aside for a moment, the amount of pure data makes it hard to even consider where to start. Search can show us user intent. And obvious things like few results or no click-through show us unmet needs. But what about real social data tied in with search data plus basic usage? There’s a lot of ways to visualize social networks. And Patti Anklam in “Net Work” tells us a lot about people in groups and group structures. What happens when we tie together search behavior with friend networks, relationship types and such? Might we be able to present better search results? Do other things?

In the end, Freakonomics does at least two major things: 1) Whacks you on the side of the head a bit and offers some ways to think about thinking about stuff and 2) Tries to remove the morale judgment aspects of what might be revealed simply by asking the right – sometimes difficult – questions.