One of my areas of interest is network theory, especially as it applies to the Internet and while this book may not be about network theory specifically, it’s certainly a good demonstration of some of its principles. Bill Tancer works for Hitwise, a competitive intelligence company, meaning they look at available data and try to help companies take advantage of that data to grow or become more competitive. In this book he takes search data and clickstream data and analyzes what that data tells us about ourselves in ways that just weren’t possible using survey or interview methods. One stark example of the different results one gets through this method is in looking at what people are afraid of. Surveys tell us that people’s top fear is of creatures–bugs, mice, snakes, etc. Looking at search data, however, using terms attached to “fear of,” the top fear is flying. Flying doesn’t even rank on the survey list. Often Tancer sees a phenomenon in his data and then digs further to figure out why. Or who, as in the case of who watches porn or gambles online.
The second half of the book is about what you can do with the data, how to be proactive–like being able to predict the winners of American Idol based on the popularity of contestant names in search results. I wonder if he could have predicted our current financial situation by seeing an increase in terms such as “how to get out of debt” or “default on mortgage.” He also looks at finding the tipping point for new music groups, comparing traffic to the band’s MySpace site to their official website. Someone could watch the data and know when a band is going to hit it big.
At one point, Bill tells us that he loves data. I, too, love data and this book was a fun ride through various bits of data that told an interesting story about different aspects of life and business.