September 2008

Data is the new black

By David Almond, Deborah Ellis, Eoin Colfer, Gregory Maguire, Linda Sue Park, Margo Lanagan, Nick Hornby, Roddy Doyle, Ruth Ozeki & Tim Wynne-Jones
By Stephen Baker
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Bill Tancer loves data, and he's not ashamed to say so. The columnist and manager of global research at Hitwise, a competitive intelligence company, is passionate about his work: he monitors and analyzes online behavior in search of clues, trends and patterns that can help companies understand their customers.

Click: What Millions of People are Doing Online and Why it Matters has real-life examples aplenty drawn from Tancer's work at Hitwise, plus anecdotes that detail his experiences as a speaker and/or attendee at various conferences and trade shows, where he encounters all manner of data aficionados. He offers interesting, odd statistics (more than 20 percent of all inbox spam is related to Viagra; online searches for "prom dress" peak in January, contrary to the April or May surge one would expect) and shares the details of his quests to understand these phenomena. Tancer believes "we can learn more about ourselves through our Internet behavior," and his enthusiasm for data-modeling is infectious. (Really.) Here's a bit of data-modeling: readers who liked Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point will enjoy this book, too.

Any time we log on to a website, make a cell phone call or swipe a credit card, we leave a virtual trail behind. That much is clear (or should be) to any technology user. Nonetheless, The Numerati by BusinessWeek writer Stephen Baker will be an eye-opening read for even the techiest among us. The Numerati, he explains, are the computer scientists and mathematicians who analyze our every click in an effort to learn how humans shop, work and consume media. He writes, "In a single month, Yahoo alone gathers 110 billion pieces of data about its customers," but notes that sorting through data and assembling useable patterns is a mighty task—there's still plenty of untapped potential.

At Carnegie Mellon, grad students analyze old Enron emails for hints about the company's downfall. IBM uses staffers' contact lists to track employee engagement and productivity. An unnamed grocery chain assesses purchasing patterns; someday, that data could be used in "smart carts," with screens that display targeted information or special offers. Fascinating? Yes. Creepy? Sure. But Baker also points out that there's a non – commercial aspect to the Numeratis' work: applications for medicine, security, even love (via better matches for online daters). After all, the Numerati are people, too.

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By David Almond & Deborah Ellis & Eoin Colfer & Gregory Maguire & Linda Sue Park & Margo Lanagan & Nick Hornby & Roddy Doyle & Ruth Ozeki & Tim Wynne-Jones
ISBN 9780439411387
The Numerati

The Numerati

By Stephen Baker
Houghton Mifflin
ISBN 9780618784608

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