Sunday, February 22, 2009

Finding the signal in the noise

During the class discussion on the Obama case, Chloe made the point that the new great skill set in this era is “finding the signal in the noise” – aggregating all the myriad tiny points of individual user data into the big picture. It echoed the goal behind Sep’s project, and until this week, I had only thought about using Facebook or Twitter to keep up with people I know, not to look at the overall trends of all Facebook or Twitter users. I played around with Facebook Lexicon a little bit ( -- you type in a word, and it graphs the number of times the word appeared on wall posts by date. It’s pretty interesting to see the trends – for example, if you track the word “super bowl”, it peaks every Monday, right after Sunday’s NFL games. “Hip hop,” on the other hand, peaks mid-week every week and drops significantly on Saturdays. I guess that’s related to when new albums come out?

I do think, though, that it’s dangerous to draw too many conclusions from this data. For one thing, I thought the guests in Friday’s class overestimated our generation’s use of social technology. When I’ve talked about this class to other friends at the GSB, many of them have never heard of Twitter, or if they had heard of it, they had never used it – and I think of the GSB student body as a tech-savvy group. I don’t know much about the demographics of Twitter, but it doesn’t seem to me to be a very representative population sample. Also, I had many conversations about the election last fall, but the vast majority of them occurred in person – not on tweets or Facebook wall posts. Maybe most of my conversations about the 2012 election will occur on Facebook or the next online platform, but I doubt it. I do agree that there is some important data to be mined from these sites, but it makes me nervous to think that it will be taken as reflective of what my generation thinks.

Overall, though, I thought the class was fantastic, particularly the statistics on how much voter registration increased (3,000% among young adults for the Iowa caucuses, according to Randi) and how effective Obama's use of YouTube (according to Brittany, his videos had 1,100 million views -- the equivalent of $46 million in paid TV advertising). Clearly, neither party can afford to ignore social media in the future.

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