On David Brooks' data-isms


"If you asked me to describe the rising philosophy of the day, I’d say it is data-ism." Since David Brooks' pen (I want to believe he drafts his op-eds in actual ink) is always tapping the pulse of American culture and dusting off the corners of our unconscious minds, I know our little obsession with data over here has reached the national stage.

Most people's appetites for digital media are down to single-digit seconds, so it makes sense to see data as the summation of an experience coming to our aid more frequently. With so much competition for our attention, it's also no surprise we need more help with our gold panning in terms of the information we trust.

Data as summation of an 'experience'

So what exactly is this summation of an experience I'm rambling about? A few examples:

  • Correctly tracking nuances of political beliefs and attitudes, which is what allowed Nate Silver to accurately predict how each of the 50

    states would vote in the 2012 Presidential Election - versus the 'here and now' poll counterparts

  • Turning disparate data points into real insight, like how our Neighborhood Navigator mines the raw data to determine the real dimensions of how a neighborhood is different

Or as Derrick Harris at Gigaom says,

"If there’s one thing I’ve learned [working with the best minds in data], it’s that the real value of data isn’t just in uncovering statistical realities, but in finding methods for doing so where it was hitherto impossible and in creating entirely new products that change the way we interact with our world."

Drawing shapes between all types of data points is what will make our lives easier. But as more data comes into play - along with more parties who claim to know it - we must scrutinize the assumptions and methods of the madness: gathering, analyzing, and interpreting said data.

Unlike some other local data vendors, data processing is a science we are constantly striving to improve at Onboard Informatics. Sure there are growing pains, but it beats the hell out of spitting out meaningless data (whether on a website or in a dynamic iPad app with user-defined search capabilities) that users can't trust.

The phenomenon of big data will never be error-free as long as humans are involved. But the better we are at a) gathering/standardizing (who exactly are the leading sources and what are the discrepancies between them?) and b) pulling behavioral patterns from mounds of seemingly unconnected events - the faster you can place someone in the right house in the right neighborhood, create an incredibly engaging consumer behavior article that drives your advertising value, or show someone where their ideal hotel is for that weekend in Seattle.

Image Credit: Miller Center on Flickr.com