Sunday, November 15, 2015

Measuring . . . nothing

At his talk at Harvard last week, the Aga Khan reflected on the state of things in the world and spent a moment on the role of technology.  He noted one adverse result:

The more we communicate, the harder it can sometimes be to evaluate what we are saying. More information often means less context and more confusion. 

We were treated to a prime example of this during Saturday night's debate among the Democratic candidates for president.  As we watched the debate, we were presented with a visual hodgepodge.  The candidates were in the middle of the screen.  To the right was a semblance of a Twitter feed, showing real-time reactions to the debate from . . . .  Wait, from whom?  Who knows.  The chosen tweets were the ones some CBS functionary had decided were noteworthy enough to share with the millions of people viewing the debate.  Who were these chosen gods and goddesses of political observation, the ones whose 140-character notes were deemed thoughtful, entertaining, or controversial enough to warrant national exposure? Why were their opinions relevant, helpful, or important in any way?  How did their comments help us as citizens reach our own conclusions about the effectiveness of the candidates?

As if that weren't enough, CBS presented the following chart directly underneath the debating candidates:

When we consider all of the possible metrics about the political world, could we come up with something less meaningful that the "relative number of tweets per minute about three candidates during a debate?" What possible probative value about anything does such a metric offer? Simple answer: Not a damn thing.

A superb reporter, Carey Beth Goldberg, in a note to me, said:  "This is one more example of how the ability to measure something online doesn't mean you should."

She then said:

"There was a really good piece on On The Media about how just measuring clicks is misguided too  -- based on a story about spooning (?!?)"

That article is worth a click! 

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