Sunday, August 10, 2008

Book Review: Click; What Millions of People are Doing Online and Why it Matters

Click; What Millions of People are Doing Online and Why it Matters

Bill Tancer loves data. He loves it so much he has a blog called "I love Data". His book, Click; What Millions of People are Doing Online and Why it Matters is an extension of that love. As the general manager of Hitwise, his job is to evaluate internet traffic for companies to better understand consumers and how to market to them.

Click is divided into two sections, the first reads largely like a laundry list as he explores interesting pieces of data and trends he has encountered over the years. Such as, that there is a surge in searches for prom dresses starting in January, and how this has been driven by magazines for girls expanding the advertising season. How our New Years hopes (and failures), and are reflected in search terms. As well as what we need to know; "How to tie a tie" topped out at #1.

Throughout the first half of the book, I kept wanting him to go beyond the statistics, and talk about the social aspects and impact of this types of data. I got my wish in the second half of the book. He explores the idea of intimacy, and friendship through the social networking sites, and how we’ve gone from the concept of 150 close friends to thousands. He questions at one point though, whether the technology that has so much potential to bring us together through improved communication, is it actually isolating us. He also examines the impact and interaction of television and search, especially in relation to advertising (The Apprentice), and competition shows such as Dancing with the Stars.

Throughout the book he observes the changing nature of the searches, and how they’re becoming more specific and sophisticated. He questions the changes in on line behavior. I expect that as the generations continue to age with the internet, that people will be more open in these public spaces. At the moment, many of the users of the internet are still struggling with the blend of privacy, anonymity and publicity of the internet and how to balance these. Young people now see little division between their physical lives and their on line lives, and as they age, the data will change with them. The proportions of people asking more of their search engines and finding new ways to make money and share on the internet will increase.

I found it a bit frightening how much information Hitwise was able to track regarding internet users, but as Neitzche said “When you look into the abyss, the abyss looks back.” Click got my imagination going regarding what I could find and how I would sort the data were I in a position, but also made me question what my surfing says about me. Though I would have liked to see a deeper examination of some issues, such as group sourcing of information, a la Wikipedia and commercial sites, Click provided engaging insights into the internet as it exists today and how we’re changing with the net. A great read for data people, and those who love the internet or do business on-line.

Bill Tancer

Hyperion Books

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