Data: as scary as it is important

When I said I was learning a new programming language in my post about leaving JWT, I wasn’t kidding. People have asked me if it’s not hard and the answer is the learning it isn’t hard, there’s a very logical and neat structure to it – it’s what you can to do with it that’s harder to figure out: if you want to build things, what will you build? And the answer, often enough, is that you build something that you need yourself or stuff you’re frustrated with.

  • Are you frustrated with a repetitive task? I was, adding items one by one into a website CMS. Can this not be scripted? 200 items is bad enough, what if we had 2,000 to add? Would we still input them manually? What else can we be doing with that time?
  • Are you using an app that doesn’t do something you want it to do? Or has too many features and you only want one? For instance, I want to have an app that I can use to schedule posts to Facebook without having to sign up to something like hootsuite so it doesn’t publish a ‘Posted via Hootsuite’ thing in at the bottom. I could build one myself, if given enough time or for lack of a viable alternative. Most places have their own publishing apps that probably use a custom interface and make the running of things easier:

Nike Women Publisher

Same goes for school maths: it was hard because you thought of it as “something you will never use again” given now there’s an app to calculate a tip or split the bill. Most people will say “I tip 20%” but not really know how to calculate it, as I discovered when I started working. Some have also asked me which way is the ‘correct’ way to peel a banana. How do you function as an adult?!

School maths was hard to understand because it wasn’t teaching you maths, it was teaching you abstract thinking. Applying abstract thinking to solve problems, much like you’d have to think how a programming language’s variables interact with one another to create a whole. The reason why most of us hated it was because it was either improperly explained or improperly understood: when you have people hitting you on the head with advanced chemistry, then advanced maths, then philosophy, then literature, then PE and you had to wake up at 6 AM or something and your day feels like it was put through a blender, you can’t even begin to understand these abstract concepts, nevermind their importance. Those ‘mathematically inclined’ weren’t necessarily hardwired for maths, I realised later on: they were more eager and quick to understand these abstract notions for a whole host of reasons. It’s much easier for me now as well when I can focus on one thing.

As a sidenote, you come to realise people who are good at this stuff and combine it with other skills are paid a lot of money: data analysts in particular. There’s a deluge of data, I feel like in previous agencies people didn’t quite understand how much free stuff you can get and analyse.

Problem: those who know how to get it might not know what it means. Those who do know what it means aren’t technically equipped to find it and extract it. No one says you need to get into SPSS, know what SQL is and does or be able to say what .csv file is, but it certainly does help to be aware at least. I incline to think people will have to work a bit harder at developing these skills if they’re going to be useful or valuable to whoever employs them. How to find, clean, analyse and create stuff with data: I’ve seen planners who don’t know how to use excel to generate powerpoint charts. How do you function? There’s a reason why some infographics can be horrible and you can call me a pessimist: they’re online lava lamps. Beautiful to look at but useless more often than not. However, they can be scary powerful and worrying tools if put in the wrong hands (e.g. infographics + politics). What’s worse, you could be in a place where people don’t know what infographics are.

So why care so much about data and what in the world has this got to do with advertising and brands? After all, this is a planner blog. So Jeff Jarvis made a very eloquent point when he talked about journalism & media:

That is how Facebook , Google , Twitter and company see content – as a signal generator. That is how they extract value from it, by using those signals to serve more relevant content, services, and advertising. But they are not in the content business. They are in the relationship business. We [journalists] think content is that which we make because we are content people – we see content as a scarcity we produce and control. Facebook & Google see content everywhere – in the allegedly useless creations, chatter and links made by people in the course of their lives. They see content as an abundant resource to learn from, value and exploit.

What Media can Learn from Facebook

The best part about this is that most of it is free – yet no one’s using it enough! The worst part about this: it’s free and there’ll be even more data. Like RFID in supermarket clothing – something to think about. What was that saying like? “Do you know where your data is?”

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