Sign up FAST! Login

Is Little Data The Next Big Data? It’s like the old adage about the drunk searching for his keys...

big little

The era of “Big Data” is upon us. From Target mining shopper data to figure out who is getting pregnant to Google using online search to predict incidence of the flu, companies and organizations are using troves of information to spot trends, combat crime, and prevent disease. Online and offline actions are being tracked, aggregated, and analyzed at dizzying rates.

But just because a metric is easy to capture doesn’t mean it’s the right metric to use. More followers don’t actually equal more influence. More connections don’t necessarily mean more expertise. They may just mean someone spend a lot of time on the site.

It’s like the old adage about the drunk searching for his keys. One night a policeman sees a drunk scouring the ground around a streetlight so he asks the drunk what he is looking for. The drunk says “I lost my keys,” and the policeman, wanting to be helpful, joins in the search. After a few fruitless minutes combing the area, the policeman asks the drunk “are you sure you dropped them here?" “Not sure,” the drunk says, “I have no idea where I dropped them.” “Then why are we searching under the street light?” asks the policeman. “Because that is where the light is,” the drunk replies.

Measurement is great. Without it we don’t know where we are, how we’re doing, or how to improve. But we need to be careful about how we use it. Because without realizing it, measurement determines rewards and motivation. It determines what people care about, what they work to achieve, and whether they cheat to get there. Tracking student test scores helps measure achievement, but it also encourages teachers to teach to the test.

So before you obsess over a particular metric, make sure it’s the right metric to obsess over. It might just be time to find a new streetlight.

Stashed in: Big Data

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

This has been an ongoing theme of yours:

We can measure anything so we should be careful to measure the right thing.

You May Also Like: