The one book about big data that won't scare you.
In the past few years, more than dozen books have come out focused on the topic of big data. I should know ... I'm asked to review many of them. Data as a topic has moved firmly out of the world of mathmatics and statistics and seems to fit now squarely into the dual worlds of business strategy and marketing. Out of the last ten books on big data, nine of them are about the business and marketing opportunity. Maybe nine and a half. Meanwhile, the media today is filled with stories of data and its owners behaving badly. Uber's disastrously named "god view" interface enabled their team to creepily track the rides of unsuspecting influencers. Online adverstalking banner ads follow us for weeks with retargeted offers after a single innocent product search. Yes, alongside the beautiful promises of useful personalization are plenty of reasons to fear data and the people in charge of using it.
All of which makes Dataclysm such a welcome break from all the big data fear mongering. As Christian Rudder shares, "if Big Data's two running stories have been surveillance and money, for the last three years I've been working on a third: the human story." It turns out this story is more fascinating than any of us realize. In a style reminscent of Freakonomics, Rudder shares interesting examples of human biases and what they teach us about the lessons of humanity that big data might teach us if we're only open to paying attention. Instead of quantifying his insights in order to effectively increase a conversion rate - Rudder is more interested in the human story in aggregate. It is this unflinching focus on the big picture without resorting to the common media bias of reducing every macro insight into a neat little story of a single person where Rudder excels.
I have long thought and written that the mark of a game changing book is one where you can finish reading it and long to have a deeper conversation with the author. This book will not only do that, it also offers some much needed hope that all this behavioural data we are all unwittingly donating online could do more than help companies sell us stuff more effectively. It could also be giving us an unprecedented look at the unfiltered, unsurveyed and unbiased behaviour of humanity. If only more people with access to the "god view" of data took the time to understand it, of course.
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