I wrote a post a few weeks back about big data's pernicious effect on marketing intelligence. My thesis was: the more data we collect, the more opportunities we have to make false correlations.
I stand by that position. But I've come to realize it's not just big data that cripples intelligence; it's all data.
I submit to you: Communicators were smarter before the Internet.
But let me back-up a little. The impetus for my post today is a blog entry from Wired reporter Spencer Ackerman, who wrote last week about how page view measurement affects journalism (and journalists).
It seems these days, editors mainly look at page view numbers and unique visitors to make decisions about which stories to "print" and which to promote.
But before editors had those page view numbers at the ready, they were forced to make their decisions based on quaint notions like... journalistic quality.
Now I'm not suggesting that editors have entirely abandoned the pursuit of quality. (If so, they'd have been replaced by computer programs that could measure page views and automatically promote the highest performing writers and stories.)
But let's not kid ourselves. Most editors today are a lot more interested in page views and unique visitors (which can be easily monetized) than in subjective determinations of journalistic quality (which can't).
Alas, the two values have very little in common.
Ackerman argues that sites like BuzzFeed are the unholy offspring of these developments. (One of his commenters is quick to recall the old adage: You'll never go broke appealing to the lowest common denominator.)
But here's where it gets complicated: Measurement didn't start with the Internet.
Before the Web, editors measured newspaper circulation (which meant that high-performing stories and low-performing stories were lumped together) and customer focus groups (which... well... don't get me started on the ineffectiveness of focus groups).
The point is, we've always tried to measure data, and it's typically burned us.
And where measurement was difficult and expensive in the past, the Internet has made it cheap and instantaneous. So we're using it more and more, and allowing it to become more and more destructive.
Then again, "destructive" is a subjective viewpoint. If the end goal of journalism is maximizing advertising dollars, then maybe BuzzFeed is a triumph.
We get what we deserve, I suppose.