Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Book - "Click" (Bill Tancer)

Title: Click (unexpected insights for business and life)
Author: Bill Tancer
Published: NY: Hyperion, 2008.

"We are what we click," claims Tancer, a general manager with a data statistics firm (Hitwise) that analyzes what Internet users do online and how the trends are changing the world. Based on collected clicks on the Internet, Tancer highlights trends like:
  • The week after Thanksgiving being the most depressing of the year;
  • Most weddings are held in Summer;
  • Estimating interest in a particular movie by checking the amount of hits on the movie website;
Some of these discoveries are nothing new. However, what is interesting about the book is the understanding of the behavioral styles of people in an Internet era. The questions and search keywords reveal the demands of people in general and allows businesses to target their products accordingly. The first part of the book deals with understanding ourselves. The second part deals with what we do with the information gathered.

Part I - Understanding Ourselves
The Internet has been associated with Porn, Pills and Casino.  Tancer observes that internet traffic often reveals not only the people but the reasons why these people visit the sites. One reason is the get-rich-quick mentality, or feel-good-fast attitude. Some of Tancer's observations are interesting.
  • Porn traffic is coming down due to the rise of social networking; changing interests of a new generation; (23)
  • 80% of all email messages are spam. Though most people ignore the spam, those who unwittingly respond to them, makes spamming very profitable in itself.
  • Online behavioral also reveals political interest;
  • The Internet offers a quick way to detect changing customer interests;
  • "Celebrity Worship Syndrome": Self-help sites which used to be highly popular is fast being superceded by popular news surrounding celebrities. (84)
  • a significant search theme deals with relationship matters. Questions like "Why did he leave me?" and "Why didn't she say goodbye" rank among some of the most popular framed questions.
  • Fear related terms also rank high. The top 15 'fear of' (in order) deals with intimacy, rejection, people, success, crowds, failure, sex, commitment, public speaking, being alone, love, girls, falling in love, abandonment and broken heart. (105-6)
  • "How to" questions reveal aspirations.

I am particularly fascinated by the religious questions, which deals more with 'why.'
  • Catholics tend to ask about their traditions and rituals;
  • Jews search more on Holocaust and why they are so hated
  • Searches for God has to do with the theme: "Why bad things happen to good people."
  • With such revealing statistics, Tancer gives an interesting take to the term Web 2.0 calling it "Web Who.o" in reference to the revelation of selves in the search terms per se.
PART II - What's Possible With What We Know 

The author tries to deal with what to do with the data collected. This is actually the harder but more rewarding portion. In fact, he confesses that when it comes to 'data arbitrage,' the maxim is simplicity is better. (169)
  • There is a close connection between TV watching and Internet clicks. For example, when there is a contest highlighted on a TV program, people rush to the Internet to register their interest, hoping to win some cash or some prize. The key motivation is a get-rich-quick mentality.
  • People who latest trends closely are called the early adopters. Marketers can profit greatly by making intelligent guesses quickly based on trends about market direction. Indeed, rather than waiting for market research companies to tabulate the data and suggest the market trends, having direct access to Internet clicks is faster.

The second part of the book is weaker, as the author tries to make sense of the data. Reading this part makes me feel like the author himself is overwhelmed and struggled to qualify his conclusions. Coming one full circle, he re-asserted his initial idea that we are what we click.

Further Comments
There is a lot of data. Tancer does a good job at getting the data trends out. His interpretation of it however is not as convincing. It seems more like a case of what to do with messy wads of information. I agree that simplicity is key to understanding the data collected. Yet, it requires some skills in differentiating the information obtained. Tancer has the advantage of having first hand access to the kinds of information people click on. He is also correct in identifying some market trends quickly as well as some success in market predictions. Yet, the nature of the Internet is a changing one. For anybody or any organization wanting to build a case or a system based on popularity, one also has to watch out for legitimate unique visitors to any website.

Legitimacy has to do with non-spammers. Uniqueness has to do with ensuring that 1000 hits is not due to the programming genius of a few. The other issue is privacy, which can be a very sensitive subject to many. The popularity of Tancer's kind of work may lead to a greater proliferation of spyware and various adware related cookies on our computers.

The key benefit in reading this book, is in recognizing that people in general have moved from offline to online businesses. In doing so, they have chosen to reveal more of themselves and their preferences via their clicks. While this book does not say a lot of new things in general, it does reminds us the trend that "we are what we click." Currently, the main problem is grappling with over-information. The goldmine of the future is not the collection of data, but of owning or designing a system that can automatically and intelligently make sense of the data. Tancer's book begins rather promisingly, but lands with a dull thud.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.


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