Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage


Jun 11

How Big Data and Online Games Help Catch Scammers

Posted: under Design, infographic.
Tags: , , , , ,

I did a case study on this use of analytics technology more than a year ago. The gist of it is this: online MMPORGs like World of Warcraft, EVE, Everquest, etc., are wonderful tools whereby to study human interactions.

Here’s the gist: when you map the connections between people – or stores, or institutions, or giant multinationals – there are certain geometric patterns that emerge. Analyzing the shape of those patterns reveals what kind of community is in existence, how healthy and vibrant that community is, and whether or not any of the people in that community are acting in a criminal or shady manner.

This technology is being used by Ninja Metrics (h/t to Dmitri Williams, a colleague at USC-Annenberg who runs this amazing company), to help online game environments to detect and remove the kinds of “gold-farming scammers” that ruin the gaming experience for the other players. It’s also the kind of thing that is being used to catch real-world drug cartels, money-launderers and fences for stolen goods.

Now if they can only do something about that punk griefer who keeps zapping me in “Destiny,” they’ll really be onto something…

infographic showing online analytics and scams

(Click to view full size)

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Oct 13

The Equivalent of Google Analytics in 1928: Newspaper Readers Are Liars

Posted: under Digital Migration, new media, newspaper crisis.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Readers want “candy.” Do we give it to them?

Every so often, you’ll read a long, impassioned essay about how Americans are stupid, because they aren’t paying attention to world events, how we’re distracted by the latest tawdry celebrity scandals, fantasy sports leagues, or cute pictures of kittehs.

Which, of course we are. 

mcdonald's fry cook

Is this the future of the news business? Or has it always been this way, and we’ve been deluding ourselves to think otherwise? Gallup’s analysis in 1928 basically says, “Yup. Nobody has ever read those long investigative pieces.”

But it turns out that the same damn thing has been true all along. Check out this piece in the Atlantic about George Gallup (yes, that Gallup) who in the 20s, dared to actually study what people read in newspapers – as opposed to what people SAY they read.

Back then, they had tried various methods to track what people actually pay attention to, down to gathering the used newspapers off the floors of trolley cars and seeing what page they were left open to (and aren’t you glad you don’t have that job, back when people routinely chewed tobacco and spat?). Gallup came up with the novel idea of sending his researchers into people’s houses in Iowa and watching them read the paper (call it ur-Google Analytics).

His results:

  • People are liars. “The person who believes he has read all of the front page may not have read a fourth of it,” he wrote.

  • Nobody likes serious news nearly as much as they report on questionnaires. Gallup’s interviews reported that front-page stories were actually no more popular than small features in the back of the paper.

  • The most-read thing in the newspaper wasn’t news at all: It was the front-page cartoon by J. H. Darling, read by 90 percent of men compared with just 12 percent reading the day’s local government news.

  • For women, the most-read parts of the newspaper were “style and beauty pictures.”

This is very timely, as Wednesday’s class is going to be about using SEO and analytics to track what readers actually read – and the advisability of just giving them “fast food news”.

It’s led to the rise of what we in the biz are calling “hamster wheel” journalism. I talked last week to the editor of Metropolitan magazine, who said that he gets staffers from fairly reputable outlets, like Fast Company, where the reporters have an Excel spreadsheet with 200 stories that they are REQUIRED to do each month. These story “ideas” are generated by having bots track Google Trends to see what the target audience is clicking on, and then backwards-engineering that to have stories that will then fit those audience interests.
On the one hand: it makes sense to give your customers what they want. On the other hand: aren’t we supposed to be serving a slightly higher calling than the fry cook down at Mickey D’s? What does it mean when the news isn’t what you need to know to function in an increasingly complex and demanding world — but just the lowest-common-denominator pap that can be quickly shoveled out and morticed around the ads.
Seems to me that I wrote a book about this

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