Stats Geeks, Get Ready for Fall's Crop of Data Books

Steve Rubel on Digital Communications

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A dirty little secret in the blogosphere is that bloggers get free books -- and lots of them. Often they show up without anyone asking. Most of the ones on Web 2.0 or the internet just aren't that good or are woefully outdated by the time they hit your Kindle.

Still, my Andy Rooney moment aside, there are two in this fall's crop that have stats geeks like me really excited. They deserve a spot on your shelf -- but with an important caveat.

The first is "The Numerati," by BusinessWeek reporter Stephen Baker. In the book Baker details how companies are hiring math geeks to dissect and make sense of mountains of data to spot everything from consumer patterns to future terrorists. An entire chapter is dedicated to discussing how savvy marketers are using data modeling to dig through reams of blog chatter in search of insights. Baker and his publisher, Houghton Mifflin, are even running a behavioral-targeting campaign to underscore the value of studying ad clicks.
Steve Rubel
Photo: JC Bourcart
Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP in Edelman's Me2Revolution practice.

"Click," by Hitwise's Bill Tancer, tackles the same theme but from a singular perspective: search data. Tancer, who makes a living selling insights to major marketers, leverages Hitwise's search-engine data from internet service providers and its panel to provide perspectives on what people Google and why. Like Baker's book, the anecdotes range from the general to the esoteric. "Click" even features a riveting chapter on pills, porn and casinos. So be sure to cuddle this book tightly in bed.

In the web era, data -- not content or community -- rules. The companies and individuals who can make the most sense of our footprints and place strategic bets are the ones who will succeed. Michael Lewis illustrated this wonderfully in his 2003 book, "Moneyball."

However, data should not be relied upon exclusively. They can be wrong. At the Web 2.0 Conference last October, Tancer predicted that KeepVid and Veoh would be two of the next hot sites. A year later, according to Google Trends, traffic to both is flat.

Data brings power but also a danger that marketers will over-rely on clicks and ignore their intuition, as well as knowledge gleaned from old-school, face-to-face interactions such as focus groups, secret-shopper visits and years of experience. But hook the traditional with the new, and you're unbeatable.
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