We've got to stop drooling at shiny data visualizations and keep searching for non-obvious evidence.
I like a shiny data visualization as much as the next guy, but recent details about Facebook analysis made me wonder why some great minds (with great resources) are focusing on some pretty unimportant stuff.
Here's what happened. Stephen Wolfram - who is certainly much smarter than me - released findings from his Wolfram|Alpha Personal Analytics for Facebook project. Among the revelations is that we have a peak number of friends around age 20, with that number slowly dwindling as we reach our 70s.Sort of like the actual world, wouldn't you say? Doesn't this just confirm what we already know, only with a cool, crowd-sourced, data-donation methodology and attractive data visualization?
Doesn't pass the "six smart people" test. This reminds me of something Rita Gunther McGrath has talked about. She, too, is critical of obvious / we-already-know-that research, saying that if "six smart people in a room" can immediately see it, then it isn't something that needs formalized research. (Rita's a smart one, and I suggest following her at @rgmgrath).Daily Mail covered this with the headline "Growing old on Facebook: Search data reveals we talk more about the weather and politics as we age." (Sadly, reading their story, it's tough to tell if they're being sarcastic or not.) Wolfram found we accumulate clusters of friends as we grow older - with the average 35-year-old having four clusters (again, no kidding: neighbors, work friends, friends from back home, etc.).
Wolfram has done some great stuff, such as A New Kind of Science. I know social network analysis can be important, and reveal useful things about how new knowledge develops. Let's see more of that.
Happy Fun-with-Evidence Friday. Have a great weekend, everybody.