Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

On your mind, on your blog, on your slide rule

Posted by Ron Coleman on January 9, 2008

Jonathan Gewirtz at Chicago Boyz writes about the “Perfect [Internet] Storm.” The whole thing should be read, but I was struck by this opening sentence:

A fascinating post by Wretchard on the dynamics of public events in the Internet age, and on the ways in which such events are now subject to quantitative analysis of the type that has previously been reserved for quantum systems and securities markets[.]

Not quite, I think. As Glenn Reynolds recently pointed out in an aside, there is plenty of reason not to be overenthusiastic about the proposition that the Web provides “razor-precise metrics.” Anyone who has a blog knows this, and for a guy with that big of a sample size in terms of readership, demographics, etc. to remind us of it is instructive.

The post at Chicago Boyz actually veers off in a somewhat different direction. But it’s worth considering this:  The phenomenon described there, which distinguishes between what people will say in virtual life versus and what they will publicly say in real life, is certainly complicated by what we may think they’re saying online and what we deduce that means in real life.

In fact, it’s only a matter of time before some massive, steam-driven, state-of-the-art “quantitative analysis” predicts or describes some extraordinary Internet phenomenon and turns out to be dead wrong. Considering that this is the presidential election season, that time could come very soon.

Don’t be fooled by predictions and analyses just because there are integers.

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7 Responses to “On your mind, on your blog, on your slide rule”

  1. “But it’s worth considering that the phenomenon described there, which contemplates a bifurcation between what people really think, and presumably will say in virtual life, and what they will or will not publicly say in real life, is certainly complicated by what we may think they’re saying online and what we deduce that means in real life.”

    You have convinced me with this sentence. I have no idea what you are saying online.

  2. LOL — oh, gosh, Dave, that was awful. I’ve tried to rewrite it!

  3. Jack said

    Maybe it’s just me but I like to think of real life as a little bit like a reality that everybody agrees probably shouldn’t be, but very likely is, and the internet as a little bit like a non-reality that everybody agrees probably is, but never really will be.

    So that being the case, I find it kinda hard to imagine that most people are ever really truly what they surely are in that kinda world, and if they are, then they probably wouldn’t be if they thought that they really were gonna be expected to meet the expectations that everybody else never really had in the first place. Real or imagined.

    Or put another way, what are the odds that by being wholly yourself in a world where nothing is really real you will become utterly transparent to a reality which isn’t even sure if it is the way it’s supposed to be if people really stop and take a minute to think about that awhile?

    Well, you got me, but when any world gets good enough to know itself well enough that it can be satisfied that that’s the kinda world worth being truthful about and satisfied with, then I’ll be satisfied that the opposite is true in any world where that ain’t.

    I’ll leave it up to you as to which world I mean by that.

  4. jan said

    “The phenomenon described there, which distinguishes between what people will say in virtual life versus and what they will publicly say in real life, is certainly complicated by what we may think they’re saying online and what we deduce that means in real life.”

    In other words, what you decide someone is saying, isn’t necessarily what they actually are saying. Well whaddaya know…

  5. Jack said

    “In other words, what you decide someone is saying, isn’t necessarily what they actually are saying. Well whaddaya know…”

    Well now, that’s easy for you to say, but what exactly do you mean by that?

  6. jan said

    I don’t know, Jack. What did you mean by asking what I meant?

  7. Jonathan said

    Ron, I think that there are two issues here. One is the dynamics of public events in Age of Internet. The other is predictions of such events. I think Wretchard is right that the Internet changes the dynamics in ways that may be both consequential and difficult to predict. I have no evidence that Wretchard is right on this point, but I think that he is and that the proposition is probably testable.

    On the metrics issue, prediction markets have a good record as compared to polls and other less-quantitative methods. That doesn’t mean prediction markets are always right, merely that they tend to produce better predictions than do traditional methods. Sometimes (the NH primary, the recent Papal election, etc.) there aren’t enough data for any prediction method to be accurate.

    Thanks for your comments. Several other commenters took me to task on this post and the feedback has been helpful.

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