Review: Click – What We Do Online and Why It Matters

In Click – What We Do Online and Why It Matters, Bill Tancer uses data on internet use to demonstrate that people reveal plenty of things via their everyday web browsing which they’d never admit to in a formal survey.

The first part of the book discusses what can we learn about the human condition from internet usage data via a series of snapshots of online behaviour. These look at subjects as diverse as porn, politics, prom dresses, diets, celebrity worship and people’s worst fears. There are lots of interesting snippets to be found in all this – from the problems caused to political pollsters by the increasing tendency to drop landline phones in favour of mobiles to data indicating that Sunday is the least popular day for people to browse porn sites. The chapter on fears focuses on search queries and has a nice potted description of the authoritative status search engines have assumed in a lot of people’s lives - “Search engines, despite their limitations, have for some of us become a teacher, a confidant, a willing listener to our confessions.”

There follows a good chapter on the concepts of Web 2.0, focusing particularly on their potential downsides. The closing part of the book explores what can be done with web data analysis, the continuing power of television programming on what people search for online and  arbitrage opportunities from internet data. The final chapters look particularly at the role of early adopters and “super-connectors” in boosting online trends and how their behaviour can be used to predict the future mainstream.

I don’t think Click delivers any huge revelations but, as you’d expect from a Time magazine columnist, it’s all pleasantly readable. From chapter to chapter the book sometimes feels a bit disconnected – more like a meandering series of articles than a single tightly argued narrative. However the chatty informal style is also part of the book’s charm and helps to make it an enjoyable, if undemanding, read.

The author is particularly successful at conveying his sheer enthusiasm for the work of data analysis. He infuses his discussions of the process of formulating and testing theories with a sense of fun.  The book is at its most interesting where he happily discusses cases where his predictions have been wrong-footed by events, and then goes through the process he went through to find out what went wrong and how similar analyses could be refined in the future.

The book was published in the US last year, but I’ve been reading the recently released UK edition.  A nice feature of this is that the author has gone to the effort of  updating and anglicising the book at bit.

Click: What We Do Online and Why it Matters by Bill Tancer is published by Harper Collins

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