Saturday, September 15, 2012

Weekend Reading: The Brave New Cultural World Edition

Long-time readers of this blog probably know that I am fascinated by how the internet and mobile technologies are changing people's lives, particularly with regard to how content and data are generated and consumed (and paid for). This week's links all touch on that topic.

First, a fascinating post about "big data" and some of the ethical questions it raises.  As an old school relational database geek, I initially had a hard time with his assertion that "you decide what data is about the moment you define its schema," because I have always tried to make schemas that accurately capture the full meaning of the data I'm storing- that gives you more flexibility in the queries you can later support, i.e., does exactly what he is arguing is new about big data. However, I do give a lot of attention to defining the scope, and leaving something out of scope would mean that you couldn't easily ask a question of the data about it later. Also as databases get really big, you often flatten out relationships and optimize at least a set of summary tables for fast queries, and in doing that you must choose what sorts of queries you're going to optimize. So in the end, I decided I agreed with his argument.

The above post links to a post on OKtrends about racial differences in preferences, based on an analysis of how people of different races describe themselves in online data profiles. This is also a fascinating post. Really, most of the posts on OKtrends are, in an almost creepy, "should I really be able to see this data?" sort of way.

Next, in a completely different vein, I found an interesting excerpt from a book by Mark Frauenfelder about how the fast-paced, daily posting environment of professional online media can cause problems. (Unsurprisingly, Irin Carmon, the blogger/journalist Frauenfelder excoriates, disagrees with his characterization of her work.) I think blogging and online media have really enabled more diverse stories to be told- but I also worry about how the need to drive clicks and the advertising-based payment model skews what gets written and how it gets spun.

I'll end on a happier note: as this post from Scalzi shows, new media can lead to some fun things, too.

Happy weekend, everyone!

1 comment:

  1. Yipes. Today's our anniversary and I am so glad I am not in the dating pool. Plus, he wanted to show me poetry from a Coursera modern poetry class and share his thoughts about that. Hmm, maybe he's not a white guy and is actually Martian?

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