Thumbs up for Dataclysm: Love, Sex, Race, and Identity–What Our Online Lives Tell Us about Our Offline Selves by Christian Rudder. Sociology.
The funny thing here is that Modern Romance (my review) was written by a comedian and Dataclysm was written by a numbers dweeb, and Dataclysm is way funnier. The topic is not quite the same—MR is about dating, and Dataclysm is more generally about how big data can be used to study many facets of sociology—but since the author of Dataclysm was one of the founding partners of OkCupid, he draws a lot of his data from online dating, making the two books feel very similar. My reading was not goal-oriented beyond “learn interesting things and be entertained”—by which I mean I wasn’t seeking information on how to best date online—so from that perspective, Dataclysm is a better value for both “interesting things” and “entertainment.” But if you’re looking for advice, YMMV.
I have led OkCupid’s analytics team since 2009, and my job is to make sense of the data our users create. While my three founding partners have done almost all the hard work of actually building the site, I’ve spent years just playing with the numbers. Some of what I work on helps us run the business: for example, understanding how men and women view sex and beauty differently is essential for a dating site. But a lot of my results aren’t directly useful—just interesting. There’s not much you can do with the fact that, statistically, the least black band on Earth is Belle & Sebastian, or that the flash in a snapshot makes a person look seven years older, except to say huh, and maybe repeat it at a dinner party. That’s basically all we did with this stuff for a while; the insights we gleaned went no further than an occasional lame press release. But eventually we were analyzing enough information that larger trends became apparent, big patterns in the small ones, and even better, I realized I could use the data to examine taboos like race by direct inspection. That is, instead of asking people survey questions or contriving small-scale experiments, which was how social science was often done in the past, I could go and look at what actually happens when, say, 100,000 white men and 100,000 black women interact in private. The data was sitting right there on our servers. It was an irresistible sociological opportunity.
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