Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Functionalism - why I like it

Gary Angel is doing some writing on a concept he calls functionalism. Ordinarily I steer clear of people slapping names onto things, especially when the names are academic retreads. Yes, I guess it's better than inventing a new word. But here's the thing. Gary Angel truly is working on delineating an out-of-the-ordinary approach and the name "functionalism" even sorta fits.

In any field, an emerging construct has to have a name in order to turn into a building block. Analytics Functionalism has that kind of potential.

What Gary Angel is talking about is, at its simplest level, grouping pages by functions then looking at the traffic patterns of those groups. It's a drill-up way of doing analytics, as opposed to the drill-down catechism that drives some analytics vendors. But it's a lot more than that. First of all, the groupings or page types he has chosen to share are thought-provoking and he even has little corollaries for them here and there. Second, when I say "looking at the ... patterns" I mean he has specific analyses in mind, as opposed to just "smart eyeballing" as my friend Lou puts it. More about that from me after I do some more thinking.

You MUST read his white paper and his blog. More than once, please. Then we'll talk.

Now, to digress a bit. You may have figured out after, what, three whole posts? that I am not fresh out of school. Too true. My analytics road has gone through four different early-stage, human-factors-oriented fields to get here --- environmental psychology, white collar productivity research, facility management, office ergonomics, and now it's web site traffic analytics. I must be attracted to small fields still in the creative phase or something. I have helped start up professional associations when the referenced professions didn't even have a common name yet (I'm taking a pass on the current Web Analytics Association). I've worked on the first textbooks in these fields, have helped write federal, state, and international standards, and more. And best of all I've had the chance to hang out with the thinkers and movers in those fields - the ones exuding the above-mentioned creative juice. People I can't name because I don't want this blog to show up when people google them for term papers.

So I'm saying that I think I know structure-emerging-from-entropy when I see it, and this is the genuine article. If enough people get it and use it and take it further, we'll someday have a real profession instead of a vocation.


Anonymous Jacques Warren said...

Actually, Functionalism has been around for a long time in social sciences (see Talcott Parsons and friends); Gary and his colleagues are trying to apply it to Web Analytics. I do agree that Gary's effort to give the WA community a strong theoretical framework commands our admiration.

6:20 AM  

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