Saturday, February 03, 2007

Excuse me, but ...

In the development of any organization, there are many roles that make the difference between the organization maturing versus withering. A profession shares many properties of organizations. And web traffic analysis is, arguably, a profession or a potential one. Or so they say.

I love how, lately, various people are writing about all these new-looking scales, concepts, indexes and scores, even creating new names for them, I really do. It makes us web traffic analysts look smart, original and even authoritative. Certainly, it makes us look busy. Terrific.

Another thing this accomplishes is that it puts down another thin layer between the "professionals" and all those people who somehow think that web traffic analysis is something that a smart person can do with common sense and general web experience. Believe me, I'm all in favor of making those folks a tad more insecure because far too many are thinking "why does it take so long? I'm sure I could do it in a few minutes. After all, I'm on the web all the time and I make web sites and ..."

It's also nice that many of these new scales, concepts, etc are drawn more or less directly from early work in now-established niches in the social and marketing sciences. Once you realize why they seem so familiar-yet-not-familiar, it's reassuring to realize that the new things have good pedigrees, or at the very least were used a long time elsewhere with apparently satisfactory results. This is nothin' but good.

I'm looking forward, however, to the next phase. Or rather I hope the next phase comes, period. It's the phase called validation and it's a whole lot of really difficult work. It lasts a long time and it's extremely frustrating especially for the people who came up with the ideas in the first place.

I do realize that the vast majority of western business operations, at least those that have to do with humans and decisions and habits, have flourished quite well for decades without very much validation at all. In market economies, there is just as much power in persuasion, structure, and impression as there is in science or, dare I say, truth.

So I guess web traffic analysis has a decent chance of skipping the whole phase of validation and, instead, using the time-honored traditions of manipulating perceptions and expectations about the value of what we do. Psychology for example (the non-biological kind) in its entire history has come up with maybe as many as three practical and enduring theories that really do explain things. Well, maybe two. Yet many thousands of people are employed "doing" or "using" psychology of all stripes, and the economy is better off for it because the impression of making a difference is, in today's world, sometimes about as much as you need.

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