Beware The Seductive Narrative

I know little about who reads this blog, but I am smitten with ClustrMaps’s geographic mashup widget.

A Bobtuse Bobservations ClustrMap charts visitors from Argentina to New Zealand with red dots scaled to volume.

I seem to have developed a fatal attraction to the statistics logged and lipsticked by FeedBurner.

FeedBurner’s allure is its charting dashboard; it sashays subscriber numbers across a plot that sings a siren-song of your “reach” over time. It lures you with its come-hither page click tallies for each blog post.

If we could tap into the Delphic oracle for nascent blog-writers, we might have found the prescient heuristic Know Thy Audience.

But what do these data tell us?

Examining these data, it is easy, actually, rather seductive, to construct self-serving narratives. For example,

The Narrative Fallacy, brought to our attention by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, refers to the human tendency to construct narratives around facts.

The danger, and the essence of the narrative fallacy, comes when we believe these stories as truths, and worse yet, when we begin to accommodate and massage our facts to fit into our stories.

What starts as raw data, becomes, through our cognitive filters, misleading. Humans like to summarize and simplify. We like to find convenient and comforting patterns in data.

One story that might evolve from a cursory look at the Bobtuse Bobservations ClustrMap is

This blog has 9 loyal followers in Wellington, New Zealand.

Although an equally plausible story might be

This blog was visited by 1 person in Wellington, New Zealand who had inadvertently landed here after searching “flightless birds”.

So, use data feeds from ClustrMaps or FeedBurner – or any data for that matter – to your heart’s content. But, beware the seductive narrative. Resist the temptation to believe the stories you might weave around the data (e.g., see my post 100% Coverage is a Crock of Clam Juice).

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