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Tracking wars and wine with Google Books

I’m sure you’ve seen Google Books, where you can search millions of books from libraries and publishers worldwide, and if the book is out of copyright you can download it.

According to About Google Books, it all began because Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin “envisioned people everywhere being able to search through all of the world’s books to find the ones they’re looking for.”

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See the people in the patterns

When faced with oodles of data, as we usually are with web analytics, it’s often hard to discern the meaningful information – what data analyst Nate Silver (of whom I blogged previously) calls the ‘signal’ – from the useless information, the ‘noise’ which signifies nothing.

Sometimes the signal is hard to spot because it’s not what we expected. Without even realising it we look for patterns of information that fit our narrative of how of we think people behave; the activities – or stories – that we feel to be true.

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“Always in motion is the future” *

When you work on a website it’s quite rare that you come face to face with the people who use it.

What you do see is a lot of analytics about what they are doing on your website. From which you try to deduce what they want to do, what they can do, what they can’t do, and perhaps what they don’t yet know that they want to do.

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