I love data. No, no, I mean it. When I saw Bill Tancer speak at a conference a little over a year ago he closed with that sentence, in fact a clever plug for his corporate blog: ilovedata.com. I gladly took the bait. Recently, when I heard that Tancer had published a book about his beloved data, I snapped that up, too.
The book is Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why it Matters. It is, chapter by chapter, a collection of analyses focused on a single data set, namely the search and clickstream behavior of 10 million US-based internet users.
On the surface Click has genuine pop culture appeal, with coverage of topics like porn and fashion and phobias and rock bands. In that respect it's readable by anyone who uses the internet and wonders what we - the collective "we" - are doing online. At the same time I believe there's extra value for those of us who work with web activity data for a living.
As an analyst there is nothing quite so satisfying as taking some data, asking and refining and asking questions, turning the data over and over until interesting observations pop out. Tancer writes about his observations, but he also writes about the processes leading up to his observations. In no way is Click meant to be an instruction manual for data analysts, and yet it does a pretty good job of describing the act of analysis. If you want to know what it's like to be a data analyst, read this book.
Some reviews I've read assert that Click is a plug for Hitwise and its own slice of competitive intelligence data. I disagree. Taking a step back, I think that smart analysts can draw from the book and relate it to whatever data they happen to have at hand. In particular, site-side web analytics data from tools like Omniture and Google Analytics, while offering a fundamentally different view of the internet, can still be used effectively to uncover trends in search behavior a la Tancer's approach. Simply ask and refine and ask questions, then present your observations with the same enthusiasm that Tancer does in Click.
Now that I've written this review I can hand off the book to my fellow Semphonic data analysts. There's a waiting list. We all love data.