…I should add

A note on my previous two posts because it illustrates a broader point.

The page views metric does appear to be both meaningful and accessible. Those are handy qualities for making comparisons but it has a significant downside. As soon as people start paying attention to it in any significant sense then the value of it would be severely undermined.

For example, to set up the fields for the web scraping, I visited a few authors main page several times and literally added to their total. The impact of that would be small for N.K. Jemisin’s page but not insignificant for Brian Niemeier’s. The set up I created could also be easily re-designed to visit a single Wikipedia page many times while I got on with some other task.

I noticed an additional circularity today. I was curious about why there was a Chuck Tingle spike in January 2017 and so…visited his Wikipedia page. If there was any stakes attached to this kind of ranking then a random blip would generate interest in a topic which would drive interest in the Wikipedia page, which would increase the size of the blip etc etc.

I’m not suggesting anything like that is going to happen with Wiki page view stats but the scenario reminded me of more notable statistics we encounter. The most obvious one is share prices and other speculative financial data. The capacity for this kind of data to engender feedback loops is infamous and actively undermines the information value of the data.

More broadly, metrics used to judge job performance or business performance can also be self undermining in other ways. What might have been a handy piece of data will get distorted when stakes are attached to the data which in turn are intended to influence people’s behaviour. With social policy this can have unfortunate consequences e.g. in crime statistics https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-25002927

2 thoughts on “…I should add

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