Stephen Baker

The Numerati
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Facebook's use of "dirty data"

January 22, 2013Hop Skip Go

Here's an interesting experiment (that I don't have time to do). Go into your Facebook page and add up all of your "likes," and then imagine the portrait of yourself that they create. I'm guessing the result won't look much like you. This is because "likes" are about as meaningful as the word "like" in modern American English. I'm, like, not sure they mean much.

An excellent post by Steve Cheney (hat tip: danah boyd) delves into the issues raised by this so-called dirty data. The nut of his argument:

In computer architecture they call an out of date piece of data “dirty”. Accessing dirty data is bad, wasting time and causing more harm than good. And in this context, much of the structured data that makes up Graph Search is just that: totally irrelevant and dirty.

It turns out as much as half of the links between objects and interests contained in FB are dirty—i.e. there is no true affinity between the like and the object or it’s stale. Never mind does the data not really represent user intent... but the user did not even ‘like’ what she was liking. 

He continues the post by explaining how this fits--or doesn't--into Facebook's advertising strategy. This documents the point I was making in my Times piece earlier this month: that advertisers struggle to figure out what to count in social media. 






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