Dataclysm: Who We Are was written by Christian Rudder, co-founder and president of OkCupid. In Rudder’s role at OkCupid, he has access to large quantities of data about people. Using aggregated data from his and other social sites on which people reveal information about themselves, such as Google and Twitter, Rudder explores the new opportunity to understand humanity as a conglomeration. Describing his effort as the “opposite of outliers” (p. 219), Rudder discusses what data from social sharing sites suggests about the beliefs and attitudes of large groups of us and points out that unlike psychology experiments of the past, the numbers are greater and the setting more apt to show real feelings because the data are being entered into a computer and not being given to a person conducting a study.

Graphs and color are used to show aggregated data and discuss the findings of topics, such as:

  • How looks (online images) relate to reactions of others and, ultimately, number of messages that person gets on a site like OkCupid
  • How network connections (such as Facebook contacts) can be used to evaluate the strength of a marriage
  • How angry reactions to others in the relative anonymity of social media (such as Twitter) can be used to study why people feel empowered by putting others down.
  • How the words one uses most in online posts (such as in self-descriptions on OkCupid) can be used to figure out the person’s race, gender and sexual orientation.
  • How maps can be redrawn to reflect borders related to political opinions or emotional mindsets.
  • How queries can be used to determine disease outbreaks and even drug-related side effects.

If big data interests you or if you spend a lot of time on social networking sites, reading Dataclysm: Who We Are will make you think about how electronic communications will change what we know about people and their tendencies.

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