Measuring Social Behavior

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This topic contains 0 replies, has 1 voice, and was last updated by  Henry Brown 6 years, 8 months ago.

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    Henry Brown

    from ACM blog:

    Using “averages” while thinking about social behavior? That’s probably wrong!

    I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for a while. It’s one of my pet peeves about understanding distributions describing social behaviors online. I get annoyed whenver I read some headline like: “The Average Facebook Post Lives 22 Hours And 51 Minutes External Link”. The key here is the word “average”. This is quite likely the wrong way to think about social behavior. This is actually quite common in social behavior reporting that I see online. Take another example from Pew Research: “The average American has just over two discussion confidants (2.16) – that is, people with whom they discuss important matters. This is a modest, but significantly larger number than the average of 1.93 core ties reported when we asked this same question in 2008.” [1] I am also guessing that the use of average here is probably wrong. Why?

    Averages are often not a good descriptor for many of the things we want to measure in social systems, since many of the distributions we deal with are not normal (Gaussian) distributions. I’m simply making an observastion that the above two distributions are probably not normal distributions. In the above examples, how could it have been improved? Well, use a different metric that relates to the idea of “half-life”, or the medium.

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