Anthropology and Open Data



I have been frustrated by what I have been reading lately about the use of anthropological techniques when applied to Big Data and to Open Data.
While I hear the arguments on both sides (Big Data can tell us nothing, Big Data can tell us everything) Big Data can show a shift in behavior and this can affect design choices as it relates to the whole user experience. Folks are correct in asserting that a lot of what was important to anthropologists in the past may not be seen as that important today. I think though we have a very important contribution to make in understanding big data and in the task of implementing open data and creating transparency in government.

Back to big data- in analyzing seven years of click tracking data for a public sector website, i noticed a shift in the use of referral traffic to a specific page within this website versus a browse from the homepage starting point. Indeed when I did a visitor path analysis i noticed over seven years a precipitous drop in "browse from the homepage" versus landing on a particular page from a Google search. Several other municipal web managers noticed this. We managers coined this a "drop in assurance level" on the part of web visitors. What we believe the data is telling us is that the user experience no longer started from the home page of a destination site but rather starts with a search engine results page. based on this conclusion (I can post the data sets that led to these conclusions- not just one aspect) municipal sites changed their design to be more search-centric. I would like to write a blog post to explain more of what I asserted here in this response.

To summarize, anthropologists are needed to make sense of the behavior patterns that can be mined from Big Data. Anthropologists are needed to understand the culture of an organization that is about to implement open data programs and anthropologists are needed to understand how citizens affected by both Big Data and Open data view themselves in relation to their government and to their sense of place. I will be happy to followup with a more complete analysis. Thank you for letting me respond with my few brief comments and assertions.

This is a comment to a very well written article here:

http://openanthcoop.ning.com/profiles/blogs/anthropology-and-big-data

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