I don't recall exactly when I became obsessed with data, but it was a long time ago. Back when Facebook was fairly new
and I was still posting selfies and pretending to appreciate the 'FarmVille gifts' from my co-workers at Corus Entertainment.
I actually have Mark Zuckerberg to thank for having accidentally stumbled into a rabbit hole of data, and then deciding I'd rather not climb out. It all started with Facebook. I mean, I was already using analytics to track user activity on my personal and work websites, but really, it was Facebook that turned it into an obsession.
I quickly grew bored of FarmVille and was convinced there had to be more to social networking than this. More than sharing selfies and shilling diet products. That's when I discovered EdgeRank, Facebook's original newsfeed ranking system. You could easily customize what was showing up in your newsfeed. I began adding music and science stories, and subtracting all the gardening and knitting photos from relatives. (Sorry, Mum.)
It was all fun and games until Facebook began employing a more complex ranking algorithm based on machine learning. They stopped calling it EdgeRank, now it's just called Facebook's Newsfeed Algorithm, and this was about the time I discovered all the (bordering on unethical) ways an algorithm can be applied.
I found I was able to use similar algorithms to predict outcomes with an average 85% accuracy. And it worked with anything. I began collecting data on various random subjects and using Facebook to field test my results. It was kind of like a secret science experiment.
While I became more and more fascinated with algorithms and statistical modeling, I was also growing increasingly suspicious of social networking in general. If you only knew just how much personal information one can gleen from social networks; based on the kind of intimate information I've been able to collect from total strangers. I won't even go into issues of stalking and harassment (yet). It was no longer about connecting with friends and family. It became creepy. A dark alley you don't venture into alone at night. I stopped accepting 'Friend Requests' and sharing personal information, pictures, anything that would give away my location; particularly party invitations, because the invitations that were public, would show the entire world exactly where you'd be, and when you'd be there. My social networking presence resembled the sparsely furnished foyer of a newly constructed office building. A couple folding chairs and maybe a glass of water, but don't get comfortable, you won't be staying long.
To be continued...