In May of 2013, I graduated Queens College. I spent a small fortune, pennies compared to most, to receive a piece of paper that gave validity to my ramblings about how cool I thought Chaucer was/is. I got a degree in English. I must be crazy. Shortly after, I got a job at a magazine. The problem was it wasn’t in the editorial department.
That fall, I began working as a Digital Media Planner a decent sized publishing company. The reality of digital publication soon came to light. It was my responsibility to develop online advertising strategies for blue-chip brands looking to hit wealthy middle-aged men and women or intelligent millennial thought-starters across our sites.
What is the exact frequency and quantity of annoying flashing advertisements we can throw at users before they stop coming back?
Moreover, how much money can we make off the millions of branded pictures, animations, and videos we position next to our content? We are only shooting for a click-through rate of 0.05% (about 5 out of every 10,000 ads).
Needless to say, in a few short months I began to feel anxious about the amount of information ad servers can gather on users online habits. While shopping data management platforms for our sites, we heard promises of user profile optimization that would create content and ad experiences specific to a particular person. My web is different than your web.
Omnichannel personalization. Behavioral data. Interest profiles. Purchase histories.
Suddenly, I was hyper aware of how fabricated the thin veneer of the web really was. Most of us interact with a variety of publications on a daily basis, hitting a top tier of social networks along the way, and reading highly curated content that caters to our need to digest quickly and move on.
What I also realized was the power of data behind this scheme. There are entire industries pivoted on gathering, sourcing, organizing, analyzing, and visualizing these enormous pools of information.
It is much easier to sell a brand an ad campaign when they know their target demographic is exactly who is going to see it.
I began falling in love with data. Call it a complex, but it was essentially a game to see if I was able to make these half-million dollar campaigns could work. I spent hours analyzing user flows, traffic rates, and article statistics.
Visualizations began to tell stories. Charts and infographics were as nuanced as poetry.
I hated the job, but I loved the data.
I come to digital humanities with this love of data and degree in literature. Independently rooted, I hope to unite these two spheres and find common ground this year.
And so it begins.
You L.O.V.E. data? Hello from another planet and more power to you Chris. Thanks for the new vocab “Omnichannel personalization. Behavioral data. Interest profiles. Purchase histories.” Onward!
I have done a good deal of work with medical claim data and the biggest problem we faced was “dirty” data, which occurs when there are errors during the capture of the data. These errors can be human, data entry errors, but also errors in the software that is doing the capture. The analytical challenge is to account for the errors and still develop meaningful conclusions.
Your story is very interesting, Chris. I was also an English major (still am), and it seems that many people with English majors often have stories that are not linear. When asked about how they found their paths to their chosen careers/passions they might begin with “It’s a long story.” Perhaps this is because an English major provides the tools to do a wide variety of really interesting things?
As a fellow Chaucerian and ex-marketing/digital media strategist, I found your post very resonant.
I think that your comment on coming to awareness of the “fabricated” nature of “the thin veneer of the web” foreshadows a central debate in digital scholarship that I hope this course will address: how do we conceive of the web, and how does it actually work?
The conception of the democratic, rhizomatic (after Deleuze) internet is a pervasive one, even in the digital humanities, and it’s this idea that constitutes the “thin veneer” for me. This conception of the internet as an egalitarian and free-form structure rapidly decays when you factor in the algorithms that privilege certain content in web browsing environments, as Kirschenbaum discusses in “Digital Humanities As/Is Tactical Term” regarding Twitter. On an even deeper structural level, the materiality of servers, hardware, and fiber optics make the internet even more structured–and as Net Neutrality shows, this has vast political, economic, and social consequences.
As Stephen points out (in the comments above me) in his observations on “dirty data,” the question of “the thin veneer” and the ways in which we “fabricate” our conceptions of the internet can obscure nothing short of the fidelity of our sources if we do not understand the ways in which software actually performs. So, I ask rhetorically: how does actually understanding the difference between these two conceptions of the internet, as rhizome and hierarchy, assist our ability to assess digital materials, process data, and examine source?
Chris, I can feel your complex. One day after I googled “MBA”, the next day my whole webpage’s AD parts were about “MBA programs”. And even worse was even the video ad at the beginning of my youtube video was the MBA program from NYU Stern. As a user, I feel uncomfortable when I found my privacy is no longer private; however, if I’m a data collector, I think i would be happy to find the new trend my user is looking for.
When I was in college, I was an economy major. Half of the time, I was reading theories, and another half of the time I was gathering data and trying to let theories I read make sense or actually be able to apply in real world. Since then I realized how powerful data could be, meanwhile, how annoying it would be to not find the right way or right keyword for what you are looking for. Most of time, my class project was about government policies, and I had to go to different countries’ state department of statistics. It was such a nightmare when I found some government just never update their year book or national statistic data online. Sometimes, it is about the technology. And sometimes, it is just about the solicitude.