Friday, July 30

Finding Truth: The Death Of Hyperbole?

For several years now, dozens of companies have released scores of research studies that have captured the fancy of mainstream media for headlines. I've mentioned it a few times over the years.

In May, MyType surveyed over 20,000 of its users on Facebook to determine that iPad owners are generally selfish elites and their critics are independent geeks. Never mind that in another part of the study, the independent geeks self-scored themselves higher on being susceptible to greed. And never mind that MyType, a Facebook application developer, created the segments "by selecting only people who matched multiple profile characteristics."

That might be a naughty note in research circles, but it didn't stop a few papers and magazines from jumping at the chance to publish the findings, without the methodology. One exception, one month later, was the Guardian. It took more interest in John Grohol's article that called the MyType research bad science.

Balancing Popular Polls With Real Research.

Things are changing. As more celebrities join social networks, they tend to grab up positions of popularity over the once socially famous (assuming they aren't automated celebrities). As expert authorities increase their participation, quick psychology surveys by software developers lose any feeling of real importance. As agencies play a greater role in developing online content, what once was considered creative loses some of its luster.

It will take more time, but the media will eventually participate in the shift. As publications compete for the same base of subscribers, it might be in their best interest to police themselves against those that grab up nonsense. Specifically, those that benefit from pushing catchy headlines one day, may find themselves making the headlines the next (much like the Guardian did to several by pointing out which ones published the MyType research). Even those that maintain popular blog listings might be turned off, eventually.

The point here might be that this signals a restructuring over who and what can hold people's attention. And the good news is that some patently bad ideas might be vetted. The not-so-good news is that some networks might be more dismissive of those little gems that bubble up from time to time in favor of sticking by bigger brands. We'll see.

In the meantime, expect more research to be unraveled by people who practice science and psychology (and other fields) . While people who are authorities in those areas aren't always right, they're welcome to point out what others might be doing wrong. And that, we can hope, will be worth coverage by the media.

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