Three traps to avoid on the Internets

I have gotten into the habit of tweeting every few weeks about some of the most common basic misconceptions on a couple of buzzwords.

1. The plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data.’

The first one still stands. And if you’re wondering, it’s also not ‘big data’ either. Or ‘data science.’

No matter how politically advantageous it may be to extrapolate a small number of observations as “proof” of a hypothesis, it just doesn’t work that way.

As Neil deGrasse Tyson mentions on the new Cosmos, humans are wired to find patterns where there are none. Sometimes, we decide the pattern we want to “prove” and only pay attention to the data that backs up that pattern.

But if you’re getting ready to use that one study, or those two or three incidents, to express ‘proof’ of your hypothesis… think about whether there are other hypotheses that might be just as valid. Or better yet, go get more data. Very little in this world is cut and dried, other than flowers. And jerky. So don’t be jerky.

2. If you have to tell people you’re disruptive, maybe you’re not.

This one was also a painfully obvious observation for me. If storage vendors say “we put a flash drive in our array, look at us, we’re disruptive” in 2014 (or even 2013), you’re not going to take them seriously.

The term has some value in moderation, but maybe find a less dramatic synonym for “innovative” or “unexpected” next time  you’re writing a blurb.

When you tell me your company, product, CEO, or incredibly attractive animated mascot is “disruptive” I think of a 2 or 3 year old in the middle of the room howling and throwing things around. And I’m the neighbor/friend standing there feeling bad for that kid’s parents who aren’t handling it very well. Is that the image you’ve spent beaucoup bucks trying to cultivate?

3. Give the absurdly long and pointless lists a break

cosmo-listsOkay, I’ll admit this was a stretch. I wrote the headline and had to make the data fit. See what I did there?

I know all the Social Media Gurus say that you have to have long lists of things to get people’s attention. And they each have one anecdote of when that actually worked. But how many of them can really make use of 16 new sex positions, or 173 ways to make your toes really sparkle, or 5,150 unbeatable ways to increase traffic to your website?

Keep the lists to a minimum, and remember that you’re probably far more interested in the list than anyone who might see a retweet of it in the next decade. But on the upside, your list is (probably) clearly anecdotal, so you’re dodging trap #1 above.

So where do we go from here?

Well, first, some of you might not know where that tag comes from. It’s a an old classic I heard on the Dr Demento show decades ago called “Spock On.” The video is below, or you can skip to the pertinent bit here.

(To debunk another classic faux pas… very few of the songs usually attributed to Dr Demento were “sung” or performed by him. He just made many of them famous, including Weird Al Yankovic and Elmo and Patsy. The one you might have actually heard the good Doctor on was his revision of “Shaving Cream”)

And now that your day is brightened a little bit… don’t make your readers step in a big pile of shaving cream (unless you are a disruptive SCaaS provider).

What terms are bugging you these days? I would add “game changer” (which is great if you’re running the boardgame room at a convention) and guru/ninja/rockstar, but I’m hoping for a cheerful and upbeat Friday so I’ll leave my gripes there. Chime in on the comments if you like.

4 thoughts on “Three traps to avoid on the Internets

  1. Not even people who get called a “guru” should like that term, only if you’re pompous and self-important (which I sometimes am though). I typically don’t like Ninja, but I actually do know one person to whom that applies well to. Hi Amy. 🙂

    Another term that bugs me “Jedi”. Please make that stop. Maybe I should also stop referring to myself as “Doctor” when I’m getting ready for the day…


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