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Dec 01, 2010: What would you ask Nate Silver?

On Monday I'll be meeting with a personal hero, Nate Silver, currently a blogger for the New York Times. I've followed his work for so long that it's hard to believe he's only 32 years old. Damn.

Nate is one of the Sabermetricians who, over the past two decades, have used statistical analysis to radically redefine how major league front offices (and fans) evaluate baseball performance. (Read Michael Lewis's wonderful book Moneyball to learn more.) Nate devised a tool called PECOTA that is an incredibly accurate predictor of a player's future performance. He applied the same approach to polling and, ultimately, predicting electoral results. Many found his site, 538.com, an indispensable resource for understanding, and bypassing, the biases inherent in individual polls. 538.com netted him such accolades as being listed as one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people, an appearance on the Colbert Report, and ultimately his current gig at the NY Times.

Like many of us, I've been dragged kicking and screaming over the past few years toward a more data-driven approach to design. It's even gotten to the point where I'm writing (and yes, close to finishing!) a book on site search analytics. I'd never in a million years have predicted this. But it's happening throughout the UX world. And it's hard to ignore the parallels with, well, baseball. And electoral predictions. And many other domains.

That's why I'm so excited that Nate will be one of the 2011 IA Summit's keynoters. I think we information architects have a lot to learn about the value of data-driven design, and I can't think of a better person to help us understand what that transition may involve.

Please let me know what you'd like me to convey to Nate. What questions should I ask him? What topics would you love to see him cover in Denver this April? Thanks!

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Comment: Amy (Dec 1, 2010)

Nate Silver is awesome. I'd be interested in his perspective on which statistics in the digital domain (Web and otherwise) are most useful, and on how--or if--he thinks they're misapplied.

Comment: epc (Dec 2, 2010)

Statistics & analytics typically only give us feedback about those things we are measuring…how do you avoid tunnel vision on solely those things which are measured, how can we use statistics & analytics to tell us what we are not measuring?

Comment: Julie (Dec 2, 2010)

When you're looking at relationships between behavior over time and results, what kinds of things tip you off to a red herring--to suspecting that there are confounding behaviors or other problems with the connections being made?

Comment: Abi Jones (Dec 2, 2010)

It seems that since IA is about organizing things for easier use and better understanding, that it fits right in with what Nate does. He takes numbers and makes them make sense because he doesn't just accept the numbers, he asks more questions and digs deeper to get at the real story. And that's what a good IA should be doing too, digging deeper.

I think it would be a mistake to try and shoehorn him into the field of IA. Let's learn about something other than ourselves, and then stretch our own brains to apply it to our work.

Comment: Eric Scheid (Dec 2, 2010)

I prefer to say that IA is about organizing _information_ for easier use and better understanding ... as distinct from organizing "things". The distinction is a fine one, but important.

I'm please to see Nate selected for keynote, as this represents a swing back to considering the content of the information objects we work with, and not simply treating them as opaque objects to be arranged, like things on a shelf.

Lou, ask him about his views on Data Journalism and Linked Data, and whether there's a role to be played by IAs (in addition to the journalists and the programmers).

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