Statistics Predictions on Web Success

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Internet Statistics Offer Only a Snapshot of Web Business
by Mike Banks Valentine

I've recently heard arguments pro and con on whether web stats
can offer a truly sharp picture of web business. "It's like
trying to get a sharp photo of a race car as it roars by at
150 miles per hour!" One of my favorite commentators said
in a discussion list post.

As a former race car photographer, I just couldn't let the
metaphor zoom by without commenting! I can tell you that there
are techniques and equipment available to the professional that
allow those sharp photos. You just have to know how to do it
and use the right lenses. ;-) I believe that the real
trick is in leaving the task to true professionals.

Forrester research, NUA internet surveys and others have the
breadth of understanding and tools to interpret the speeding
internet statistics effectively. Speeding targets must be
photographed on their approach to your position with a long
view (lens), a fast shutter speed and a knowledge of the
course in order to put you in position to get a sharp photo.

But even then, it doesn't guarantee that a wonderful snapshot
of that car will tell you who wins the race. We keep trying
to predict the winners or winning strategies on the web before
the race is over and done. All we can say for sure is who has
the "lead". I believe that is what we are trying to do with
statistics -- predict, based on their profits, ad revenue or
other stats, who *could* win. We won't actually know until
the checkered flag drops.

As a matter of fact, many is the time I concentrated on shooting
one driver I thought had the *chance* of winning, based on an
early lead, and found I had almost no shots of the ultimate
winning car in my "take" from the race. So I think when we use
those action shots to make assumptions about who will end up in
the winners circle, we can't leave the race early and know who
ultimately won. Everyone is busy making prognostications on
Holiday sales online based on last years statistics and things
have changed so rapidly that the same racers are not even in
this years race.

There's a second way to get a sharp picture of a car roaring
past you at speed, and that is to shoot a side view, also with
a long lens and a *slower* shutter speed, but this has the
effect of blurring the background. Applying the metaphor to
this shot -- you still can't judge the winner from a photograph,
but DAMN! it's an exciting view of the race! We can report on
those spectacular (market) crashes and who's zooming who, but
honestly, we won't know until the statistics on Holiday sales
from etailers are in -- just how it went.

When all is said and done and you are shooting in the winners
circle, THEN you can make assessments of what won the race
for that team. It sure won't be as exciting as the action shots
to see race team showering the driver with champagne, but there
is no doubt who won. I'd like to carry this to it's conclusion
and assert that statistics can only help us to analyze the race
up to the point of that *snapshot* and cannot predict or prevent
crashes, race strategy or assess the skill of the driver, the pit
crew or the competition. That's a former race car photographers
view of statistics. ;-)

In July of 2001, one of my top picks for internet business
success crashed and burned. I had my bets on WebVan and
they declared bankruptcy and closed down operations.

So we should always remember Mark Twain said:

"There are lies, damn lies and statistics"

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July 29, 2001