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3.8 out of 5 stars
Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why it Matters
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a great book. First, however, a few words about what it is - and what it's not. It's not a primer on how to get more customers to the website for your your small business. It's not a technical tome on search optimization. It's not the be-all and end-all on the psychology of online behavior.

What it is is something in the same vein as Blink, or Nudge, or Freakonomics. In other words, the author looks at some data and, in a lighthearted way, makes some interesting connections that tell us some very interesting things about ourselves.

In this case, the data is what criteria people enter into search engines. The idea is that this information helps reveal a true picture of ourselves. Ask yourself, what would you trust more when it comes to surveying people's attitudes on pornography - a telephone (or in-person!) survey or detailed data about what people type into a search engine late at night in the privacy of their own homes?

The fun thing about this book is how much data the author has at his fingertips and how much fun he has in seeing odd patterns develop over time or in finding odd correlations - and then trying to figure out why.

Take, for example, prom dresses ... There is an expected bump in searches right before prom time - but also one at the beginning of the year. Why? Well, it turns out that there are basically two different customer groups. One is the girl - social, fashion forward, probably a little more traditional, richer - who is really into it. She reads the fashion magazines that feature prom wear (and that come out in January) and then starts preparing. The other is the girl who knows she's expected to go, and she's got to wear something, and doesn't want (or have) a lot of money to spend on it ("cheap prom dresses" soar during the later time period). The author even gets into what he calls "search arbitrage" - i.e., predicting things (like who's going to win American Idol or predicting the next hot band) based on search results.

Now, this sort of thing is not for everyone. The author meanders around quite widely, and the average reader may be asking themselves "so what?" quite a but. But for those of who have a bent toward data, it's a very fun ride.

The only beefs I had were that the author relegated his methodology to a few short paragraphs in the introduction. It's important, interesting in its own regard, and definitely could have had some more emphasis.

Also, the author's writing style is good, but he's no Malcom Gladwell . In particular, he has an annoying habit of starting each chapter with a hard-to-follow, not totally relevant personal story before he gets to the data. I strongly disagree with the reviewers who thought the writing was really bad or too self-serving. The personal stories simply make it more readable. And he's really quite humble. If you'd like an example of what NOT to do in this regard, try Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy.
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59 of 71 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Summary:
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The book is written in an acedotal style that is distracting from the message of the book; it is similar to listening to a person with ADD or a person jumping around the web on semi-related web links. The underlying message that real-time consumer/web user data is very powerful when you have access to it and know what you are doing is hidden below the self-grandizing of the author.

The author makes references to searches / research that only someone who has access to the search data of his firm (name left out intentionally) through out the book. It is annoying as no one but a client of his firm could really attempt what he describes in the book. Note: You will not get great insights into what can be done. He only hints at it as the searches being described would be fairly obvious to someone familiar with the data being gathered by the author's firm or other firms specializing in web traffic information gather. It seems that he is looking for potential consulting gigs with other businesses.

Purpose:
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The book is clearly an informercial for the client's firm. There are not great insights to be had by reading the book. The chapter on why prom dress searches spiking in January could easily be answered by asking a teenage where magazine ads for the Prom start to come out -- a pretty obvious logical why to find out. If the author has described his methods from the ground up including what data was available, the book would be much more useful for someone new to web marketing and what data is being gathered by web information companies.

Prose:
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The prose is not terribly well written. The author uses a circular style of writing that takes a while to get to the "wheat" amongst his self-grandizing "chaff". He should use a more straight-forward communication style. The book is a fast read, so you can get through it quickly if you are interested in the book.

Content:
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The content of the book can be boiled down to the following:
1) near real-time web usage statistics are available
2) the web usage statistics include where a brower came from, what was searched on, and where the browser was redirected to from a given page
3) you can use simple statistics in combination with other searches to find patterns
4) The number of patterns in near infinite and you need an organized/intelligent heuristic to quickly locate non-surface patterns.

Some of the examples are interesting but only toy examples nothing that is earth shattering or overly useful from a marketing perspective.

Summary:
Overall: 2.5 to 3 stars
Purpose: 3 stars -- get more clients for the author's firm
Prose: 2 stars
Content: 2 stars to 2.5 stars
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 1, 2008
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
When I first received this book I was expecting it to be a business book that talked about general search related strategies and how to utilize search to make your business better. What I got, in "Click", was a book that took me into the revealing world of online research and opened up my eyes to concepts, trends and behaviors that I never knew existed. It was a wild ride; an interesting ride; and most of all one that left me wanting to know more about online search and what secrets the data holds.

All of us tell little white lies. We all holds back the full truth more often than we will admit. Our partners, our family, our friends -- they only get a portion of the whole picture. Yet to a perfect stranger we are willing to tell the whole story. We leave nothing out; we spill our emotions, our fears and our curiosity to it without a second thought. That stranger in the night? None other than your search engine of choice. It knows more about us and what we do than our closest friend or trusted life partner.

The data reveals more about our habits and beliefs than many of us want to even admit to ourselves. We tell search engines more about out hates, our fetishes, our hungers and our pains than you could possibly imagine. When our collective searches are pulled together and analyzed, they reveal fascinating habits and trends amongst different parts of the population. Things that no survey could come close to telling us.

This book is not only suited for business people who want to understand how to analyze click and search data, but also for those of us out there who want to understand and know more about the sociology of the web itself. If you are anything like me, you will finish reading this book with a lot more questions running through your mind than before you started. If nothing else, it will help you see the Internet -- and people -- in ways you never have before.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Throughout the book are boring antidotes about Bill Tancer--Tancer as speaker, Tancer writing that he didn't know what to say moments before he was to speak, Tancer and his obsession with proms. I found all of this tiresome and beside the point.

Additionally,the book doesn't teach you how to search for material yourself. Instead, I have to wonder if Tancer wrote this book to get jobs and more speaking engagements.

Part I he illustrates why we do what we do and in Part II, he provides cases of internet data to help spot new trends.

Unfortunately, the subjects he chose to write about I have zero interest in. Because he provides no methodology, you are stuck with the examples he provides--they don't allow you to do research on what matters to you.

Chapter 1 covers porn, pills and casinos. Chapter 3 is all about how fascinating it is that prom dress searches peak in January. Tancer just finds this amazing and searches for answers--even discussing this *phenomenon* during a speech. As I read, I'm thinking, magazines work 6 months out--and sure enough, teen magazines covered dresses in December and thus the hits in January.

Tancer was equally fascinated with the fact that weight loss, smoking cessation and fitness searches spike in January. HUH? Doesn't everyone know that people make New Year's resolutions to lose weight, stop smoking and exercise?

By Part II, I was too bored and disgusted with the author's writing about himself to do anything but half-heartedly skim through.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
For those who have no idea of what Hitwise (an agency specialized in online research) is, this can be a good introduction. For those who want to read a good pop/social science book like those of Freakonomics, Outliers etc. with analytical logics and insights, you would very likely to be disappointed. The author had overstretched his elaboration of how he reached his few, piecemeal and insignificant findings. Even worse, his writing and presentation skill is substandard. It's been a big waste of the excellent raw material uniquely available to the author. In short, not recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 21, 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm really interested in Sociology and Patterns, so I thought this would be an interesting read, unfortunately most of the examples were obvious. I asked my wife a few of them and for the most part, like the prom dress example, she explained right off the bat. I was really hoping that is would provide some hidden gems, but it didn't.

It's a quick read and you can skim it over pretty fast to get the gist, so if you already have a copy it's worth reading.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Whether this book is interesting to you will probably depend a lot one what you think you're going to get out of it. If you're just curious about the types of things that can be found out by looking at the online traffic data that is available then you'll probably be pretty satisfied with Click. The author does a good job of describing how he looks at the different types of data and can develop conclusions from them. It's actually pretty cool, if that kind of analysis interests you at all.

If, however, you are looking for anything very specific from the book, you're out of luck. The author does provide some examples, but for the most part the discussion is very general and not directly applicable. In some ways Click comes off as an advertisement for the author's work. Much of it is a kind of light sociology/psychology discussion.

For my own part, it was the discussion in the final chapter or two about the different types of users and how they adopt new tools and such was very interesting. Being a business person I found that discussion one which led to thoughts about things I could do to expand and better target my efforts. The stuff up to that point gave me an idea of what could be done with the data, but more in the "Boy, if I had that kind of data I could...." way.

In the final analysis, I'd say this book falls short of its potential. If it focused specifically on either conclusions drawn from the website visit and travel pattern data (sociology/psychology), or if it focused just on how one can use traffic data and knowledge of user demographics, I think it could have been a more useful book. The mixture leaves it a bit short on both sides.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The author of Click works for Hitwise, a company that tracks what people are doing online. In this book Bill Tancer shows how monitoring the terms web users search for using engines such as Google and click streams (the trail of sites visited during a surfing session) can be used to predict the next breakout band, the success of a new website, whether housing sales will rise or fall, and even the next winner of Dancing With the Stars. Tancer explains all this in a jargon-free way and his references to numbers and statistics are minimal, making this a surprisingly fast read. Along the way we learn mini histories of popular sites such as Wikipedia and Myspace, and the point at which celebrity interest turns to obsession.

My only complaint about this book is that he sticks with some topics a bit too long: I don't care enough about prom dress buying patterns to want to read a whole chapter on the topic. This gripe is relatively minor though, as most of the topics are current and interesting.

This book is sure to appeal to fans of Malcolm Gladwell. Tancer's book is shorter and easier to read than Gladwell's works however, which is probably a plus for the short attention spanned users of the Web 2.0 that Tancer describes.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 29, 2008
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Web analytics is a fascinating subject. There's the technology - how does one gather the data about what's going on on the Internet, using ISP data, browser toolbars, search engines, and other techniques. There's the privacy and public policy aspect - how is this data anonymized, how much control do people have over the data about their actions, does aggregation really preserve anonymity, what rights do individuals, ISPs, research companies and government have. There's the murky relationship between analytics and malware, and the related issue of internet filters. And after all that, there's a whole range of subjects that one might want to explore, in categories as diverse as sociology, business, politics, social, education, family, religion, sports.... And since every ready will be interested in something different, it would be really useful to discuss how one goes about this kind of exploration and research; how much of it can be done by Jane Doe, and how much depends on commercial databases.

That's not what Bill Tancer gave us. Instead, Bill rambles on about himself: how he got into the analytics business, and some of the random stuff he found out. It reads like a barely-edited transcript of a conference presentation on his company, complete with PowerPoint and speaker notes. It sounds as if most of the topics he discusses were the subject of consulting projects (or else he's got way to much time on his hands, and some rather odd tastes), but he can't simply regurgitate the reports that he wrote for his clients. So each one gets dumbed down into this folksy style, with a couple of graphs to show that he actually crunched some numbers. And all the time, it's me, me, me.

Tedious. Now if I can only find the book that I discussed at the start....
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a great book which gets you to think about much more than raw traffic statistics when trying to understand how, and particularly when, people find your site. The cover blurb describes the prom dresses example (the web has enabled girls to start searching for prom dresses in January, far in advance of the March-April season that stores put them in the window). But I found other examples in the book more interesting, like the long discussion of how, and when, YouTube launched and overtook Google Video and Yahoo Video within 60 days. This detailed example is worth the cover price of the book.

That "when" dimension was one of the two key concepts I got from this book. Using an extremely deep database of web behavior, gathered from traffic to hundreds of thousands of web sites, author Bill Tancer provides many examples of how the timeline of hits is more important than the raw number. One example is his identification of an S-curve over time in social network exposure vs search engine exposure of indie bands, a phenomenon I expect is repeated with many consumer-media products. Essentially, he demonstrates with data how social networks like MySpace or Facebook are the starting point for indie band exposure, but the bands don't take off until the search engine traffic surpasses and overwhelms them. This example is also worth the cover price of the book.

The other key concept here is what I'll call "from where". This goes way beyond just "from a Google search on X" or "from hotmail". You really need to think about the rate of change of "from where" over time, as in the indie music example above.

Please note: Bill Tancer is a senior executive with Hitwise, which sells the data he uses so eloquently and often throughout this book. At times, the book does come off as an advertisement for a Hitwise subscription. He does not give any specific instructions for how the reader might begin to do this type of research on their own, perhaps as a prelude to purchasing a Hitwise subscription. This is my reason for knocking the rating down to four stars from five.

If you are in the business of driving consumer traffic to your web site, this book is a must read. But it may leave you drooling for that Hitwise data.
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