Data Tells a Story: gender gap; 21st century policing; colleges learn from Amazon


Welcome to the latest installment of Data Tells a Story, in which we round up our latest favorite data stories. This week: the data gender gap; using data to grow the perfect Christmas tree; and how colleges are like Amazon.

How Self-Tracking Apps Exclude Women

Apple Health, a “comprehensive” app that lets users track “everything from calories to electrodermal activity to heart rate to blood alcohol content to respiratory rate to daily intake of chromium,” is missing  an important component: it doesn’t track menstruation.

Many of the menstruation and fertility apps that exist now are also lacking in that they focus on moods (“men want to know when their girlfriends are going to be grouchy”) and approach getting pregnant “like a level in a video game.” Some women developers are creating tracking apps to meet their own needs and address the gaps seen in apps like Apple Health.

Hillary Clinton spurs ‘gender data revolution’

Hillary Clinton also recently addressed this gender gap in data gathering and proposed a “gender data revolution” in order to paint a fuller “picture of the lives of women and girls” and “make the case for why public policies around the world need to change.”

For instance, in India “only 6% of women were officially counted as employed,” but “after further research, it was discovered that women do six hours of unpaid work on average outside of the traditional economy every day.” Bringing these women “into the paid economy at the same level as men,” says Fortune, would increase India’s GDP by $1.7 trillion.

In 2012, Clinton announced the Data2X initiative, which has the goal of using “data to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment.”

Can Big Data Help Build Trust in the Police?

After the grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the shooting death of an unarmed black teen, President Obama announced the creation of a Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Newsweek suggests that in order for the approach to be “truly ‘21st Century,’” data must be used to improve performance, and the “the task force needs to recommend ways to collect data about various aspects of police operations and provide open access for rigorous public examination.”

Big Data and the Science of the Christmas Tree

What’s the best way to grow a Christmas tree? Let big data tell you.

Researchers at the University of Connecticut and other partner universities are developing software “that will connect genetic, physical, and environmental data housed in more than 15 major plant databases.” The collection and analysis of such data not only benefits crop science, it helps “to help address important ecological issues like reforestation and climate change.”

Combining this data with information obtained via drone technology can help scientists begin to understand important questions such as the effect of climate change on a forest’s biodiversity.

Here’s the New Way Colleges Are Predicting Student Grades

About 125 colleges and universities around the U.S. are using “the performance data of former students to predict the outcomes of current ones.” Using a process similar to that employed by Amazon and Google to predict consumers’ purchasing behavior, schools have “seen impressive declines in the number of students who drop out, and increases in the proportion who graduate.”

The payoff, says TIME, “goes beyond graduation rates.” Students who stay keep paying tuition, and schools can avoid the cost of recruiting new ones, which is about “$2,433 per undergraduate at private and $457 at four-year public universities.”

[Photo via Flickr, “Power & Equality,” CC BY 2.0 by Steve Snodgrass]

Data Tells a Story: a lefty wage gap; resisting arrest; tracking our feelings


Last week we launched a new series, in which we round up the five latest of our favorite data stories. This week: an unexpected wage gap, a troubling police statistic, and tracking data once more — with feelings.

Study: Left-handed people earn 10 percent less than righties

A new study from Joshua Goodman of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government argues that “left-handed people not only earn significantly less but do so in part due to lower cognitive abilities.”

The data showed that “lefties have annual earnings around 10 to 12 percent lower than those of righties.” Goodman attributes this gap to “observed differences in cognitive skills and emotional or behavioral problems,” and not physical differences, “since lefties tend to do more manual work than right-handers.”

Vox goes on to say that left-handed people “in the UK and US are 3 to 4 percentage points more likely than righties to be in the bottom decile of scores on math and reading tests”; are sometimes “also shown to have a greater likelihood of speech problems and learning disabilities”; and in the U.S., were slightly less likely than their right-handed counterparts to graduate from college.

However, left-handedness isn’t the cause of these issues, says Vox, but might be “a proxy for other issues,” such as “lower birth weight and complications at birth” which have been associated with left-handedness.

The Incredible Shrinking Incomes of Young Americans

According to a recent analysis of the Census Current Population Survey, the median wage for those between 25 and 34 has “fallen in every major industry except for health care” since the Great Recession began in 2007.


The Atlantic surmises a reason is that the Great Recession “devastated demand for hotels, amusement parks, and many restaurants,” and “as the ranks of young unemployed and underemployed Millennials pile up, companies around the country know they can attract applicants without raising starter wages.” In addition, middle-class jobs have been gutted by companies “sending work abroad or replacing it with automation and software.”

As for why health care wages haven’t fallen, The Atlantic asserts that this is because “demand for medical services is dominated by the government,” such as Medicare and Medicaid, and that the government “doesn’t face the same vertiginous up-and-downs as the rest of the economy.”

One Troubling “Resisting Arrest” Statistic Reveals a Major Problem with Police Departments

According to a report conducted by WNYC, half of all “resisting arrest” charges in New York are generated by only 15% of the New York Police Department. An even smaller group, just 5%, accounts for a whopping 40% of that total.

University of Nebraska accountability consultant told WNYC:

There’s a widespread pattern in American policing where resisting arrest charges are used to sort of cover — and that phrase is used — the officer’s use of force. Why did the officer use force? Well, the person was resisting arrest.

Eric Garner is said to have resisted arrested, resulting in the deadly chokehold conducted by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo.

Fitbit data is being used as evidence in court

Last month was what appeared to be the first case of using data from a personal fitness tracker in court. A Calgary woman claiming personal injury is using her Fitbit data to “show how her activity levels have declined since the accident,” says the Verge.

The Verge suggests that this “represents a new and unexpected use for personal data,” that the same data could be used “to establish or disprove a defendant’s alibi in a criminal case,” and that data could easily be obtained by subpoena.

Apps Are Getting All Emotional

If tracking your weight, food, exercise, and sleep isn’t enough, you may want to consider tracking your feelings. A new wave of apps do just that, whether by asking you to input data, collecting other data (such as Facebook moods), recognizing facial expressions, or measuring brainwave patterns.

But having our emotions tracked is nothing new, as FastCompany says. For instance, Spotify “can correlate a user’s mood with the kind of music they listen to,” and Facebook can (creepily) read “the emotional content of users’ news feeds and tweak them accordingly,” which is a whole other data story.

[Photo: “Robot heart goes BEEP!” CC BY 2.0 by Sean McMenemy]

The Vicious Content Cycle and How to Break Out of It

In the past, the business model for publishing was perhaps more straightforward than it is today. Consumers paid for content via subscriptions. Advertisers paid for space according to predictable factors such as size, frequency, and positioning.

However, with the advent of the Internet came a whole new, digitized world. With social media, blogging, and website platforms, almost anybody can create content (whether or not it’s any good), resulting in a bonanza — or glut, some might say — of free content.

With so much free content available, more and more readers have turned away from subscriptions and paywalls, and as a result, traditional publishers have struggled to monetize. Some, like The New York Times, use a “freemium” model, giving away some content for free and charging for full access. Others, however, might find it a challenge to attract readers willing to pay. Hence, the ad revenue model and the Vicious Content Circle.

The Vicious Cycle


Vicious Content Cycle

Most of us know what a vicious circle is: you go through a series of steps that leads you back to the first step, with unfavorable results. Some might argue an ad revenue model based on clicks is a kind of vicious content circle.

The current content model of new media and digital publishers, says FastCo Labs, plays with “old rules from old media.” In the past, the placement of print media ads involved a lot of guesswork with no quantifiable effect.

Because of this “media companies priced units to advertisers using CPMs that had no functional basis in reality,” and now this “process has migrated to digital media, even though in digital there is much more data available about readers and their reading habits.”

Why Publishers Care About CPMs

CPM, or sometimes CPI, stands for cost per mille, where mille stands for 1,000 impressions. For print media, audience data is often not available and so the estimate of 1,000 audience impressions is used. For digital media, however, audience data is available and so page views are often used to quantify number of impressions.

So why do publishers care about CPMs? Because advertisers pay a certain amount each time their ads are displayed. Each ad display counts as an impression, and so a single page view may result in multiple impressions.

Therefore in order for publishers to monetize from advertising, they must either glut their pages with ads or get as many page views as possible.

But what do their audience members want to read? Most publishers aren’t quite sure. Through DMPs, they might only have some broad information, such as gender, age, and location. However, not all 45-year old women in Chicago, Illinois have the same interests. One might love knitting; another might prefer numchucks.

As a result, creating content might involve the same type of guesswork that placing print ads did in the past, and creating content by guesswork could result in less engaged audience members.

The Importance of Engagement

Engagement is “the level of an audience member’s interaction with, and attention to, a publisher” and its content.  An audience member with high engagement, says FastCo Labs, is more valuable than one with low engagement because the high-engagement audience member is “paying more attention” to whatever is on the page.

Moreover, engagement isn’t just impressions or page views. It also includes dwell time, total content consumed, and number of times content is shared. By that logic, an audience member would want to spend more time with and share content they’re really interested in.

Not All Audience Members Are Created Equal

While all audience members are valuable, some, quite frankly, are more valuable than others, depending on their levels of engagement with content.

FastCo Labs suggests three levels of content engagement — high, medium, and casual — based on factors such as amount time spent on the content item and other user actions like printing the item, bookmarking it, or sharing it in social channels.

With limited resources, a publisher might want to focus on audience members with the highest level engagement.

The Importance of Segmentation

Perhaps more obvious than engagement segmentation is segmentation by interest. But knowing audience members are interested in Fashion, Technology, or Sports may not be enough.

A reader interested in shoes may not care about earrings. Someone into gaming might not give a flying fig about Microsoft, and football fan may be taken aback to be lumped with basketball lovers.

Knowing the audience’s true interests can help a publisher target its content, not just by interest but amount as well. Why produce 50 articles a day about television when audience members are only reading 10?

The Virtuous Cycle

Virtuous Content Circle

Virtuous Content Cycle

Publishers can break out of a vicious content cycle and get into a virtuous one by increasing and improving engagement with their audience members. But of course this is easier said than done. In the next several posts, we’ll be exploring how publishers and other content creators are engaging with their audiences.

Can’t wait to find out more? Contact Reverb at feedback AT helloreverb DOT com.

Week in WTF: baby-dragging bride; Thailand bans ‘Hunger Games’ salute; mosquinado

bridedragsbabyYou may have noticed we took a couple of weeks off, but now we’re back with more stories that made us say those three little words.

A Bride Actually Tied Her Baby To Her Wedding Dress Train And Dragged Her Down The Aisle

We had to read this twice to understand what was going on although the headline says it clearly: Shona Carter-Brooks attached her one-month old baby to the train of her wedding dress and dragged said baby down the aisle.
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What’s Beyond News? Discovery.

fancyHatThis week we’re very happy to announce the launch of our Reverb discover app for iPhone.

We’ve taken the discovery reader experience that we created for the iPad, and made it more stand-in-line-able, while keeping the delightful “what will I find out next?” serendipity that put the iPad version regularly in the top ten for our category in the App Store.

The App Store calls us “news” — and sure, if you want to keep up with the top news of the day, Reverb (and especially the pocket-friendly iPhone version) is a great way to do so. But we call ourselves a discovery reader, rather than a news reader, because Reverb doesn’t stop at news. Reverb wants to pull you past the headlines, past the memes, and past the newest viral whatever, and help reveal to you the related stories and ideas that help you find things that you didn’t even know you wanted to know.
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