The Temptation of Analytics

This post started as a tootstorm

Computers excel at logging statistics. The upshot is that it makes it trivial (for certain values of “trivial”) to get numbers about how many people are accessing your projects and products and blog posts. This is, on the whole, considered a good thing; however, I’m not so sure it is.

Recently, whenever I start a project I’ve been trying to define why I’m doing the project and what are my measures for success. That makes me sound like the world’s bro-iest business guy, but hear me out! I do this because I’ve found that if I don’t I’ll default to The Numbers. And, friends, numbers are pernicious when trusted without skepticism. Measuring the “success” of a project based on charts without other goals in mind leads to poor decision-making. You quickly forget why you started your thing in the first place. Worst of all, if you’re not disciplined the numbers can leads you down the path of “monetization!” even if that was never the primary intent.

I recently started a podcast with a close friend and I’m intentionally not looking at analytics for at least 10 episodes (although it’s so tempting!). When we talked about our goals “maximizing the listenership number” didn’t even come up in the original list.

It’s been freeing not chasing metrics and instead focusing on my actual goals, which are:

  • An excuse to regularly talk with my cohost, Andy!
  • Formalize our conversations around tabletop gaming
  • Gain real world experience with podcast production and audio editing
  • Secretly invent a way to talk to interesting people!

When it comes time to glance at the analytics my hope is that it’ll be because there’s a specific question about a goal that statistics can help answer. Everything else is noise.

This is a tangential quotation, but one that I think is worth sharing from Molly Conway’s The Modern Trap of Turning Hobbies into Hustles:

“You don’t have to monetize your joy.”

Don’t let statistics lead you directly into that trap. Never let a number without an attached goal shape why you do something.