Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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Big Data

Facebook did a big study on how we find information and, not entirely surprisingly, our weak ties tend to give us stuff we wouldn’t otherwise run across. Nothing really shocking there, but, as Slate notes, the scale of the study was:

The other crucial thing about this study is that it is almost unthinkably enormous. At the time of the experiment, there were 500 million active users on Facebook. Bakshy’s experiment included 253 million of them and more than 75 million shared URLs, meaning that in total, the study observed nearly 1.2 billion instances in which someone was or was not presented with a certain link. This scale is unheard of in academic sociological studies, which usually involve hundreds or, at most, thousands of people communicating in ways that are far less trackable.

February 6, 2012 // This post is about: , , ,

Bad Psychology

Hardly shocking, but it turns out people are much better at predicting the behavior of others than themselves:

Psychologists have identified an important reason why our insight into our own psyches is so poor. Emily Balcetis and David Dunning found that when predicting our own behaviour, we fail to take the influence of the situation into account. By contrast, when predicting the behaviour of others, we correctly factor in the influence of the circumstances. This means that we’re instinctually good social psychologists but at the same time we’re poor self-psychologists.

It’s interesting to think about what puts us in social-psychologist mode and whether we can switch that on for ourselves. Obviously it’s not natural, but it’s got to be possible, right?

[Via Barking Up The Wrong Tree]

January 9, 2012 // This post is about: , ,

What Are People Reading Later?

Some interesting data and thoughts on what people choose to read later from Nieman Journalism Lab. The gist: “But the evidence seems to be that people find time-shifting useful regardless of length, and that using these tools for really long work is more of an edge case than common usage. It appears the user’s thought process is closer to ‘Let me read this later” than “Let me read this later because it’s really long and worthy.'”

December 16, 2011 // This post is about: , , ,

Congress vs. Fidel Castro

Just in case you weren’t sure of just how much people like congress, here’s a shortlist of the organizations, ideas and individuals that beat them: The IRS, airline industry, lawyers, Nixon during Watergate, banks, the oil and gas industry, BP during the oil spill, Paris Hilton, US going communist and Hugo Chavez. Luckily, congress can sleep tight knowing they’re more popular that Fidel Castro was in 2008. (Two politics links in a row. Crazy.)

November 17, 2011 // This post is about: , , ,

Ear canal design blamed for fingernail blackboard excrutiation

Experiments show that the shape of the human ear canal is to blame for the reaction we have to fingernails on a chalkboard. With that said, the more interesting part of the research is this:

A powerful psychological component was identified. If the listeners knew that the sound was fingernails on the chalkboard, they rated it as more unpleasant than if they were told it was from a musical composition. Even when they thought it was from music, however, their skin conductivity still changed consistently, suggesting that the physical part of the response remained.

Sounds sort of like the research around the effect of knowing the price of wine on its taste.

November 1, 2011 // This post is about: , , ,