What I’m reading: Chaos

My brother Adam recommended this book: Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick. It was the first book to introduce the principles of chaos theory to the general public, and it’s FASCINATING. A really readable description of some very advanced mathematics.

I find myself drawn to population dynamics, which is really not the focus of this book at all, but does get referenced several times. The more I think about this, the more likely it seems that techniques used to predict populations could extend almost seamlessly to web analytics. We already see that people online behave as populations (and we can segment visitors into all sorts of populations of our choosing). And many of the graphs of population groups look like they could be web analytics data if the axes were re-labeled. Case in point:


Also, the descriptions of period doublings and the ensuing chaos are fascinating and surprising. More importantly, as I’ve been sitting here Googling and trying to come up with some descriptive graphs, I find that they’re very seldom visualized as a function of time (although in the book, they’re shown in multiple ways).

Result: casual glance wouldn’t in any way make a web analyst think there’s something relevant there. Visualizations are important!

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