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Reaction To CSS Tricks Newsletter on Using Data

Robin says we collect too much data. I disagree

Robin, who writes the CSS Tricks’ newsletter each week, talks about data (analytics) in the intro of the newsletter (issue 142) and shares his take on it. In his opinion, we collect too much data. He wonders why we even need analytics. Why we need to know the users’ viewport sizes. Why we need to A/B test the colour of a button. In his experience, it’s often used to justify not supporting certain browsers or browser versions because only a small percentage of users is using it.

I acknowledge that there will always be some executive that will only think about the bottom line and will make the trade-off for not spending resources on something that will have very little immediate return on investment. I agree this is the wrong use of analytics and that it’s bad for the user and bad for the company in the long run. I also agree that a lot of the data that is collected is unnecessary. But what I certainly don’t agree on is what Robin says next.

If anything, it prevents us from iterating and confidently making changes. It makes us think twice before we do things and it slows us down immensely from improving an interface. Data alone won’t make better websites.

How would you make changes confidently that will improve an interface if not backed by some data? How would you even know what needs improving and how it can be improved, if not for data. I would say yes, think twice before you do things. It’s said by people smarter than me that it is more costly to rectify a mistake than to properly research the correct solution. Data alone won’t make better websites, but it can point you to areas that need addressing. Some people use an obscure browser and you want to include them as well in the experience. A growing number of users is using a large viewport you never tested the website on. Your layout might break on those sizes or you could do so much more with the extra space.

See what I did there? I basically reversed what Robin said. It’s not about the data, it’s about what you do with the data. The bit by Robin feels as if he is throwing the towel into the ring. Why even bother if the data is only going to be used in the wrong way? I say you need the data, collected in a responsible way, in order to make sensible decisions on how to improve a website or application. But data alone will not help you do that. It also requires the intention to actually do something useful with the data and the right people to interpret it.