Wait, what?

This is not a post on the popular book that bears that title. (I did write about that here:  uncommoncontent.blogspot.com.) This is my reaction to the number a billion that sounds impressive but is really completely meaningless without context.*

When I shared a link today on LI, it offered me three other links to read. Among them was a FastCompany article, "Six Ways YouTube Is Primed For The Future (And Four Areas That Need Work)" Now read what it says for the fifth and see if you have the same reaction I do:
5. YouTube’s rebuilt algorithms have led viewers to watch 1 billion hours of video a day. YouTube is optimized for what it calls “watch time,” which encompasses what users view, how long they tune in, the length of their overall YouTube session, and so forth. Together, these signals help YouTube algorithms decide which videos a user is most likely to watch shortly after they’re posted and which will lead to the longest overall viewing period.
Do you get what's missing here? How many viewers are there? How many hours did they watch before the algorithms were rebuilt?

Without those two pieces of information, we really have no way of knowing how much of an advance one billion hours of video a day represents. Sure, it sounds like a lot, but we don't know if it represents the two billion people watching an average of a half an hour a day or one billion watching an average of an hour, or half a million watching two hours.

 We also don't know if the actual goal was to bring in more viewers or to keep the ones already watching on the channel for longer. That's a pretty important piece of context, as well, if one is to judge if the algorithms are accomplishing what the company intended for them. The article does refer to 800 million YouTube consumers of music but doesn't clarify whether or not that represents the viewers in total and if that number represents an increase over the number before the adjustment to the algorithms.

The bottom line is this: Don't be dazzled by numbers, no matter how large, that are presented without the relevant context.

*Related post http://writewaypro.blogspot.com/2016/10/data-visualization-you-have-to-c-it-to.html