Power Metrics

I learned computers and software by starting with the hardware. I grew up in the 80'ies, so it wasn't until I was about 10 years old I got my first introduction to computers.

Very quickly I learned the game of comparison. How many MHz (yes, not GHz), how much memory, how much space on the hard drive.

Any computer I used at school or something else, I popped open the system properties screen in Windows to see what was under the hood. As if it actually meant something - which I thought it did at the time. I had no idea of what those numbers meant to me when using the system, apart from some things felt faster the more memory or CPU speed it had.

I was playing a numbers game.

At that time, computers were moving into peoples homes - it wasn't just a business tool anymore, and thus adverts for computers popped up everywhere.

And ads just work better if you give people a numbers game to play (at least at that time). The thing about computers was, that not a lot of people really understood what they could do and had no idea what those numbers meant. But since any ad showed off their numbers, it was obviously a way to determine which one was the best - so that's what you did.

So for a long time, this numbers game were played on CPU speed. It was the power metric of computers.

Anyone was pushing for better CPU speed, people started overclocking their machines and fried some hardware in the process.

But at some point CPU didn't matter anymore. It wasn't the bottleneck, but it was the only metric people could use to judge. For a long time you could look straight through the CPU and spent more money on memory, and you'd be better off. Then focus came to the speed of the hard drive, which took even longer to sink in.

On the web, page views was the power metric for a long time. Then it was unique visitors. Today people have realised that traffic is not as important as conversions and sales, so the focus has shifted towards those numbers.

Social networs reported their usage on registered user for a very long time, until Facebook started reporting active users - those who actually used their product.

What I'm getting at is that power metrics and the numbers game is everywhere. Business, politics, education, games, the internet - pretty much everywhere. People pick them to make it easy for others to compare things, and most people are devious enough to find a power metric that supports their opinion. Anything can be twisted.

What's really important for you is to figure out the agenda behind power metrics. Power metrics is often a way to hide the agenda.

But power metrics lacks one important thing: Overview and quality

As soon as the lack of overview and quality gets exposed, power metrics fade in comparison.

Martin H. Normark

Product and UX Hacker. Web and iOS developer.

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