Over the last several years, real-time dashboards have become a must-have feature in many digitally-focused media companies. The market has responded: nearly every analytics platform available today has some “real-time” component which helps newsrooms, editors, and social media teams to make decisions on the fly — a necessity in the fast-paced world of online content.
Is the thirst for real-time data new? Not really. You may be surprised to learn that you’ve been working with real-time data since you were sixteen-years-old (or thereabouts, depending on where you live).
Yes, when you started to drive you probably got your first introduction to real-time data, and it was also through a dashboard:
You probably used the speedometer in your dashboard to understand how speed affected any actions you decided to take in your vehicle: taking curves, not getting a ticket, and for those of us who learned to drive before Waze, knowing if we were going to arrive at our destination on time.
Likewise, there’s no doubt that real-time dashboards can provide lots of valuable information for digital media sites. Knowing which stories are getting read, right now, means that you can make sure that you’re a part of the conversation. Real-time dashboards can help you and your team to internalize metrics so you know right away if a post is trending better or worse than expected.
But sometimes, when I hear about how digital media companies are using real-time dashboards, I get a little worried.
Why? Let’s talk about the car dashboard again. Yes, the speedometer is incredibly valuable, but if you were planning a roadtrip, would it be the only information you looked at?
Building a successful media company is a long game. Only staring at your speedometer for the whole trip isn’t going to get you where you want to go. In the same way, looking at what’s happening right now on your site doesn’t give you any insight into what’s “typical” of your readers.
There’s a great blog post on why this is from Dan McKinley, an engineer at Stripe, formerly of Etsy. On the appeal of real-time analytics, he points out:
“Confusing how we do things with how we decide which things to do is a fatal mistake.”
I say a version of this same thing to Parse.ly’s clients all the time.
Confusing how articles are doing with how we decide what to do with them can be a fatal mistake. It’s why our team cares so much about joining real-time information with historical data. While you can take immediate actions on real-time data, you need to be able to marry that with how your audience changes over time to make decisions about what to do in the future, or track changes you’ve made.
So, by all means, keep an eye on the speedometer while you’re on the road to building the audience you want. But don’t forget to look at a map once in awhile to make sure that you’re headed in the direction that you need to go.
This post originally appeared on Parse.ly’s blog.