March 05, 2012 at 11:23 AM EST
A plea to startups: kill your nonsensical stats
In the never-ending quest to provide easy sound bites and press-friendly stats, startups often flirt with numbers that just don't make sense. Case in point: London-based kids' website Moshi Monsters, which has a very strange piece of numerical wizardry.
I admit the news that kids’ virtual world Moshi Monsters had signed a record deal with Sony BMG was sort of interesting. After all, the game, which lets kids adopt their own pet monster, is really turning into a serious childrens’ brand — online, on Nintendo, in magazines, with jewelry and (of course) physical toys.
The service now has around 60 million users, and there are even rumors that parent company Mind Candy is considering an IPO. Great news. What record company wouldn’t want a little piece of that?
But what really caught my eye was a piece of strange phrasing that came up in the story, which was pointed out to me by a Twitter friend:
Moshi Monsters is now played by one in every 1.4 children in the UK.
Wow, that’s popular, I thought. Then . . .
Wait, what? When did you last meet 1.4 kids?
I can’t be the only one who gets driven crazy by nonsense statistics like this. They get trotted out all the time in press releases, conversations with executives, conference speeches and (of course) the increasingly ubiquitous infographics. Those stats are part and parcel of the game, and usually journalists take the effort to decode them or debunk them as necessary.
But this one was among the silliest I have seen for a while, simply because it used such a strange measure to try to make its point. I can only presume the intention was to say that 70 percent of British kids have a Moshi Monsters account (journalist Emma Barnett tells me it was an “odd stat” that “kept being given”). In fact, it’s really a way of dressing up the number of accounts in new clothing. There are about 12 million children in the U.K., and Moshi Monsters is meant to be for kids only, so presumably it’s a new way to say “we have more than 8 million accounts in Britain.”
It’s possible there was some other rationale, of course, but whatever the intention it’s surprising how often this stuff makes it out into the wild. No wonder there’s a national campaign against poor numeracy taking place. And there’s a little irony in the fact that Moshi Monsters is meant to be educational.
In fairness, Mind Candy founder Michael Acton Smith accepted the lunacy when it was pointed out, admitting that the statistic was “ridiculous.”
— Michael Acton Smith (@acton) March 5, 2012
What other terrible statistics have gotten traction when they should never have seen the light of day?
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