I once knew a business editor who griped a lot about the typical story that would cross his desk: “You’re dazzling people with big numbers instead of telling them anything meaningful!”

My takeaway: Always create context around data.

When most people think of data, they think numbers. But most dictionary definitions define the term along the lines of “facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis.” Remember that.

As the technical foundation of online journalism moves toward structured, semantic data examined by people with expertise (or at least curiosity), we will probably find ourselves wondering how many people we’re reaching and how it happens.

Site metrics is one way. Another is social network analysis.

Among the interesting tools out there is the Infochimps API, which is currently in beta. On their blog, you’ll see this:

Infochimps API in action

It shows one Twitter user’s network and the connections between them. While the example was produced by someone running a business, it could easily be applied to a journalist interested in understanding their own networks (sources, readers, colleagues, etc.).

From the Infochimps blog post:

Coupling Influencer Metrics with Trstrank would enable a promoter to identify not only the users most likely to engage, but also the most influential of those users. Throw Wordbag into the mix and a promoter could also discover if users in the active, influential target population have a potential interest in their product.

What other examples can you come up with?