Oct 17, 2010

Benoit Mandelbrot RIP, an ode to modeling complexity

An intellectual giant has passed, and his life and research can be inspiring to all of us, whether a young theoretical mathematician (as I once was in college), or a data-driven marketer (where I have ended up so far). The news came to me rapidly . via Twitter from Analytics Bridge as well as several techy blogs.

Benoit Mandelbrot (see the NY Times Obituary) was famous for developing fractals, that are mathematical models of the complexity of nature, especially growth patterns. These models are of infinite complexity, and usually beautiful to render, like the image shown on this blog post. Read one of his biographies about how Mandelbrot got started thinking about fractals as he investigated a question on "how long is the coast of Britain?" and realized "it depends on how closely you look."

This brings me to the point of online digital metrics, which can be simplified with shallow views like visits, page views, or friend counts. Or, one can embrace the complexity and do full path analyses, understand behaviors, see the patterns in the viral spreading of social networks. The insights of going in deep can lead to brainstorming that turns around a business. Even to beautiful graphics like Mandelbrot fractals.