Fame Wars

I’ve been playing with Google Ngrams. If you’ve never heard of them, here’s an introduction to the concept.

Google have scanned about 50 million books, and a couple of scientists at Harvard figured out some ways to analyse that mountain of data – and Google have developed the ngrams tool based on this analysis.

I was trying to use it to compare fame, so testing pairs or groups of famous people from roughly the same era to see who was more famous. Stephen Hawking beats Stephen Fry, Galileo beats Copernicus most of the time, and Edison beats Tesla (to the consternation of true geeks). Moving into fiction, Captain Kirk beats Hans Solo; but Darth Vader beats both – apparently in the fame stakes it pays to be evil.

But one result amused me more than all the others; Michaelangelo vs Da Vinci. There’s a huge upkick in results for Da Vinci, in the early 2000s, right when Dan Brown published the Da Vinci code.

Da Vinci beats Michaelangelo

Remember that ngrams is referencing mentions of a term in the 50 million books scanned so far – so this huge jump in the number of times the term is used cannot be due to one book alone. Ngrams also lets you drill down and see what was published in that period with the term “Da Vinci”, and indeed a whole range of books on the subject of Da Vinci was published. Everything from biographies, to school books, to books analysing all the errors in Dan Brown’s book.

You need to use the drill down function when playing around with ngrams, I tested “meme” vs “gene”. Gene won, which was no surprise, but I found data for the word meme being used back into the 1800s which was a surprise. But on drilling down it turns out that it’s the French word “meme” that is being counted.

Google Perception

I heard a story about a company that changed the presentation of the search engine on their intranet site. Originally it was a simple text field with a search button.

After the technical team had finished making the updates there was a simple and obvious change to the text field.

Apparently without implementing Google Search Appliances, or indeed signing any contract with Google. The result was a marked improvement in the feedback of intranet users.

The story may be apocryphal, but if not it shows the remarkable positive brand value of Google.

Language Danger

I’m sick of very clever companies guessing which language I want to use based on my location. Google keeps throwing me into Dutch, even if I typed in google.com, do they really think I can’t figure out how to use google.nl? or the advanced search options for that matter.

And Apple keeps throwing iTunes into Dutch. I get that there are copyright issues concerning the content – fine. But why can’t the app itself stay in English? They have the interface in English already.

Please, stop assuming I want to use websites in the language of the country I’m sitting in. How hard is it to give me a language choice?

(And before anyone gets on the integration bandwagon – I can use these sites in Dutch, I just don’t want to).

The World’s Greatest Tech Companies

I read this tweet on July fourth, and I felt a little miffed.

While the companies listed are great in their own way, and they’re registered in the US it’s a pretty big jump from there to “Every great tech company for the past decade is from the US of A.”

Plus, has Twitter made a profit yet? I think Twitter has lots of potential, but if a company has yet to make a profit then it seems a bit odd to listed as the greatest company of any type.

So I dug around and found that BusinessWeek has made a comprehensive analysis of the hottest tech companies for 2009. Their top 10 are;

  1. Amazon (US)
  2. Oracle (US)
  3. SAP (Germany)
  4. Inventec (Taiwan)
  5. IBM (US)
  6. Bharti Airtel (India)
  7. Quanta (Taiwan)
  8. Wistron (Taiwan)
  9. Tencent (China)
  10. Acer (Taiwan)

Google comes in at 37, Facebook and Twitter don’t merit a mention.

Obviously this is a bit of an unfair comparison – the two clearly used very different criteria – but it’s interesting. First of all what criteria should you use? For years Amazon’s high growth led to low or no profits, and now it’s number one, so apparently the BusinessWeek ranking favours established companies rather than new entrants.

I suspect the tweet that started this was a flippant statement rather than the result of a great deal of analysis but it does indicate that the social media companies could be the rising stars; the next Amazons.

But if they are will they be American social media companies? Tencent, listed 9 above, is China’s biggest online chatting company with 400 million users. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the potential for a social media giant to come out of China, or India for that matter.


image technology

YouTube Money Worries

Views of Susan Boyle’s performance on the show “Britain’s Got Talent” topped 50,000,000 on YouTube this week (view video). The hype around her performance has been good for the show generally, other acts are heading for high millions in viewing numbers as well.

It sounds like Youtube is a fantastic success, a powerful new vehicle in popular culture, proof that social media works.

CM200904_moneyExcept for one thing, it’s losing money, in the order of 470 Million in 2009. While revenue from advertising has grown, and is predicted to grow further, costs are still high and growing – with more than 50% of the cost base of YouTube being bandwidth. So it’s somewhat a victim of it’s own success.

Few videos get enough visitors to generate significant revenue – videos I’ve posted have rocketed up to a mere 300 views for example, and although there is some money from branded channels (costs reported to be around 30K) the business model is pretty weak on revenue generation.

So what could YouTube do? The most obvious is to charge subscription, but Wikinomics states that Google will avoid this if at all possible. And suggests that they will invent their way out of it – finding a solution to the bandwidth problem, or accept it as a loss leader (for now), or start working on other revenue streams – and point to a fee-based download option.

Also this week Yahoo announced the end of GeoCities, current sites will be continued but you can no longer sign up for a GeoCities site. Free blog services probably fill the same need that GeoCities once filled. I admit that my first thought on this news was “they still exist?”. It’s a measure of the pace of today’s world that something started 15 years ago already seems so quaint.

The current business model for many of the social media sites is user generated content (read free), viewers not paying and unwilling to pay, and the business struggling to find advertising to cover their operational costs let alone make a profit. Given that Twitter is also not making money, how long will it be before the current favoured business model falls over?

Image video via pixabay