Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Culturomics, Google, and William Dean Howells

There's been a lot of buzz about culturomics and the Google Ngram Viewer these past few days since the tool described in an article titled “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books” published online in the journal Science was launched as a feature on Google. On Point Radio tweeted that tomorrow at 11:00AM EST they'll discuss culturomics, culture and word frequency, with Erez Lieberman Aiden and Geoff Nunberg. I'll probably tune in and see if I can write and listen to a discussion of culture and word frequency at the same time.

Meanwhile, after seeing this cool graphic of the frequency of selected Boston-related words on Boston.com a couple of days ago and noticing that the Boston.com people had left out "New York" from their list, I had to tackle one of the well known cultural questions of American literature: When did the hub of American literature change from Boston to New York? The conventional answer to that is usually 1886, the year that William Dean Howells moved to New York. (See this 1907 article about Howells for more info.)

I fired up the Google Ngram Viewer and compared the relative frequency of Boston vs. New York from 1800 to 1900. New York edged past Boston in 1830 and really took off in about 1851, all before the fabled Howells move. The group of great writers that supposedly made Boston "the one brilliant literary centre the country has ever seen" was still going strong when the change in frequency of the word Boston in books began to rise less rapidly than New York. However, it was not declining.

I changed the dates to 1800 and 2008 and saw that Boston didn't really start to decline until around 1950 and the decline has been pretty slow up to 2000. I'm judging by eyeball because the tool doesn't calculate the slope and you're all already bored with the details anyway. It looks like there is ample fodder for somebody's AmCiv dissertation here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Generations Online in 2010

The latest Pew Internet study is out: Generations Online in 2010 Pew Internet and American Life Project. So, how are the different generations using the Internet in their American lives?

Apparently none of them are making phone calls but they are using their phones to access the interwebz. Actually, Pew didn't ask about VoIP and maybe people who have phone service through their Internet providers don't realize they're using the interwebz to make phone calls. OK, I only thought about that because it's what I've been writing about in my work writing life. Well, that and I just had lunch with a couple of telecoms colleagues. I love it when I can have a lunch time conversation where I mention SIP and H.323 and everybody knows what I'm talking about. End of current VoIP digression.

What's really interesting about the Pew report is the way various news organizations summarize it in their headlines. The top themes seem to be blogging in decline and and (gasp, shudder) old people using the Internet. Here is a sampling of the headlines, in the order they showed up on Google News when ordered by relevance:

Pew study: Everyone uses email, but blogging is on decline USA Today (blog) - Stan Schroeder
Blogging 'Peaks,' But Reports Of Its Death Are ExaggeratedWired News (blog) - Ryan Singel
Pew: More Old People Using Facebook, Teens Blogging Less Switched - Amar Toor
Millennial Generation's Web Dominance On The Decline, Pew Study Says The Huffington Post - Amy Lee
Older web users catching up: Pew reportCBC.ca - Matt Kwong
Internet is No Longer a Domain for the Young AloneEcommercejunkie.com

Elderly people rapidly adapting to online social networks
TechRadar UK - Adam Hartley
Old catching up to young on US Internet: studyAFP

Of 26 hits for the Pew study on Google News at around 4:15 PM EST the headlines were distributed as follows:

17 old catching up with young 
2   blogging in decline
3   Twitter use (general headlines related to Twitter, no connected theme)
1   75% of Americans look for news online
1   search is the number 2 online activity
1   open channel for cancer education
1   Reddit Delicious StumbleUpon Mixx LinkedIn Google Buzz Yahoo Buzz

The "blogging in decline" meme seemed to be spreading on subsequent searches. That's also the trend that got picked up by Mashable.com in their "What's Hot in Social Media This Week" article.

The old vs. young themed articles made for interesting reading about who does what online. One thing that struck me was that the young were more likely to read blogs but less likely to blog themselves. I wonder what blogs they read?

Other online differences among the generations seemed somewhat more related to the kinds of things people do when they're young anyway. I'm not surprised that younger people are more likely to play games online and participate in virtual worlds. I'll bet if they did a survey of paintball or laser tag or even soccer playing, they'd find a decline in participation with age.

One thing I wish Pew had surveyed was how people use the Internet on the job and how personal vs. work-related use of social media breaks out. How many people use Facebook and Twitter as part of their jobs as opposed to for personal connection? How many people use wikis in their jobs? I'd also like to know what kind of jobs the Millennials are in vs. the jobs the older cohorts are in. And wouldn't you just love a job where you could spend your day using social networking sites, instant messaging, using online classifieds, listening to music, playing online games, reading blogs, and participating in virtual worlds?

The Pew study raises lots of interesting questions. There's much more to be learned about how Americans are using the Internet.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

SIP Call Manager :-)

SIP Call Manager :-)
Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg
No, it's not really the lastest SIP Call Manager. It's a good old fashioned switchboard. I took this photo last week at the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation. It got me thinking about how moving IP packets around in cyberspace isn't all that much different from moving wires from plug to plug on a switchboard.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

#MIN21 Another Great Mass Innovation Night

If it's the first Wednesday of the month, this must be another fabulous Mass Innovation Night.  An amazing number of innovators, entrepreneurs, networkers, bloggers, tweeters, and Steampunk fans braved the  December cold and the traffic on 128 (what up with 128 -- 2 hours from North Andover to Waltham???!!!???) to gather at the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation.

Steam Punk Writer's Workstation -- I would totally be more productive writing about Session Border Controllers on this thing!
Once I finally got to Waltham, I took a few minutes to visit Alex at Back Pages Books so I could drop off some used books for him to sell, find out if he has the new James Prosek book about eels in yet (it'll be in Friday), and recommend that he check out Mass Innovation Nights and the Friday morning breakfasts.

So the museum was already humming with innovator activity when I got there. Downstairs, people were getting name tags amidst the museum's regular exhibits and checking out the Steampunk exhibit.

Getting Name Tags at the Check-in Desk
Up on the mezzanine, the experts corner -- experts mezzanine this time, I guess --- was buzzing with conversation.

Experts Mezzanine
The demo tables in the main room all seemed to be attracting lots of attention. I made sure to visit all four companies who were presenting:  Coloci, Media Armor, TenMarks and Cambridge Semantics. I had a great conversation with Steve from Cambridge Semantics about databases and semantics. We got kind of geeky. I love a good technical conversation.
Cambridge Semantics

Media Armor
I was impressed with Media Armor's take on analytics, TenMarks' take on math homework, LockerNotes' take on reminding your Dad to buy bananas and pancakes, and Coloci's take on using our always on cyber-connectedness for connecting with friends in the real world.

Folks were packed into the alcove off the main room for the presentations. TenMarks had the best presentation with an excellent video. It's about time somebody made it easy and fun to learn math. America needs better math education.
Packed House for the Presentations

Coloci had the best slide with their cool display showing where your friends are in relation to where you are.

Coloci's Friend Radar

After the presentations, I spent some more time checking out the Steampunk exhibit.  You can see my Steampunk photos on Flickr, along with some photos of the regular museum items, here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/captain_peleg/sets/72157625564219026/.

By the time I got home last night, a former co-worker who'd seen my tweet about TenMarks (via my Facebook status) was asking for the link for her 4th grader. That's the power of Mass Innovation Night!