23 May 2007

Google Trends - Part 2 - American Idol

OK, I've been tangentially aware of American Idol for the past few years and have seen it a few times so I'm not interested in getting on a soapbox and critique "reality TV" or offer commentary on the competitors. What I am interested in, however, is how the recent rise in popularity in Google's Trends tracking, could act as a predictive analysis tool, aimed at larger...things....

So...American Idol has already aired (presumably concluded) for the night here on the east coast of the US so I'll fill-in a bit of background for the uninitiated (like myself, really): after some recurring period of group talent contests, two contestants are left in competition, after some number have been voted off of the show by popular opinion, one week at a time. The winner of the contest will be decided by popular opinion as well.

And...the winner is...huh, nothing posted to the official American Idol site. I guess I'll post more about Google Trends and predictive analysis as soon as I have some sort of official results to go with for verification.

Shame...I was getting interested but now tired as the night progresses. Sigh....


OK, Blake Lewis and Jordin Sparks were the final two contestants on the show and Ms. Sparks won by popular vote. What happens if we plug both of their names into Google Trends? Well, currently, the results are disappointing as Google Trends is still a beta/lab product and there isn't any current, searchable trend data for yesterday. Let's see if there is anything to be gleaned from the 100 hottest searches for 23 May 2007.

OK, a search for "jordin sparks" was the 12th most popular search on the day of the show's season finale with search activity peaking around 2100 EDT. "blake lewis" is nowhere to be found in the top 100. Does this mean anything as far as being a potentially useful prediction tool? Is it more or less significant that guest performers on the show - Smokey Robinson (#1), Gladys Knight (#5), Tony Bennett (#6), Bette Midler (#7) and Joe Perry (#10) - were more popular searches, between 2000-2100 EDT, than Jordin Sparks?

Perhaps Ms. Sparks became the clear popular favorite during the day. Let's see what the previous day had for searches related to Ms. Sparks and Mr. Lewis.


The closest search was for "american idol winner" (#9 on 22 May and #2 on 23 May). So, maybe search trends aren't terribly useful for predictive analysis. Maybe there isn't enough data available at the moment. Let's see who the finalists were last season and plug them into Google Trends...

Taylor Hicks won the season 5 contest and Katherine McPhee was runner-up on the 24 May 2006 season finale. The Google Trends results appear to clearly support Mr. Hicks the days leading into the competition:

"taylor hicks" "katherine mcphee"

Let's look at season 4 for the fun of it. Carrie Underwood won the season 4 contest and Bo Bice was runner-up on the 25 May 2005 season finale. Shaking the Google Magic 8 Ball shows...nothing useful:

"carrie underwood" "bo bice"

They're tied until the next day when everyone is trying to find out more about the winner. Having access to the vote tallies could describe this if the popular count goes nearly 50%-50% for the contestants.

Might as well look at the 2004 season since Google has the data to play with. On the 26 May 2005 season finale, Fantasia Barrino won over Diana DeGarmo. Reading the Google tea leaves shows...more nothing.

"fantasia barrino" "diana degarmo"

If anything, Ms. DeGarmo may have had a slight popular lead entering the vote.

Have we learned anything? No, probably not; at least not from a predictive analysis point of view. If I think of it in the coming months I'll come back and see if Google has search/trend data available to cover this most recent season.

Google Trends - Part 1

Huh...loads of news regarding Google Trends' new functionality: regularly updated info listing the most popular search trends/terms. In one manner, this is obvious - Google has the search data available to them at any given point in time through, presumably, numerous search entry points or via a search funnel. It also makes perfect sense that this functionality, the ability to see what your peers or organization or group is searching for, would be pushed down to the Google Search Appliance at some point.

That's really the interesting addition in my opinion: by localizing search trends, through the GSA or adding a new search primitive, such as fromDomain:, fromIpAddress: or fromNetBlock: (in the same way that the site: or url: search primitives are available now), search/trend consumers would have the ability, from a social networking perspective, to learn what is being searched for, relative to themselves in their own localized search bubble.

Let's consider an example:

Say you're a faculty member at a university and you're vaguely aware of a new collective bargaining vote that's upcoming and you want to know more. You search Google and find press releases and maybe a few local area newspaper items that have been indexed. This is the way in which we normally search or engage in absolute searches, modulo intentional deletions or censoring of search results, etc. Say you're a Google Master and break-out your Google-fu and attempt a more granular search through the selective use of one or two Google search primitives, for example, site:GoogleU.edu. Great! You weren't interested in what was being reported through channels on the other side of the country anyway.

Is this enough? Are the results sufficient in order for a search consumer to best utilize the data provided? Maybe, but it could more than likely be better by taking into account the context of the search results.

Now, say that advanced, localized trending were available to the faculty member. S/he would be able to search, relative to the university community or a specific department or a specific demographic, and determine what his/her peers are searching for, in the hope of learning about key issues being addressed at the collective bargaining vote. Add in the capabilities for search trends and results to be presented in such a way that they can be ordered or grouped and the faculty member may find him/herself better in the know and ready to cast an educated vote.

So...search, trends and localization step up as the latest social networking platform.

I wonder what I spend most of my time searching for and if anyone else cares?

BSO - Boston Pops!

Last night was the opening night of the latest Film Night series with John Williams returning to the Pops to conduct.

"This year’s 'Film Night' concerts also feature the iconic music of musicals that have become movies, tunes that resonate on stage as well as the silver screen. The program will be performed at 8 p.m., May 22-26, at Symphony Hall. The program opens with a tribute to Academy Award-winning composer Bernard Herrmann and his music from such legendary films as Citizen Kane, Vertigo, and North by Northwest. Mr. Williams also leads 'America’s Orchestra' in the timeless music that has made the leap from Broadway to Hollywood, including 'All That Jazz' from Chicago and highlights from Fiddler on the Roof with Boston Pops concertmaster Tamara Smirnova.

Mr. Williams, a favorite at Symphony Hall for more than a quarter-century, closes the Boston Pops’ 'Film Night' programs leading his own music from such blockbusters as Superman and the Harry Potter series. In a special Pops tribute to George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, Mr. Williams also conducts music from Jaws, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T., accompanied by film clips from these memorable movies."

It was a wonderful evening with wonderful music and a wonderful meal at Brasserie JO in the Boston Colonnade Hotel.

Where Does Your Paycheck Go? - Update

I previously blogged about the allocation of my personal income as well as the US government's revenues. The Simple Dollar explores the same idea in a 20 May 2007 post, Figuring Out Exactly How Much Your Time Is Worth.

They started the year with an interesting series: 31 Days To Fix Your Finances. The Simple Dollar comes to us by way of the always useful and entertaining Lifehacker.

21 May 2007

Language Skills

A friend lamented yesterday that he didn't know a language other than his native tongue and that he had never really left his home country. Up until a few years ago, I was in the same boat. While I can't do much for sending someone to foreign locales, here are a few options for acquiring new language skills:

If anyone else has suggestions, I'd love to know them.