How Often Did Authors Use the Word “Internet” Over 500 Years? Ask Google

17 Dec

Here’s a nifty little tool to get you through the last grueling hours of Friday afternoon: Fresh from Google Labs comes “Books Ngram Viewer,” a visualization tool that shows you the annual frequency of certain words used in books published between 1500 and 2008.

Predictably, “Internet” was not so popular in, well, the pre-Internet age (check out the above graph to see for yourself), but this viewer is certainly handy for tracking the popularity of terms throughout the decades.

(NB: The word “Internet” seems to pop up a little early because: “Most of those are OCR errors; we do a good job at filtering out books with low OCR quality scores, but some errors do slip through,” according to the “About” section.)

The tool was assembled from data pulled from close to 5.2 million digitized books — which amounts to 500 billion words in English, French, Spanish, German, Chinese and Russian — and takes advantage of Google’s free, online digital library (which has grappled with its share of legal issues in its time). Users can also download the data and build their own search tools.

Of course, the Ngram Viewer was not intended as a mere diversion — according to The New York Times, Erez Lieberman Aiden, a junior fellow at the Society of Fellows at Harvard, and Jean-Baptiste Michel, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard, created this tool as part of a project on language and culture (their paper on the subject is available in a journal called Science).

We imagine that the Books Ngram Viewer could be used not only to track the evolution of language and trends over time, but also to compare and contrast the frequency of certain terms online and in print (perhaps when used in tandem with tools akin to Google Trends).

Test out some words and let us know what you think.

Image courtesy of Flickr, dotbenjamin

Reviews: Flickr, Google, Google Labs, Internet, society, test

More About: books, Books-Ngram-Viewer, Google

For more Tech coverage:


Tags: , ,