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Explore evolving trends with Google Ngram

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I was attending a Big Data and BI conference last week in Paris; one of the presenters, Tom McDonnell of Monterosa, presented an amazing graph. It showed the usage of the word “interactive” in books published between 1900 and 2000. This graph showed without much need for discussion that our world is becoming more and more interactive.

The purpose of this post is certainly to convince you of this trend, but rather to introduce you to Google’s tool “Ngram viewer”. It appears to be an old tool (launched in 2010) but I’ve learned about it only last week.

It allows you to display the frequency of use of a given word in books published between 1500 and now. Beyond the mere linguistics applications (which are subject to controversial discussion because of the changing nature of language and spelling), the use that Tom McDonnell made of it was very wise.

Words reflects behaviors and trends

Why are books published ? To be sold.

Any given book reflects a series of trends, beliefs and wants when it is printed. Words evolve and taxonomy is a reflection of who we are.

One can therefore reasonably assume that taxonomy is a mirror of our Society. In particular books reflect the language used in firms and for those who have to do with IT, you know that some words are more trendy than others at any given time. Do you remember how much we talked about “synergies” and “transversality” a few years ago. You’ll probably like the graph below

Synergy taken over by Data Mining

I compared the use of some ultra trendy words like “synergy”, “big data”, “data mining” and “business intelligence” (see results below).

Guess what … “synergy” was still more popular than “data mining” until 2004 and then it switched. Interestingly “Big Data” and “Business Intelligence” are way below “Data Mining”. I’d have guessed “Big Data” was the more popular term of all, but apparently not.

Conclusion : an additional market research tool

Words reflect the evolution of our Society, as business language reflects firms’ practices. Ngram may therefore be a useful tool to your market research swiss knife. If you ever want to test whether your idea fits within today’s trends, you may want to give it a try.

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Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations. He holds a PhD in Marketing, a MBA in Finance, and a MSc in Chemistry. He can be contacted by email, Linkedin or by phone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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