Category: Web


Culturomics: Google Ngram Viewer

Has anybody been having fun looking words and concepts up on the Google Ngram Viewer? The latest addition to the growing arsenal of quantitative research tools for the humanities aims to study the evolution of words, concepts, etc in culture, like those real scientists do in biology etc.

As interesting as the idea is, one can immediately spot some inherent faults in the system…

This is my search for the word internet. Surpsisingly, it shows some use of the word around the 1900 mark. Looking at the results in the 1800-1905 bracket, we find this page. Now, as the software scans pdfs of some really old books documents the characters it looks for are occasionally distorted or slightly different. One of the results bears the title THE GENTLEMAN’S MAGAZINE AND HIFTORICAL CHRONICLE – Page 466 and dates from 1806. It would have been very interesting to find a mention of the word internet in a document dating from 1806, so I clicked on the link, only to find out that the text made reference to a Captain Infernet, the writer possibly using the letter -f in the place of an -s as he does elsewhere in the text.

The next result is from the Journal of the Chemical Society, Volume 65, dating from 1894. The highlighted word here reads interact, not internet, but the -a and -c might look a bit like an -n and -e, respectively. And so it goes…

I love how paranoid people get over stories like this. Nothing like a bit of tech-gossip to get the blood of geeks boiling. This was posted a few hours ago and already has about 80 comments. Made my morning.

However, within certain parameters, it’s a move that could make sense for Facebook, which is what makes the scenario so attractive I guess.

From the people at BERG:

Make sure to click on the link in order to find out how they designed this. Amazing stuff.

I mentioned Neal Stephenson’s new project, the Mongoliad in my last post but a couple more details were made available since. According to their Facebook page and their Wiki, the Mongoliad is going to be “primarily” an app based multimedia story in serialised form. Here’s the blurb from their wiki:

The Mongoliad is an experimental fiction project of the Subutai Corporation, scheduled for release in 2010. The corporation is an application company based in San Francisco and Seattle, whose chairman is speculative fiction author Neal Stephenson. Stephenson is the guiding force of the project, in which he is joined by colleagues including Greg Bear.

The work is intended to be distributed primarily as a series of applications (“apps”) for smartphones, which the Corporation views as a new model for publishing storytelling. At the project’s core is a narrative of adventure fiction following the exploits of a small group of fighters and mystics in medieval Europe around the time of the Mongol conquests. As well as speculative fiction authors Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Nicole Galland, Mark Teppo and others, collaborators include filmmakers, computer programmers, graphic artists, martial artists and combat choreographers, video game designers, and a professional editor. In a departure from conventional fiction, much of the content of The Mongoliad will be in forms other than text, not bound to any single medium and not in the service of the central narrative. Once the project develops momentum, the Corporation envisages fans of the work to contribute, expanding and enriching the narrative and the fictional universe in which it takes place.

In the telling of the Corporation’s president Jeremy Bornstein, the genesis of the project was in Stephenson’s dissatisfaction with the authenticity of the medieval sword fighting scenes he had written into his Baroque cycle of novels.Stephenson gathered a group of martial arts enthusiasts interested in studying historical European swordfighting, and this eventually resulted in some of the members of this group collaborating on a set of stories which would make use of accurate representations of these martial arts. The collaborators decided the project need not limit itself to traditional novel form, and began developing ideas on how to produce it in different media while retaining the caliber that would be expected of a new work by authors such as Stephenson or Bear.

An “alpha version” was demonstrated at the periodic application showcase SF App Show in San Francisco, California on May 25, 2010. The project is expected to go live sometime in 2010. Supported smartphones and platforms include the iPad, iPhone, Android, and Kindle.

I hope that they decide to expand the scope of application for the project because it could branch out in very interesting directions. Here’s a video of stephenson and Bear discussing the historical scope of the project.

I don’t know how many of you have read the ongoing comics series Unwritten (Vertigo), by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. The plot follows Tommy Taylor, whose father is the famous author of a series of fantasy books closely resembling the Harry Potter series. His father has based the eponymous young protagonist of his books on young Tommy himself, who now, after the sudden disappearance of his father, makes a living by attending conventions etc. After a few intriguing confrontations with some shadowy individuals, Toomy gets caught up in a conspiracy of sorts and realises that the world of fiction isn’t as fictional as it seems and/or that he might be a fictional character himself…The series interweaves myriad well known narratives from various genres, in a sense following the Borgesian idea that religion, philosophy etc are but branches of fantastic literature (or, rather post-modernistly, that stories are all we can have). It’s a story about stories, the intersection of reality and fiction, the role of narrative and the notion of identity, among other things.

Now, the interesting thing is this: When Tommy was a boy, his father, Wilson Taylor, taught him countless trivia concerning the actual geography of fictional events as they are described in works of fiction, from chivalric romances to the novels of Dickens and beyond. On which streets characters lived, in which cities the action took place etc, thereby giving them a semblance of reality by spatialising them. It seems that Wilson knew about the situation in which Tommy would find himself and taught him that as a means of protection.

I loved the idea when I started reading the comic, so imagine my surprise when I came across GoogleLitTrips. GoogleLitTrips is an educational resource that endeavours to teach students about literature by showing them the routes and travels undertaken by characters in famous road trip novels. It does this by taking advantage of certain features of Google Earth. At this stage, it offers a very limited number of such spatialised versions but it doesn’t take much to see how far this could go as an educational and creative tool. Yes, people have been going on literary tours and creating soundtracks for works of fiction for years, but this model could add various multimedia dimensions to the way we approach the act of writing and the act of reading literature itself. Obviously, I do not view this as a substitute for reading and writing but as a level of extension of the creative and experiential aspects of those processes.

For example, Neal Stephenson and Greg Bear have been collaborating on a project called Mongoliad that combines the freeform storytelling aspects of MMORPGs and the externalised, spatial aspects of GoogleLitTrips:

The Mongoliad is a rip-roaring adventure tale set 1241, a pivotal year in history, when Europe thought that the Mongol Horde was about to completely destroy their world. The Mongoliad is also the beginning of an experiment in storytelling, technology, and community-driven creativity.

Our story begins with a serial novel of sorts, which we will release over the course of about a year. Neal Stephenson created the world in which The Mongoliad is set, and presides benevolently over it. Our first set of stories is being written by Neal, Greg Bear, Nicole Galland, Mark Teppo, and a number of other authors; we’re also working closely with artists, fight choreographers & other martial artists, programmers, film-makers, game designers, and a bunch of other folks to produce an ongoing stream of nontextual, para-narrative, and extra-narrative stuff which we think brings the story to life in ways that are pleasingly unique, and which can’t be done in any single medium.

Very shortly, once The Mongoliad has developed some mass and momentum, we will be asking fans to join us in creating the rest of the world and telling new stories in it. That’s where the real experiment part comes in. We are building some pretty cool tech to make that easy and fun, and we hope lots of you will use it.

People will be able to get The Mongoliad over the web and via custom clients for mobile devices – we’re going to start out with iPad, iPhone, Android, and Kindle apps, and will probably do more in the not too distant future.

(via SFSignal)

This platform could develop as an updated form of Second Life and MMORPGs, much like the one envisaged by Greg Egan in Zendegi or the platform that Neal Stephenson envisaged in Snow Crash.

Google and the CIA will be investing in a new company that monitorrs the web in real time in order to predetermine future trends.

The company is called Recorded Future, and it scours tens of thousands of websites, blogs and Twitter accounts to find the relationships between people, organizations, actions and incidents — both present and still-to-come. In a white paper, the company says its temporal analytics engine “goes beyond search” by “looking at the ‘invisible links’ between documents that talk about the same, or related, entities and events.”

(via Wired)

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