What's in a name? Google may have the answer

Abhijeet Chavan's picture

Google Labs has released another fascinating tool for researchers. Readers may already be familiar with  Google Trends which can chart and reveal trends in search patterns for the last decade. The new tool allows similar analysis of Google's impressive library of digitized books spanning centuries.

Google Labs new online tool is  called the Google Books Ngram Viewer. Google has been digitizing books since 2004. It's digitlized library now includes 15 million books. Discover reports (via Slashdot):

"Together with over 40 university libraries, the internet titan has thus far scanned over 15 million books, creating a massive electronic library that represents 12% of all the books ever published. All the while, a team from Harvard University, led by Jean-Baptiste Michel and Erez Lieberman Aiden have been analysing the flood of data.

Their first report is available today. Although it barely scratches the surface, it's already a tantalising glimpse into the power of the Google Books corpus. It's a record of human culture, spanning six centuries and seven languages. It shows vocabularies expanding and grammar evolving. It contains stories about our adoption of technology, our quest for fame, and our battle for equality. And it hides the traces of tragedy, including traces of political suppression, records of past plagues, and a fading connection with our own history." 

The Ngram Viewer displays a graph showing how those phrases have occurred in a collection of books over the years.

To try it out, I searched for the following terms between 1850 and 2008 :

  • city planning
  • landscape architecture
  • regional planning
  • town planning
  • urban design
  • urban planning 

(I excluded "architecture" because its higher usage meant that it was harder to compare the other terms in the graph.)

Here is the chart for a collection of all books in English:

All English  

Here is the same chart for American English:

American English Graph 

Here is the same chart for British English: 



I will leave it to Planetizen readers to speculate if there is anything we can infer from these visualizations.

You can run your own searches at ngrams.googlelabs.com and post links in the comments below. 




Abhijeet Chavan is co-founder and co-editor-in-chief of Planetizen.


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