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What is Google Books?
The short answer: Google Books is an archive of millions and millions and millions of books, that have been scanned and converted to searchable text by Google (and you). The obvious reason is to have books previously only available in paper available, to read or search online. My favorite piece of trivia about the project is that the majority of Captchas you fill out online are actually Google’s way of getting you to pitch in and help convert books to a searchable format, absolutely genius, getting us to work for free!
The Long Answer: Read more on Wikipedia
What is an n-gram?
An n-gram is essentially a chart that shows the usage of words in a body of text or speech. It get’s more complex than that, but I’m going to skip the details and get to the fun stuff.
Now that Google has a searchable copy of over 30 million books, and they are also masters of things like n-grams, why not let us search the entire library for individual words, and their usage over time?
And that is exactly what they did. They also let you compare words against the usage of other words, so… getting on to the Cool part of this article, let’s do some searching.
Do Art and Business mix?
I compared the words Business, Commerce, Design, Advertising and Art
The Basics of reading an n-gram: Each line is a word or phrase, the chart’s y-axis (on the left) shows the % that word is used out of ALL the words or phrases in Google Books. The n-gram anlo limits by language, in this case I am using English. I went wide with my x-axis, showing everything 1800-2000, but when you try your own out, you can limit the dates.
I started out in our industry; design for business. It was neat to see the entry of advertising into books around the 1900s, but what was really interesting was that design passed art in usage somewhere in the early 80s. The fact that design is written about more than art (at least in books) is a conversation that deserves it’s own post because of it’s massive cultural implications. Still, even though I feel art should keep it’s strong position I can’t say I wasn’t a little stoked to see design on the rise.
Using it in your Business
Generally this kind of data is much more useable on a tiny scale, data about what people are talking about this month, week, or even TODAY can be very useful in capturing business. If you have a business that tracks longer term social trends, I could see this being an extremely valuable tool.
Try your own search, and then tell us what you found in the comments!