Who are the data Samurai?

The words “sexy” and “data” used to be on opposite ends of the cool spectrum. As far as I can tell, data was officially welcomed to the sexy party in 2009 after Google’s Chief Economist, Hal Varian, described statistician as the next sexy job. And by sexy, Varian meant valuable.

“Because now we really do have essentially free and ubiquitous data. So the complimentary scarce factor is the ability to understand that data and extract value from it,” Varian told business journal McKinsey Quarterly. Following Varian’s comment, Google’s Senior Vice President for Product Management Jonathan Rosenberg (who has since resigned) elevated data from sexy to Samurai.

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Google 101: data mining and superior search skills

Search engines provide answers. Savvy search engine users can find better answers more quickly. Journalists are professional information seekers, therefore we need to be search engine savvy.

To help us in this quest, Madison Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) hosted Google 101 for Journalists tonight. Google’s Midwest Manager of Global Communications and Public Affairs Jake Parrillo, took us from basics to brainiac in using the massive pool of data his company compiles.

These are the top 10 tools and tips I won’t forget and am itching to use:

  1. Negative operators are an easy way to make searches more effective. For instance, to search for gates but exclude stories about Bill Gates, type: gates -bill.
  2. When sharing or embedding a video, you can make it start at whatever point in the video you’d like. Just use #t=_m_s (e.g. #t=2m35s); paste it into code or at the end of the URL.
  3. Public Data Explorer. Of all the Google 101 moments, this drew forth the largest gasp from Madison’s gathering of journalists tonight. Public Data Explorer is Google’s way of sharing immense amounts of government data, and pre-formatting it for your graphics-making pleasure. Continue reading

Google’s grasp of trends: searches turned data

When someone lays their hands across home row and unleashes the click-click-click of their keyboard, Google is keeping track. Search terms are very revealing. That’s why it is fascinating to see global Google search data compiled. If you want to take the pulse on any number of topics, Google Zeitgeist is your website. What are people buying? Look at Google Product Search input. Where are people going? Investigate Google Maps data.  I could go on about the animated search trend maps and the enticing weekly archives for 2001-2007, but I expect you’ll get to them independently if you make the time-consuming click on Zeitgeist.

The labyrinth of search fads is bound to lead you past some intriguing figures. I followed my instincts and wound up with the elusive American food culture staring at me from a top 10 list. I decided then and there to see what else Google trends could reveal.

In 2010 the fastest rising global food and drink search topics were: Continue reading