Time-based Google Searches Can Reveal Nation’s Health


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The tendency to Google for forward-looking events or search the web for things that happened in the past is closely linked to the health of your nation’s economy according to recent research. A joint study,”Quantifying the Advantage of Looking Forward,” from scientists at University College London and Boston University has found a striking correlation between a country’s per capita gross domestic product and how future-oriented its citizens’ internet habits are.

“The digital traces left behind by our interactions with modern technology form extensive behavioural data sets which are accessible through data mining, offering unprecedented potential for a better understanding of collective human behaviour,” said Dr.Tobias Preis, researcher at Boston University and visiting lecturer at UCL.

Sifting through Google logs from 2010, Dr Preis and colleagues computed the ‘future orientation index’ or FOI for 45 countries based on whether their searches included years in the past or future. The results were interesting: economies with higher GDPs exhibited equally higher scores in the future orientation index.

The countries to score highest on this index of online search habits was Switzerland with 1.43 and Australia with 1.42 while Vietnam, Morocco and Pakistan scored, 0.23, 0.28 and 0.36 respectively.

The findings suggest there may be a link between online behaviour and real-world economic indicators. “The internet is becoming ever more deeply interwoven into the fabric of global society,” said Helen Susannah Moat, research associate and co-author of the study.

The level of future-oriented internet searches amongst Irish citizens grew from 1.05 in 2008 to 1.17 in 2009, however, this dropped to 0.95 in 2010, when we began, it seems, to look more towards the past.

“We see two leading explanations for this relationship between search activity and GDP,” says Preis. It may be that a focus on the future supports economic success or it could reflect economic influences on available internet infrastructure in these economies.

Sindice: New Approach to Online Data Management

Sindice is a semantic web index, which allows you to access and leverage the “web of data”, which is the rapidly expanding number of websites which are semantically marked up, that is tagged with RDF, RDFa, Microformats or Microdata, tags which can be used to identify online content as belonging to different categories.

This week Sindice, in partnership with Hepp Research and Openlink Software, launched Sindice Ltd, a new startup which will manage Sindice’s intellectual property, and oversee the commercial drive of its products.

Giovanni Tummarello is the CEO of Sindice, which originated at the Digital Enterprise Research Institute in Galway, Ireland. He explains how the web of data will revolutionise online data management, and how it is, “set to explode”, in the coming months. Once it does, he enthuses, the web of data, “all becomes a big graph which one can join with a single query”.

“Semantic mark-up is basically a markup that you put on the page to express what you have on the page, so if you have the name of a movie, because you are discussing that movie in a blog article for example, you might want to tag the title of the movie, the director of the movie, whatever data makes that page recognisable to a search engine for exactly what it is, which is a page which talks specifically about that movie.

“In a regular search engine, it’s just the keywords that are being searched, so you’re looking for the title of the movie, which could be, “The Blue Tomato”, but there are all sorts of pages which can contain these two words, for all sorts of reasons. On the other hand, if you put a mark up saying that it is a movie, you will be stating that you are talking about a movie.”

As Giovanni points out, Sindice acts like a search engine of all the 270 million or so sites which currently have semantic markup, but its real utility is greater than that, “OK, you can put in a keyword and search it, it’s fine, but that’s not really the point”.

“Sindice is basically a search engine which is not just a search engine. Really it’s an infrastructure for leveraging all the web data out there. We have 270 million pages or so at the moment; they are not normal web pages, they are only web pages which have semantic markup on them. What Sindice does is it has a very powerful engine that can correlate information from one website to another.

“You can basically use the entire web as if it is your playground by merging information here and there. You can get the name of a movie from a page which is marked up, and the name of the movie can be looked up on Wikipedia, where you can see what the director is, and then go on Rotten Tomatoes and get the rating, and all together it can be queried with a single query which goes all over the web and returns the information all ready to be consumed to enhance websites, anywhere where you want content aggregated from multiple sources on the web.

“Sindice provides these services where you can make these queries and combine content coming from all of the web of marked up data.”

The formation of the company is a sign that Sindice are ready to commercialise their technology. Sindice Ltd solidifies the “very important” partnerships with Hepp Research and Openlink Software, and also manages the intellectual property the partners now share, keeping it, “nice and tidy”, so that Sindice can seek further investment.

“There are two main markets we are pursuing, the first one is customised cloud hosted data spaces”, continues Giovanni.

“We’re going to be allowing people to have their own data spaces, we call them, and that comes for a price of course, it’s kind of data as a service.

“You want to have the data that comes from the web of data but you also want to have your own data, you also want to have your own correlation of the data. So you want subsets of Sindice data that need to be live and fresh, that need to be combined in way that you want, to solve your problems.”

The second main service, which Giovanni describes as, “much more concrete and immediate” is something called Sindice site services.

Not yet available, this is, he says, “something that will basically appeal to anybody that has a website that they want to enhance with information coming from multiple websites at the same time. This is good for everybody, because the websites which are providing the information, they get traffic and they get links so it becomes a syndication network. That obviously has a value in terms of the possibility of sharing revenue and advertisement”.

Giovanni is confident that following the common approach taken by the three major search engines to create what they call, “a shared markup vocabulary”, the time is right for Sindice to capitalise on the expected flurry of markup activity in the near future.

“It’s exploding as we speak. Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! are telling everybody at the same time to do this! In search engine optimisation circles they are raving about this stuff, and everybody’s implementing it so there’s no alternative.

This means that there will be a lot of people who want to do services on top of this, so if there’s a market, it’s right now.”

Live Matrix: The Guide To What’s When On The Web

In the same way that TV Guide allows you to find the programmes you want to see on television without having to take pot luck or by constantly having to channel surf, Live Matrix offers to show you “what’s when on the Web.”

Nova Spivack, who has featured on Technology Voice before, had the idea when he kept finding out about events that he would have wanted to see or participate in only after they had already taken place. He thought that many other internet users may have experienced this as well.

In an announcement on his personal site he says, “Google, Yahoo and Bing all focus on what I call the “space dimension” of the Web — they help you find what’s where — where is the best page about topic x? — But they don’t help you find out what’s when — what’s happening now, what’s coming next. They only help you find out what’s already finished and done with. How do you find out what’s happening now? How do you know what’s upcoming?”

Live Matrix helps to answer those questions by acting as a guide for all scheduled events on the Web including:

  • Live online video webcasts
  • Audio webcasts
  • Time-limited sales, offers, and auctions
  • Events in virtual worlds
  • Scheduled gaming events
  • Tournaments and contests

Live Matrix has been in private invite beta for the last three months, and although this a public launch it is still in beta and feedback is welcomed. However, in that brief time period in areas like shopping, Live Matrix has already become the most comprehensive single source for what’s on
 sale when, across the leading private sale and auction sites.

Sanjay Reddy, co-founder and CEO of Live Matrix says, “We believe that the Scheduled Web is the natural progression from the real-time Web and that Live Matrix is uniquely valuable to consumers, event providers, online publishers and
advertisers alike.”

You can familiarise yourself with Live Matrix and how it works by watching this screencast.