Matthew Wilkens on Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History

Los Angeles Review of Books • 16 August 2013

Trend-spotting. Check out this review of Matthew Jockers' Macroanalysis for a peek into the possibilities of using Big Data in literary analysis. Jockers' "distant reading" efforts have focused on 19th century fiction, using a computational approach to extract topical trends that reflect historical or geographic context, such as Irish writers' elevated interest in tenants and landlords in comparison with their British and American counterparts. Using algorithms to distill literary insights is still a nascent academic pursuit, but reviewer Matthew Wilkens says Jockers' work is a preview of "what a major part of literary criticism will look like in 20 years."

This is a good way to understand the current state of play in this emergent field that is getting more and more public and scholarly attention. There are, of course, a wide variety of data on which these types of macroanalyses can be based. My colleague, Brian Lavoie, recently produced a very interesting one based on WorldCat holdings data. Go look at Not Scotch But Rum: The Scope and Diffusion of the Scottish Presence in the Published Record or you can listen to him summarize it in this short video (he does not have a Scottish brogue). (Michalko)

A Data Broker Offers a Peek Behind the Curtain

The New York Times • 31 August 2013

Hmmmm. Consumer data broker Acxiom is offering consumers a glimpse of their marketing profiles at its site, including educational level, home ownership status, family make-up, income and purchasing habits, as well as the sources used to compile the information. The company's move toward transparency is not entirely altruistic, however—Acxiom CEO Scott E. Howe acknowledges that the possible threat of increased industry oversight has spurred his company to get out ahead of the regulatory curve. Plus, the site offers consumers the opportunity to tweak their profiles, making them even more valuable to corporate marketers. Read on for more on this latest strategy to get inside your data.

Well, that was interesting. I checked out my profile at Acxiom. They were quite accurate. Only big miss was profiling me as interested in hunting and shooting. I will now constantly wonder what is being shown to me based on that assertion. Camouflage design men's wear, perhaps. (Michalko)

Darpa Wants to Save Us From Our Own Dangerous Data

Businessweek • 21 August 2013

Gauging the "Pandora Probability." A recent U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) RFP seeks to assess the potential damage that could be wreaked on U.S. citizenry using some of that freely available data we've been giving away for years: "Could a modestly funded group deliver nation-state type effects using only public data?" Read on for a chilling rundown of potential plots that reads like something from a sci-fi novel—except the scenarios suggest that the same type of data gathered for a Groupon offer could be used to target a geographic region's water supply. The genie's out of the bottle on this one, says programmer Paul Ford, and now DARPA's "funding analytical Band-aids."

This fascinated me mostly because it is so foreign to the way I think. "What bad thing can happen?", I ask usually to conclude nothing without much really hard thinking. These guys really want to linger with that bad thing. Pandora Probability, doxxing and swatting were all new memes to me. Where have I been? (Michalko)

What "The Tipping Point" Missed About the Spread of Ideas

Nautilus • 11 September 2013

Plain talk. Wharton professor Jonah Berger takes issue with Malcolm Gladwell's "tipping point" theory of influencers and viral marketing: "By focusing so much on the messenger, we've neglected a much more obvious driving of sharing: the message." Berger's research has led to a new acronymic cluster of viral criteria: STEPPS. Read on for more on how social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value and stories contribute to social media sharing.

While I am a Gladwell fan I also take a certain pleasure when others swing at his theories. This is a short gut punch on "influencers." Of course Jonah Berger is in fact using Gladwell's playbook to reproduce Gladwell's success for himself. This profile of Berger was intriguing. (Michalko)

The Evolution of Strategy

Forbes • 14 September 2013

Making it up as you go along. Marketing strategist Greg Satell points out that in today's environment of 24/7 business data streams, strategic planning has moved out of the board room into real-time. His advice? Be prepared to pivot on a data point.

This is the short article that will catch you up on the currently-favored views of strategy setting. Hint: The Jack Welch approach is no longer in favor. Bayesian strategy wears the champion's belt these days. (Michalko)

A Day in the Life of an OED Researcher

OxfordWords Blog • 10 September 2013

Just for fun. Lexophiles will enjoy James Danzinger's tongue-in-cheek account of his work as a researcher for the Oxford English Dictionary. Danzinger's routine includes tracking down citations in a crumbling Dutch manuscript, the Action Comics archive and '80s-era Screw magazine.

Yes. This is fun. You'll enjoy the specific shout-outs to various libraries—not all of which are in New York City . . . (Michalko)

Above the Fold Quiz

According to an item in this week's News and Views section, what is the largest, most diverse compilation of academic book usage data ever collected?

Get the answer.