Yahoo and Delicious, cultural trends in Google Books, Orkut badges

Noise To Signal Yahoo Delicious cartoon

Long-time users of Yahoo’s email service are already used to the company’s frustrating ways. Unnecessary clicks after login before you see your inbox (check), poorly executed social networking integration (check) and unnecessary news portal (check), but the company surpassed itself this week when news leaked that its popular online bookmarking service Delicious was to be closed down.

Yahoo responded with a masterful demonstration of crisis management PR smarts, only taking 24 hours to address the situation and eventually claiming Delicious was actually going to be put up for sale. The company then blamed the media for … reporting things.

But – quicker than you can search ‘export Delicious bookmarks’ – the damage had been done, raising further questions around Yahoo’s commercial strategy and even the future of its photosharing site Flickr.

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What to do after you’ve scanned 15 million books in six years? Beyond getting the backs up of all the publishers whose works you’ve digitised, if you’re Googleyou could open up some of that data, say 5.2 million books, to “further humanities research”.

“One of the advantages of having data online is that it lowers the barrier to serendipity: you can stumble across something in the first 500 billion words and be the first person ever to make that discovery,” explains Google Books engineering manager Jon Orwant.

A collaboration with Harvard researchers, the Google Books Ngram Viewer can be used to see how particular words and phrases have waxed and waned in popularity – say, the point in the late ’70s that advertising overtook marketing in popularity, or the overwhelming – though fluctuating – dominance of a certainBeat author over his contemporaries.

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Online badges have been rising to new levels of prominence thanks to location-sharing social networks like Four Square, and now Google’s harnessing the concept in a bid to revitalise its social network Orkut. Traditionally strong in emerging markets, and recently taking the number one spot in Brazil, Orkut has elsewhere been losing heavily to Facebook.

But where users of Four Square compete to become Mayor of this place or Explorer of that, Okutians (which may or may not be the collective noun) have just eight badges to start with, among them Early User and Master.

Google says it’s all about ways to “express yourself on Orkut”. But whether a “Strong Contributer” badge will encourage users to stick with Orkut rather than joining its rival remains to be seen.

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This is the last of my weekly Digital Digest posts for this year. They return in 2011.

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