So the Shiny Librarian gets me hip to infodoodads, which means I learn about all kindsa nifty sites, widgets and whatnot to play with, including silobreaker, a news and information gathering portal that will replace whatever love I have for googlenews, especially because it offers this addictive little toy: News Trends.

News Trends is a search engine that graphs media attention trends on a given subject. For fun, I thought I would compare media coverage for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan over the past 12 months. I’m cynical. I think Spears and Lohan will trounce Obama and Clinton. After all, neither Clinton nor Obama have flashed their genitals at paparazzi, at least not in the time period in which this data has been gathered.

I am wrong.

Well, wrong about media attention, not genitalia exposure. It turns out the media finds Obama and Clinton far more interesting than Spears and Lohan. I realize I am setting the bar pretty low, but I am happily surprised.

What’s really cool about silobreaker in general and this graph generating tool in particular is that it offers some handy research tools students can use for class projects. No, the shit ain’t peer-reviewed, and you might want to issue the usual caveats about research methodology (for instance, the developers claim to use “relational analysis” but do not explain how that is actually designed in their search algorithms.) But I think it’s a good introduction to research for beginners, a way to get them thinking about information, how to display it visually, and how to manipulate it. It may also stimulate them to draw unusual connections. Or, as in my case, subvert a priori assumptions.

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