Back in December 2010, Google unveiled an online tool for analyzing the history of language and culture as reflected in the gargantuan corpus of historical texts that have been scanned and digitized as part of the Google Books project. They called the interface the Ngram Viewer, and it was launched in conjunction with a blockbuster paper in the journal Science that baptized this Big Data approach to historical analysis with the label "culturomics."
The appeal of the Ngram Viewer was immediately obvious to scholars in the digital humanities, linguistics, and lexicography, but it wasn't just specialists who got pleasure out of generating graphs showing how key words and phrases have waxed and waned over the past few centuries. Here at The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal collected a raft of great examples submitted by readers, some of whom pitted "vampire" against "zombie," "liberty" against "freedom," and "apocalypse" against "utopia." A Tumblr feed brought together dozens more telling graphs. If nothing else, playing with Ngrams became a time suck of epic proportions.
As of today, the Ngram Viewer just got a whole lot better. For starters, the text corpus, already mind-bogglingly big, has become much bigger: The new edition extracts data from more than eight million out of the 20 million books that Google has scanned. That represents about six percent of all books ever published, according to Google's estimate. The English portion alone contains about half a trillion words, and seven other languages are represented: Spanish, French, German, Russian, Italian, Chinese, and Hebrew.