A news publisher tells us what’s happening in the world at the moment, but its archive of articles can collectively create a powerful time capsule on culture.
As part of NewCo (a city-wide open house and conference featuring dozens of companies) last month, I visited The New York Times R&D lab to see their latest interactive projects and protoypes. Lab resident and technologist Jane Friedhoff conducted the tour and showed us interesting sites and tools, including The Listening Table – a table that listens to conversations and transcribes words on screen; as well as Madison – a crowdsourced site for identifying ads in The NY Times since its founding.
One of the lab’s most useful tools for marketers, history and language enthusiasts; as well as anyone interested in seeing the evolution of topics over time was Chronicle. The public site gives people a visualization of the frequency of any phrase in articles since The NY Times was first published in 1851.
To test the tool over time, I entered three iconic buildings into Chronicle:
- Statue of Liberty (1886)
- Brooklyn Bridge (1883)
- Empire State Building (1931)
The results show a data-driven journey of the landmarks over 164 years with pulses at key dates in their histories. While the Statue of Liberty first entered New York harbor 130 years ago today on June 17, 1885; it was talked about most often during its centennial celebration in 1986. The Brooklyn Bridge also saw a surge in mentions during its 100th year of existence in 1983. Visitors can dive deeper into the timeline and see the stories – and how many there were – by clicking on the datapoints corresponding to each year.
While the stories are limited to The NY Times, Chronicle is still a great resource to find a snapshot of what the paper was writing about at any point in time. For marketers and storytellers, Chronicle is an informative tool that is both fascinating and enlightening. The site shows how topics are trending over the years – through their ascent or decline – which can reflect the cultural importance or interest at the time.
The site can also serve as a fun trivia game with friends. When did The NY Times start writing about the ‘selfie’? That would be 2013.