Techmeme's biggest (i.e. tallest) stories of 2012
Now that we've examined the year's trending terms, our final retrospectacular tour of 2012 examines the stories themselves. On Techmeme, the biggest stories usually become the tallest stories as different angles of reporting and analysis pile up, creating story clusters that can run several screen lengths. Last year we examined the tallest clusters to review 2011, and we'll now cement this exercise as a tradition by doing the same for 2012.
The results: The table below lists the year's story clusters with 10 or more headlines, ordered by number of headlines. It's important to understand that each headline shown here is just the one that happened to be the leading headline when its cluster reached the maximal size. So these headlines don't always indicate the most representative story of the bunch, the best summary, or the most cited story. Clicking through to peruse the full cluster is the best way to understand the coverage each link represents.
What do we see? The stories dominating this list are mainly announcements, often product introductions, from the industry's largest firms, often Apple. Apple's pervasiveness here should come as no surprise; its products affect nearly the entire industry in a profound way. Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Apple account for most of the stories on this list.
OK, but what's REALLY going on? While you could interpret this list ten different ways, one point really stands out to me. Never before in this industry have so many of the biggest news stories seemed part of a unified narrative, in which the latest development illuminates and extends our understanding of the previous one. This is, of course, an outgrowth of the megatrend noted in recent years that finds each of the tech titans engaged in a single great conflagration. One Apple keynote can signal increased competition with four other tech giants across a half dozen product fronts, while also revealing new forms of cooperation and integration. If it's a game of chess, where the pieces are hardware, operating systems, app stores, social graphs, developers, and search, then it's a 5-way game of chess. Or maybe a 4-way or 7-way game.
Whatever the operative game analogy may be, we appreciate that you've come to Techmeme for the play-by-play. We've long taken an industry-wide view, from the titans to the startups, plus the ecosystem and rules that bind them all. And we'll be very happy to serve you all the more in 2013. Happy New Year!
Which headline terms trended in 2012 on Techmeme?
To determine that, we first had to compute the year's most frequent terms by absolute percentage of their appearance in Techmeme headlines, and we placed the top 200 such terms in the first table below. We already looked at the first 20 earlier this week and observed a few things, but the full 200 now appear here. A lot more can be said about this much longer list, but we'll leave that to other folks as we move on to the trending terms.
To find which terms trended, we computed a similar "most frequent terms" list for 2011, and then found the terms gaining or losing the most in frequency between 2011 and 2012, weighing for both absolute and relative changes. Results appear as soon as you scroll past the first big table.
Trending terms and how we got them (it's a little complicated): Trending terms are divided into two tables, one for those trending up, and one for down. Changes between 2011 and 2012 are represented by two numbers here. The first, Absolute Gain, is formed by subtracting 2011 frequencies from the 2012 frequences (remember, the ones appearing in the top table). The second, Relative Gain, divides the Absolute Gain by the corresponding 2011 frequency. Since these tables aren't ordered strictly by Relative Gain (or Loss) and Absolute Gain (or Loss), where does Rank come from? In short, by ordering terms according to a quantity combining both Relative and Absolute. This follows from confronting the following dilemma: what's more "trending", a term mentioned 10 times in 2012 instead of once in 2011 (a 10X gain, but only +9 occurrences), or a term mentioned 1000 times in 2012 instead of 500 in 2011 (a 2x gain, but +500 occurrences)? To account for both forms of "trendingness", we multiply Absolute Gain by a function mapping Relative Gain to a 0-1 scale, and then sort, deriving the Rank you see here.
What do 2012 Trending Up tell us?
There's a lot to mine from this information, but I'll make a few easy points:
• 8, surface, windows, and microsoft: Microsoft's back…in the news, as launches around Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, and Surface propelled these terms into headlines far more than before.
• facebook: This shows what a long-awaited and much-watched IPO can do to a news topic, especially if the aftermath is bumpier than anyone predicted.
• instagram: What produces more media coverage than massive adoption (2011)? Massive adoption plus a pivotal acquisition plus a TOS brouhaha (2012).
• mini: Though ipad didn't trend up much, mini sure did.
• megaupload, dotcom, and kim: For companies pressing against legal boundaries, quiet years (2011) can be much happier than the years in which you get a ton of press (2012).
• patent: It'll disappoint many but surprise few across the tech industry that occurrences of "patent" were up 39% in Techmeme headlines.
In 2012 Trending Down we're presented with both the obvious and the surprising.
• steve and jobs: When Steve Jobs died last year, he loomed larger than ever in news for the remainder of the year. But then the inevitable second wave of his passing arrived, as we moved on to other topics. (But not completely.)
• iphone: An unexpected turn for some may be iPhone's trending down as a headline term, even as iPhone adoption continued to balloon internationally as well as in the U.S. in 2012. But 2011 was in fact a bigger news year for iPhones, as it saw two major launches in the U.S. (Verizon and the 4S), and moreover many of the details surrounding the iPhone 5 were uncovered as early as 2011.
• hp: 2011 was a bigger news year for HP, when they last switched CEOs, and when they dithered on whether they'd abandon their PC business (no) and webOS (yes). 2012 had surprises, but fewer.
While a lot more could be said here, I believe a post containing large tables full of words should take it easy with the explanatory prose, so I hope you've enjoyed these lists, and will perhaps produce your own insights from the preceding data!
Techmeme's top 20 headline terms of 2012, and what they signify
We can uncover a variety of patterns analyzing the data Techmeme has accumulated over the years, and given Techmeme's pan-industry focus, these findings can signal large-scale trends developing across the tech industry.
One simple analysis is ranking terms by the percentage of Techmeme headlines in which they appeared. Results for the top 20 words from 2012 headlines appear in the table below. We only count headlines fully featured on Techmeme, which are also those tweeted by @Techmeme, and not those merely appearing beneath headlines in "More". This table also excludes the 164 words most common to writing and general news (like "the" and "to").
Several things stand out from this list:
- Yeah, Apple is #1. It's no surprise that tech's largest company by revenue, market cap, and influence is also the biggest newsmaker, appearing in over 11.45% of Techmeme's headlines.
- Google finishes a close second. Its market cap and revenues are less than half of Apple's, but its massive reach, wide array of products, and key role in the mobile platform wars keep it in the news 9.93% of the time, not very far behind Apple.
- Facebook and Twitter dominate social wars. The top 20 list has room for just two social networking products. Facebook, the leader in reach and revenue, appears in Techmeme headlines 7.55% of the time while Twitter, its pithier nemesis, racked up mentions in 2.81% of headlines.
- Microsoft and Techmeme's G7: Rounding out the list beyond the four aforementioned firms are Samsung plus Washington State's two tech titans: Microsoft and Amazon. Microsoft was notably missing from the list of consumer-focused platform companies Eric Schmidt once dubbed the "Gang of Four" but with its enterprise dominance, enormous revenues, and massive investment in reclaiming market share on the devices of the future, Microsoft remains a Techmeme regular.
- The future, and present, is mobile. Techmeme's top 20 is full of terms mainly associated with mobile, like app, mobile, Android, iPhone, iPad, Samsung, iOS, and phone. Other terms like Apple of course have strong mobile associations too.
- The number 8: We counted only individual words, not full product names, leading to the preponderance of headlines about Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 pushing the numeral "8" into the 18th place.
Wondering about the next 20? Our full list goes well past 20, but we'll save that for another post, in which we'll also identify trending terms, those that have gained or lost the most in frequency since 2011. We're just getting started, so check back after Christmas for much more!