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We've been playing with xRank today, a tool from Bing that allows you to search for celebrities and brings up related results such as biographies, videos, images, shopping, popularity trends and any other range of available information.
I was impressed by its ability to actually map relationships between seemingly unrelated things. For searches for minor celebrities, the results are rather intriguing as xRank seems to be able to map some rather insightful connections. For example, a search for the lead singer of American indie-folksters The Decemberists brought up the following:
Colin Meloy isn't famous enough to have results (neither is Nick Cave, for that matter, so maybe they're working out the kinks still), but xRank is clever enough to bring up an list of related people that don't necessarily seem that connected at the outset:
- Carson Ellis - an artist who has designed all of the sleeves for The Decemberists' music, is also Meloy's girlfriend
- Kevin Canty - an author who teaches at the University of Montana, the state where Meloy grew up
- K Ross Toole - a American historian specialising in local Montana history
- Elliot Smith - a singer/musician with a similar fanbase to The Decemberists
- Slim Moon - the founder of Kill Rock Stars, the indie label that first signed The Decemberists
While it might be easy enough to connect Carson Ellis and Colin Meloy or Slim Moon and Colin Meloy through online biographies, neither of these people are particularly considered celebrities. Yet somehow xRank has drawn a strong enough connection and identified them as important enough to list in related searches with the idea that people searching for Colin Meloy might also be interested in those results.
Kevin Canty and K Ross Toole are more interesting results probably included because of the Montana connection but if xRank has been clever enough to understand through analysis of documents mentioning Colin Meloy that his songwriting gets connected to storytelling and historical references (if you count songs about Victorian chimney sweeps and sailors as historical references) and that he's written a book, then it's an even cleverer comparison.
A search for Kim Deal, indie music goddess, and bassist for The Pixies, brings up the following:
- Kristin Hersh - lead singer of Providence, RI, band Throwing Muses and sister to Tanya Donnelly, an original member of Deal's band The Breeders. Throwing Muses not only recently played at the Deal-curated All Tomorrow's Parties festival, and is on the same record label as Deal.
- Joey Santiago - Lead guitarist in The Pixies
- Juliana Hatfield - an indie music cult figure from around the same time that The Pixies first emerged, part of the same local Boston music scene
- Ivo Watts Russell - Founder of 4AD, Deal's record label for The Pixies, The Breeders and The Amps
Clearly, these results are related, often quite closely, but in less obvious ways than a search for "Kim Deal" and a search for "Kim Deal photos" might be related or even less obvious than a search for "iPod" and "Macbook" might be related.
When you do a search for Kurt Cobain, however, you get:
While a couple of results clearly relate to his time in Nirvana, the theme is actually information and pictures of his death, which leads to the question of - are these related searches based around what people who search for the person also search for? Is a person who searches for Kurt Cobain these days more likely to be looking for information surrounding his death and the various conspiracy theories than for his music? And is somebody searching for "Colin Meloy" subsequently likely to also search for "K Ross Toole" and "Bruce Springsteen" rather than "Decemberists tickets" or "Decemberists album"?
By far my favourite result out of everything we looked at though has to be the result for "Oasis":
Apparently xRank can't actually distinguish between Oasis the band and Oasis the shop - or they think that Oasis fans tend to shop at Warehouse, River Island and Topshop.
Either way, these results suggest something fairly advanced at work to either gauge searcher intent or draw semantic comparisons (or both) and it will certainly be worth watching as Bing develops to see how this reflects in the overall search results.