I recently reached level 6 in the highly coveted Google Guide rankings. I believe this achievement was based on reviewing a bunch of local establishments and uploading photos carefully framed to show the place fairly well while including no recognizable faces, thereby satisfying the algorithm that causes the Google robot to rank it highly on their map location news feed. This photo, of one of our favorite small local bakeries in Nakazakicho, for example, has been viewed more than 100,000 times!
Another thing to notice about the photo, and I believe this is a little detail that has escaped the Google robot's attention entirely, is that it also shows M's straw hat. Here is another one, this time of a well known bakery in the main Kyoto train station which, though it is certainly frequented by thousands more customers than the little place in our neighborhood, has 'only' been viewed on Google Maps 4,000 times:
I must be doing something right, based on the fact that I recently received an official email from google explicitly praising my photos' popularity. Or is it possible that this email encomium was not so earth shattering and Google mail filters are naturally biased against diverting their own emails into my junk mail box? Well, either way, four hundred thousand is a pretty big number. I think my most popular scientific paper has less than 400 citations, indeed most of my papers probably get less than 40, and often even less than 4. This disparity gives pause for thought.
M's hat has certainly been getting a substantial number of views. Here are two pictures of the hat, taken in the vicinity of some donut shops that I reviewed, one in Osaka, Japan and the other in Brooklyn, New York. Since we visited Brooklyn in January, M is sporting a wool model. One of these has been viewed 170,000 times, the other only a few hundred. Can you guess which one is supposedly three orders of magnitude more popular than the other?
I certainly cannot determine which one is more popular just by looking at the photos (it is the Brooklyn shop). Google, on the other hand, wants me to believe that number of views is a reasonable indicator of my photos' popularity. That is what they said in their congratulatory email. But the fact that one these pairs of rather similar photos of bakeries and donut shops can be thousands of times more popular than the other indicates otherwise. The automated algorithm made one photo a default illustration in google maps, but not the other.
When I mentioned my plan to populate google maps with photographs of my M's hat, my son A suggested I start a finsta like the "famous" one of someone's girlfriend leading him to various places (https://www.instagram.com/muradosmann/). I thought about it, even managed to open a finsta account (which has 0 followers), but decided to revert to this blogging platform instead since it allows text as well as photos (see: http://keithalverson.blogspot.jp/2010/08/ancient-blogs.html). At the bottom of this blog post I show the full gallery, so far, of M's hat on Google maps.
To conclude, I am tempted to believe that Google has made an error in referring to my photographs as 'popular'. This is not due to the ephemeral nature of popularity, but rather a simple example of incorrect use of an easily measurable quantitative indicator. 'Number of views' is obviously easy to measure and report, but has little or no correlation with popularity. There is a moral in this. There is a real danger, in the fields I dabble in such as environmental protection and sustainable development, of too much emphasis on quantitative indicators. Blindly setting national GDP growth targets with no attention to aspects of national wealth not captured therein is an obvious example. Another is the indicators dreamt up by national statistics commissions to monitor progress against the Sustainable Development Goals and Targets (https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/indicators/indicators-list/). Their most appealing quality is that they have been agreed by all countries and that they are measurable. But if we put too much emphasis on improving these particular indicators we will certainly not find the smoothest path (or indeed any path) to actually achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Sometimes old fashioned storytelling can be a lot more compelling, and can more easily deliver game changing results, than a quantitative indicator. For those who are counting, the most popular Glob Blog post story to date is http://keithalverson.blogspot.jp/2011/09/eat-dirt-sucker.html, with just over 700 views.
Gallery of M's hat - All photos have been downloaded from Google maps.
|A popular establishment in Nakazakicho, though this one isn't a bakery.|
|A delightfully playful (and popular!) deviation from the hat meme - M's backpack.|
|Osaka Immigration Bureau. M has no hat on, and also highly unpopular on Google maps. Coincidence?|
|Self Portrait (I wonder how much business a bakery called 'refrain' avoids)|
|Another bakery - this one in Kobe. M is sporting a sporty cap.|
Updated with relevant email messages received from Google on March 1 2018: