The World Wide Web Keeps it Local

Rather than create a “global village,” the Internet may have actually “shrunk people’s horizons,” reports an Economist article about a new study by Hebrew University researchers Jacob Goldenberg and Moshe Levy. They used a common Freakonomics topic — baby names — to study how far ideas have spread since the advent of the Internet. They found that from the 1970’s to the 1990’s, “the proportion of babies given a certain name in a state where that name was already popular or in a neighboring state was 20 percent higher than would otherwise have been expected.” From 1995 to 2005, they found, the 20 percent figure jumped to 30 percent. This jump correlates to the rise of the web, Goldenberg and Levy found, but they haven’t proven causation. [%comments]

Sean Samis

Not entirely surprising. In the Bad Old Days, there were fewer news outlets so they tended toward the Big Picture and that was all there was. Now we can get boutique, local news, and we tend toward these because they are more intimate to our lives.

It's similar to the shrill tone of political commentary today. Once Upon A Time there were few sources of news so each one stayed calm and reasonable so they could capture as large an audience share as they could. Walter Cronkite was at one time pulling about a 50% share to CBS Evening news.

Now there are so many voices in the news-market place that the only way to succeed is to shout louder, and outrage as much as possible; demolition-derby style journalism.


The internet draws all different kinds of people from all over the world together. For the first time in history the fact that an ocean separates you from someone does not hinder you from interacting with them very quickly.

Perhaps this also has the effect of making people appreciate their own heritage. When you see how different cultures and societies are it can sometimes make you want to become more active in your own.

I have a friend from Kenya who lived in New York City for seven years. He said being around so many people from all across the world made him want to become more involved in Kenyan traditions.

Perhaps more people are naming babies with traditional cultural names…


Causation: Regional news outlets? Baby name book distribution methodology? Hairstyles?

Hairstyles? Yes, I wrote that since baby names are trendy much as hairstyles are. I have found that even in a micro sense I can travel from the major sized capital city in my state to a medium sized city in the next state and notice the differences in how women get their hair cut in that smaller city. So if hair styles are regional then why not baby names?

(In my opinion the best thing you can do for naming your child is to find a good name which is out of popularity or out of synch with what people are naming their children right now. If you named a girl Barbara today she probably won't have any classmates named that versus say Ashley, Haley, or Ansley which are pretty popular now.)

Eric M. Jones

“...the proportion of babies given a certain name..." is certainly a questionable indicator of anything. Expanding one's horizons might make one more appreciative of one's own locality.

The miracle of the internet might simultaneously make a us global village and a local culture. They are not mutually exclusive which the article seems to claim. I send email to people down the street and around the world.


I don't know about baby names but I (personally) have definitely picked up a lot of ideas and values through the Internet, that I would otherwise not have been introduced to in my own country.

Avi Rappoport

The Web given me friends and clients all over the world, including several different parts of Australia, central Brazil, South Africa, China, Finland, Poland, Italy, and the Russian federal republic of Udmurtia.

But I still named my kids traditional family names. It would never occur to me to name them after my friends or their children: maybe that's not such a great correlation.

A better one might be music: I'll give my friends favorite groups a try. I've discovered that I like Gogol Bordello and Tanzwut!


Did they study just the USA (I am yet to read the link)? In that case this could be because the 70s were a good time for weird names and a more international outlook in the US.


How is this an instance of shrinking horizons?

science minded

well, of course they have not proven causation. With their methodology, they cannot. With what methodology can they? Stay tuned?


"I've discovered that I like Gogol Bordello and Tanzwut!"

These are probably less popular as baby names... or at least one hopes.

I await "Google", "YouTube", and "Slashdot" as popular boy's names... "Wikipedia", "Lolzcat", and "CafePress" for girls.

Max Kingsbury

I read today in The Systems Bible that the larger a system is, the less variety it offers. This seems paradoxical, but it is definitely true. Compare the network of independent farmers markets with a region-wide grocer, and you will realize that with a more connected system, there are less options available.


Correlation doesn't imply causation