Measuring the tech world in 'Kardashians'

Can anything in tech grab the amount of attention commanded by the famous-for-being-famous family? CNET investigates.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
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Eric Mack
4 min read
Is the iPhone 5 any match for the oxygen-sucking presence of a Kardashian? Screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

Earlier this month, Ethan Zuckerman, who directs the Center for Civic Media at MIT, proposed a new unit of measurement for keeping track of how much attention a person, place, thing, or concept garners in the media. Fittingly, he dubbed the new unit the "Kardashian," presumably because the obvious alternative -- "KFC Double Down Bacon Sandwich" -- is too long.

Here's how Zuckerman explains the Kardashian unit:

Conceptually, the Kardashian is the amount of global attention Kim Kardashian commands across all media over the space of a day. In an ideal, frictionless universe, we'd determine a Kardashian by measuring the percentage of all broadcast media, conversations and thoughts dedicated to Kim Kardashian. In practical terms, we can approximate a Kardashian by using a tool like Google Insights for Search - compare a given search term to Kim Kardashian and you can discover how small a fraction of a Kardashian any given issue or cause merits.

The calculus behind the Kardashian as a unit of measurement gets quite a bit more complicated, and Zuckerman goes into the idea in detail on his blog.

I decided to stick to some simple comparisons on Google Insights to see how certain terms in the tech universe register on the Kardashian scale. Keep in mind that a term garnering an equal amount of attention (in this case, on Google Web searches) to that of the term "Kardashian" would be measured to have earned one full Kardashian of attention. Two times the attention would be two Kardashians, one-hundredth the attention would be one centiKardashian, and so on.

In the last week, interest in Samsung's Galaxy S III has hit a fever pitch, with news of an early release in Dubai, record-smashing preorders in the U.K. and a fun little port of its TouchWiz launcher.

This seemed like the perfect term to start my experiment with. But even with all the recent attention, Google Insights reveals that the new Android flagship phone has only garnered two centi-Kardashians on the Web. If we narrow the search to news on the Web, the new Galaxy phone fares a little better, with five centiKards (yes, I just made up my own fabricated abbreviation for someone else's fabricated unit of measurement; someone call NIST).

Is there anything in the tech world that can equal a Kardashian? What is the single most hyped and all-consuming object that bloggers and other digirazzi just can't stop buzzing about, even though -- much like talent in the Kardashian universe -- it doesn't exist?

I wagered that the mythical iPhone 5 is our only hope to compete with the undeniable and incomprehensible star power of the Kardashians. In fact, over the last 12 months, the Kardashians and the iPhone 5 have captivated our days an equal amount. On average, the tantalizing next-generation Apple phone has generated one full Kardashian of attention. Narrow that range to just news stories, and the iPhone 5 actually generated 1.8 Kardashians.

Around the time of his passing, Steve Jobs was generating just over a whopping 14 Kardashians -- he's since dropped back to a far more "reasonable" 12.5 centiKards.

There has been at least one occasion in which the normally parallel universes of tech and Kardashian have intersected, if only briefly.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, I attended a VIP closing party with another journalist, a PR guy obsessed with luxury wristwatches, and several hundred of our closest friends all crammed into a very dark, loud, and crowded club. In the midst of the chaos in the center of the club, behind a velvet rope, partied one lone Kardashian surrounded by an entourage of good-looking people and constant photo flashes.

My guess is that she was there to boost her influence.

You see, just a few days before, on the opening day of the conference, the term "CES" registered almost 1.5 Kardashians of attention. For that one glorious day out of the year, the quarter-million nerds and geeks from around the world who descended on Sin City were deemed more worthy of mentioning than the handful of Kardashians who normally house-sit the empty space in our heads. Two days later Kourtney (I think it was Kourtney -- there is a Kourtney, right?) and her entourage hit the strip in force to reclaim the crown, which they did easily. The day of the party, CES was back to registering less than half of a Kardashian.

Screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

While it's hard to compete with the Kardashians in the modern media landscape, there is an alternative. Recall that the coveted Samsung Galaxy S III has only earned a tiny fraction of a Kardashian lately despite the anticipation of its release, but Android fans can take heart in the fact that when using a different unit of measurement, the superphone garnered 5.5 Cardassians of attention in the past month.

(Via Mike Elgan/Google+)