Tuesday, 6/12/2016 | 12:45 UTC+3

Full Steam Ahead!

IBM STEAMPUNKI was catching up with the various news around the world as well as those little things that I find interesting.Never mind about what’s going on in Syria, or more recently in Mali (though both have a long history about them – things, as always, don’t usually happen out of the blue). I was scanning the news items over at ElReg, when a strange title caught my eye: “IBM brains ponder universe, say kids will go nuts for STEAMPUNK“.


At first, I was baffled. I thought I misread something. Then I saw the text was pretty persistent: it really read IBM and STEAMPUNK, both words in capitals.

Then I did some search and I found out similar articles all over the place – it’s all because of an IBM press release from a couple of days earlier. Great infographics too.

First of all, steampunk is really cool, probably not as cool as flying sharks shooting lasers and such, but still, pretty cool.
Now I’m really curious to know who paid for that analysis (probably these guys), an analysis that’s based on what IBM calls the Social Sentiment Index. That is supposedly a metric derived from following trends in the social media. Basically, it’s statistics.

I didn’t delve too deep into the technology,software or techniques used to measure all that up – the nitty-gritty of it over at IBM’s website is hidden under corporate lingo – after all, they sell it as a service. What bugs me, or better yet what intrigues me about all this is that in the days of yonder there was a crystal ball involved along with a gypsy fortune teller. Or maybe some tarot cards.

I’m not saying it’s a hoax and I’m not saying the people over at IBM are selling myth or fantasy. I’m just saying, it’s just statistics and more so, statistics out of the social media, which are in my view, a lot of noise.

Sure, there are well-established techniques to sort noise out of a group of data, but what it boils down to is just because people say so, and just because it’s cool, it doesn’t mean they’ll be buying top hats with GPS or shoes with real whirring gears on them.

The press release itself makes some good points and sounds less all-knowing that the journalists write it up to be:

33 percent of online fashion chatter around steampunk can be found on gaming sites – “Wouldn’t it be cool to be wearing one of these? It’d be kickass – that’s what I want for Christmas”

2010 saw a year on year increase in chatter of 296 percent. This increase can be attributed to steampunk-inspired NYC ComicCon events in October of 2010 – What a surprise. The NYC ComicCon had steampunkers gone wild. And they talk it about it too.

Twitter is the #1 social network for steampunk chatter; hosts six times the number of discussions as Facebook – I’m glad I don’t have any Facebook stock then.

63 percent of fashion discussions around steampunk are initiated by individuals less than 30 years old – That’s what the retailers read as “they don’t have kids yet to spent money on so they’ll be spent it on steampunk stuff”.

55 percent of social sentiment chatter for steampunk fashion derived by blogs – My mother doesn’t have a blog but she still buys clothes. I thought Armani was considered ‘fashion’. But then again, I only wear jeans.

Is it a misuse of resources? Sure. Could they be putting all that hardware and software into a better use? Sure. But hell, someone’s paying them to give them a window into the future of retail. That’s why they have a ‘B’ in IBM – it’s a business.


The question of whether the market creates the trend, or the trend creates the market seems new, but it’s really the same old thing. Built it, and they will come. There were tablets before the iPad. Was the timing wrong? Where they too expensive? I don’t really care about that. Or what people will be wearing the next couple of years (some kind of clothing, I presume). It’s just that past the common misconception about scientific studies (they could be wrong, incomplete and in case they rarely become law or theory – in the well-established scientific sense), there’s maybe a new conundrum up the road – the “computers predict” dictum.

Now it’s just about what we’ll wearing, or buying. What if someone decides that if they’re that good, we should predict what we’ll be voting, what we will be eating and so on. Colossus anyone?

I’m not fear-mongering or trying to sound silly; I think the whole idea is rooted in hype, which is closely related to FUD. It’s just that I did actually wonder whether or not my next novel should be a steampunk one. Don’t worry – women willbuy anything and IBM knows how to sell it.

Article Name
Full Steam Ahead!
A commentary on data analysis predictions regarding Steampunk and fads.

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Born in Trikala, raised since childhood Athens, torn between the call of nature and the trapping of society. I write books, tell stories and make fun of most things that don't really matter in the cosmic, long view.

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