Did celebrity last longer in 1929, 1992 or 2009? We investigate the phenomenon of fame by mining a collection of news articles that spans the twentieth century, and also perform a side study on a collection of blog posts from the last 10 years.
By analyzing mentions of personal names, we measure each person's time in the spotlight, and watch the distribution change from a century ago to a year ago. We expected to find a trend of decreasing durations of fame as news cycles accelerated and attention spans became shorter.
Instead, we find a remarkable consistency through most of the period we study. Through a century of rapid technological and societal change, through the appearance of Twitter, communication satellites and the Internet, we do not observe a significant change in typical duration of celebrity.
We also study the most famous of the famous, and find different results depending on our method for measuring duration of fame. With a method that may be thought of as measuring a spike of attention around a single narrow news story, we see the same result as before:
stories last as long now as they did in 1930. A second method, which may be thought of as measuring the duration of public interest in a person, indicates that famous people's presence in the news is becoming longer rather than shorter, an effect most likely driven by the wider distribution and higher volume of media in modern times.
Similar studies have been done with much shorter timescales specifically in the context of information spreading on Twitter and similar social networking site. However, to the best of our knowledge, this is the first massive scale study of this nature that spans over a century of archived data, thereby allowing us to track changes across decades.