Cloud

Stack Overflow data could reveal Google's hidden weapon against Amazon in the cloud

By digging deeper into Stack Overflow page view data, one can uncover a unique advantage Google has in data science tools.

There are many different ways to assess the popularity of different technologies. Redmonk looks at GitHub and Stack Overflow data to measure programming language popularity. Ryan Williams pulls HackerNews mentions. DB-Engines scours a variety of sources, including Stack Overflow, to rank diverse databases. Among these different measures, Stack Overflow data is often a critical part, but perhaps not the Stack Overflow data that most pull.

Indeed, as Google's Felipe Hoffa shows, a better metric for assessing popularity of different technologies might be Stack Overflow page views, instead of new questions asked. Digging into the volume of page views yields very different results on what developers actually care about.

We visit what we love

It's possible, of course, that page views doesn't measure the popularity of a technology, but instead could reveal its deficiencies. As Scott Hirleman pointed out, "[I]t could be 'what's truly broken' if you were to compare usage to page views. If people have to search all the time, then the docs could suck."

Hoffa, however, had two good responses to this critique. The first is that whether a developer loves or hates technology, the fact that she's visiting Stack Overflow suggests that she's using it: "When users love something, they use it more. The more they use it, the more unexpected ways they try to combine it and extended it," Hoffa wrote in a tweet.

The second is related, and suggests that even eventual hatred of technology likely stems from an initial love for the tech: "Love brings usage, usage brings frustration, frustration brings hate. There's no hate if users don't love/use the product first. (At least when there's a choice)," Hoffa write in a tweet.

SEE: IT leader's guide to the future of artificial intelligence (Tech Pro Research)

Again, whether someone chose to use a technology, and whether she loves or hates using it, is somewhat immaterial to Hoffa's analysis—if they're on Stack Overflow trying to dig up information, they're using it. But what are they using?

Questions and views

Stack Overflow provides access to its data trends tool, but it doesn't measure page views. Rather, it measures new questions asked for a given tag, like TensorFlow. That's nice, but it leads to erroneous conclusions about what developers care most about, as Hoffa's example of Git versus TensorFlow indicates:

tensorflow-vs-git.png
Image: Felipe Hoffa

Git is obviously more popular. TensorFlow is simply sparking a lot of new interest.

In programming language land, this page view analysis shows that Python gets more views than Java or JavaScript (and is also closing in on JavaScript in the "new questions asked" category, a testament to its broad appeal for data scientists and beyond). Speaking of data science (and machine learning), Google's TensorFlow trounces its peers, including Amazon's preferred MxNet:

tensorflow.png
Image: Felipe Hoffa

Amazon Web Services (AWS) pays Google back in serverless, with AWS Lambda bullying Google Cloud Functions and Microsoft Azure Functions. But in the critical battleground of data science, using TensorFlow or Google BigQuery (versus Amazon Redshift), or other related areas, Google's technologies are really popular compared to Amazon's. That may not be playing out in their respective cloud revenue income statements (yet), but it's worth watching.

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/phototechno

About Matt Asay

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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