Colombia v Columbia: How many people get it wrong?

tldr; I reckon about a quarter of people get it wrong but I’m open to being corrected…

I was recently in Colombia (not Columbia) and whilst I was out there I noticed wristbands and T-Shirts etc for sale with the “It’s Colombia not Columbia” branding similar to below.

Screen Shot 2016-11-29 at 13.31.36.png
Credit: Miami Herald 

Colombians were understandably annoyed by how their country was consistently miss-spelt and so this campaign was an attempt to highlight and change this. When I saw the campaign, I was curious to know the numbers behind the miss-spelling.

The tragic news of the Colombian plane crash gave me a chance to look try to do a quick and dirty analysis of the scale of the problem.

The plane crash being such a big, worldwide news event meant that the search data for that time around people searching for Colombia V Columbia would be likely to be overwhelmingly about Colombia, the country rather than Columbia the university, clothing company or the state.

To see quantify the scale of the problem and look at the worst culprits I compared Colombia and Columbia in Google trends for a timespan of one day.

Screen Shot 2016-11-29 at 13.49.26.pngscreen-shot-2016-11-29-at-13-50-15screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-13-49-36

If we assume that most searches around this day were about the plane crash and therefore should have been ‘Colombia’ then you could see that most people were getting it right when they searched with a hefty chunk getting it wrong. But that’s a big assumption, that most people were searching for the plane crash.

So I then looked at just those News searches in Google trends by narrowing down the category. That’s much less of an assumption.

Below shows searches for Colombia (blue) and Columbia (red) over the period of one day (the spikes are when news broke of the crash). On breaking news, the red peaks at around 35 relative to the blue’s 100 so 35 as a percentage of 35+100 = 26% = that feels like a fairly good finger in the air estimate of the volume of people who miss-spell Colombia. 

Screen Shot 2016-11-29 at 13.54.53.png

A quick Google search showed that even respected news organisations get it wrong over the spelling of Colombia. Interestingly, when I clicked on the links on Google’s In the news results, below, it looked like the Columbia spelling had been corrected on the Business Insider site (but not in its page title), on the Mirror (which presumably had initially published with Columbia unless Google autocorrected) and was still miss-spelt on the Manchester Evening News.

Screen Shot 2016-11-29 at 13.40.32.png
Google autocorrecting or news editors correcting?



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