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What Are We Looking For?

Entry 903, on 2008-12-03 at 21:15:51 (Rating 1, Computers)

Google New Zealand has just released a list of the most popular search terms for 2008 and I thought it might be quite informative to see what people are looking for. Here is the list of the top 10 searches: games, bebo, youtube, Trade Me, lyrics, google, map, hotmail, tv, weather. Actually, I've changed my mind, because that's not very informative at all. For example, what does the fact that people are googling Google mean? Maybe that they don't really know what they are doing?

It seems that many people use Google as a quick way to get to a site they already know exists. For example, typing bebo in the location area of most browsers will take you to that site without the need for the extra click after doing a Google search (or maybe they click "I'm feeling lucky"). I guess those people also don't use bookmarks and keyboard shortcuts much! A similar observation would apply to youtube, trademe, and hotmail.

And many of the search terms which aren't designed to find a particular site are very generic: games, weather, tv, for example. I suppose this isn't surprising because we should expect the biggest searches to be the most general but I wonder how useful that type of search actually is. I tried it myself and "games" took me to three on-line games sites and a news site as the first four. I guess that's useful. When I tired "tv" at Google's New Zealand site I got listings for local channels on the first page so I guess that is fairly useful too.

How about the fast rising searches - that is, those which rose to prominence during they year? They include olympics (no surpirse there), facebook, youtube (two more aimed at specific sites), lotto (yawn), wiki (looking for Wikipedia maybe), seek, miniclip (more games), asb, tvnz (site specific), large hadron collider (finally something interesting), heath ledger, obama (Heath Ledger ahead of Obama?), gossip girl, jonas brothers, miley cyrus (no comment), euro 2008, and mathletics (what? maybe there are some geeks out there still after all).

Its good to see the LHC being so prominent there, but unfortunately it was probably for the wrong reason: that is the rumours about it leading to the "end of the world". But any interest in cool science is good, no matter how poorly motivated!

But a lot of this stuff is really no better than "noise". It might be more interesting to track searches with that noise removed. We could take out references to specific sites, pop and film stars, and general terms, and then see what comes to the fore. No doubt Google do this already. Recently they revealed that they could predict outbreaks of 'flu by tracking searches related to the symptoms and treatments for it.

I think a properly extracted list of search terms would be really useful in establishing the current zeitgeist. Unfortunately the list published here is of little help.

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