Google's window into the zeitgeist

nick
Mar 23, 2010

Recently the MSM has been running a bunch of stories about the echo chamber online — not that they ever call it that. What they're talking about is the fact that the online obsession with the 'Most Popular,' 'Most Linked,' and 'Most Emailed' means that we tend to see the same top 10 stories everywhere we go.

In some ways, it's not much of a change. After all the New York Times and the Herald-Tribune famously used to flip-flop front page stories in the second edition, copying what the other did in its first edition. Tons of fun.

The MSM's criticism of the echo chamber online is that what is most popular is rarely what is most important. But who knows what's most important anyway? People forget that the watergate story, arguably the most important story of the 20th century, was hidden on inside pages for most of its development.

The real problem with those popularity lists, is that they don't accurately reflect people's interests either. They get on the list often due to a fluke, but once they're defined as popular they get promoted all over the place and they become popular just cause they're on the front pages of the most visited sites on the internet. And some people realize this and then they manipulate the system to put certain stories in the 'popular' category.

As soon as you turn a statistic into a public target of any kind, it ceases to be a relevant measure of anything.

Which is why I love Google Trends. It's not well-known, so it isn't really corrupted by some version of the Observer Effect. Google Trends is a report on the most popular searches at any given moment. Log on, and you can see what millions of people are thinking about at that very moment. You can see where millions of people are thinking the same thing. And it's often wacky.

Who is Jared Ashley? Right now, his name is the most searched term on the internet (72% of all US search inquiries happen on Google). He's a finalist on the show Nashville Star and he recently charged someone with assault and harrassment.

Okay, not a huge surprise that he's number one right now.

But what about number two: "laodicean definition"?

Why were millions of people suddenly interested in the definition of "laodicean" two hours ago?

Ah, the detail page tells me it was the winning word in the National Spelling Bee last night. Okay I admit it, I'm not a spelling bee enthusiast. It is fascinating to me that so many other people are...

The fun continues:

Why is "goat locker" number 69?

You gotta love that Microsoft's new search engine, bing.com, is number 82: "bing search".

What on earth is "whack a kitty"? It's 58.

So, Google Trends. Check it out. Please, just don't tell anyone...

Comments

Karl Hungus-Mr....

Goat locker is where the E-7's( Navy CPO's) and above hang out onboard their ship.  This is where you can normally find the best food onboard a ship (unless you have a flag mess).  The officers think they have the best, trust me I have eaten in a CO's galley, 3 different officers wardrooms, a Flag Mess, and a goat locker.  The Flag Mess is number one, followed by the goat locker.

If you are a sly, cocky young sailor you would go down there with an empty toolbag and tell them that you had to work on some peice of equipment that does not exist.  Then fill your toolbag with pies and other tasty baked goods, then exit out the back ladderwell. 

(they also had an endless supply of Jolly Ranchers)