Google has released their 2009 Zeitgeist report – a summary of popular search trends along various topics. Lists like this are usually predictable – the most-searched-for baseball team was the Yankees; the alphabet soup of AIG, GM, and TARP led bailout-related searches.
But search results can also give a good concept of popular thinking on key news topics. For instance, the top term used in healthcare-related searches is “Obama.” That seems to indicate that, for better or worse, people are closely identifying the President with the health care reform issue. Also interesting is that the Heritage Foundation was the #5 search term in this category – which could mean that Americans are open to hearing alternatives to what has been circulating on Capitol Hill.
Google also looks at localized search topics for several major cities. Movie theaters and school websites dominated the results, especially colleges. In DC, the top term was “fcps blackboard” – the portal for the Fairfax County public school system. This actually says a lot about the Washington, DC workforce and commuting patterns. (I knew I had company on my daily commutes into and out of Your Nation’s Capital from Merrifield, but had no idea it was enough to alter search results; Metro clearly needs more trains.)
That education websites are so popular also notes another trend. Around the Thanksgiving table this year, my soon-to-be brother and sister in law commented that they hadn’t seen their daughter’s recent report card, despite the marking period having ended. They explained that they just check her grades online.
Pollsters can call voters, ask questions, track answers, and get a pretty good idea of what folks are thinking. Still, there’s an element of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in that method – that the very act of measuring could affect the responses to poll questions. Internet searches are somewhat anonymous.
As the old saying goes, you are who you are when no one is watching.