Unofficially obsessed with Google.

Google releases Zeitgeist 2005

12/20/2005 09:44:00 PM
Google has released the 2005 Zeitgeist, and it is a splashy summarization of the year's top search trends. With new graphs, paragraph reviews, and tabbed title bars, Google has created more of a pamphlet than its typical list review. (This design style is in line with its recent design for new product introductions and support pages, see Google Analytics for another new mode of Google design.) The Googlist interprets this as a step toward legitimizing Google's information in the eyes of potential "customers." That is to say, Google may eventually package information and sell it in similarly niche packages for industries. But enough with that surmising on my part, let's get down to the rankings!

The first pieces of information are provided in easy list format with no supporting numbers given:

Top Gainers of 2005
It's no surprise that Myspace takes it all here. The lewd personal profile site has at times had more pageviews than any other web entity, even Google. Google's own orkut taking #5 in the Top Gainers category, however, seems highly inaccurate. But who are we to judge?

Top Google News Searches of 2005
Janet Jackson beats out Hurricane and Katrina to round out the top 3. But we already knew the world was superfluous and other-obsessed in all of the wrong ways. No surprise that the year's other top headliners Xbox 360, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Harry Potter file in below to create the top 10.

Top Froogle Searches of 2005
Unquestionably the ipod products and various digital camera and gaming devices fill the top 10. Awkwardly, however, "computer desk" has managed to slide in at #9--a feeble attempt at purchasing productivity in an otherwise entertainment dominated category.

Subsequent information is provided in an attractive line graph format comparing search terms across time. Although no Y-axis labels are provided, that metric is something similar to "# of searches per day" or "# of unique IP addresses querying the term per day." We really have no idea...

What we do know is that the Google web design team doesn't quite have their image alt tag thinking caps on. The mouseover tool tips for a lot of the graphs have erroneous tidbits:

Hah! Bizarre, on to the query roundups:

World Affairs
Google selects the London attacks, weapons of mass destruction, the Pope's death, Rove's CIA leak, and Rosa Parks as five news stories (notably Western in concern) exemplary of search spikes and trends. Expectedly, searches follow the passing of newsworthy current events with traffic increases as one might expect. Unexpectedly, I was surprised to see that in its news provider comparison, BBC searches outnumber CNN searches by nearly 50%. My estimation for this disparity is the dispersal of American news sources across a variety of trusted sites (NYT, MSNBC, etc.) while the BBC has managed to nearly monopolize the European news sector. Google's summary of ths section is a rather benign and uninteresting statement: "In tumultuous times, people turn to news sources to track events." Oh?

The Zeitgeist analysis here focuses on the hurricane and tsunami disasters with brief commentary on the avian flu. No comparisons to other current events are made, so it is unclear on what scale Google considers these searches to be notable. How did the term "Hurricane Rita," for example, compare to the earler discussed "weapons of mass destruction" in search popularity? We are left unsure.

It's a bit upsetting that our global culture finds so much searchable interest in movies that Google felt the necessity to create an entire category (following the natural disaster category just previously) to discuss the relevant trends. Summary from this section: "The Force" beats "The Dark Side" with triple the search interest, "Yoda" was more often searched than "Skywalker" (either Luke or Anakin), Harry Potter drew competing book and movie searches, Harry Potter terms beat out Lord of the Rings terms, and apparently March of the Penguins made quite the search splash. Clearly Zeitgeist writers found Star Wars to be the most interesting fodder.

Another fluff category, but validly so as the top gaining and top overall searches include numerous celebrities (so help us in our cultural recession). In sum: Britney is still the Internet's pop diva, Jennfer Aniston loses out to both Brad and Angelina in search popularity, Martha and the Donald duked it out for Apprentice prominence, and no one cares about Camilla Parker Bowles anymore (or Prince Charles).

Perhaps the most "timely" of the categories, showing how queries distinctive to this particular year fared in popularity. Conclusions: Black Friday is a purely seasonal interest, surfing beats skateboarding which just beats out snowboarding, this was the "Year of the Wiki" for Wikipedia but noticeably there was no true spike during the recent Wikipedia scandal, and podcast made a tiny showing while ipod and mp3 continued to sail steadily through the search field.

While I love piecing the year together through the Zeitgeist, I found Google's fluffy graph analyses to be misrepresentative. Axes were obviously not to scale across all graphs which would lead many readers to think that "Karl Rove" and "The Dark Side" were similar performers, when in fact let's hope for the sake of all too perfect irony that they were not.

Would love to see actual numbers on these, Google.

Update: Google HTMLers fixed the alt image tags so they now correspond to the graphs, rather than to pop culture phenomena Star Wars and Harry Potter...


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