Zeitgeist exposed! A look at Google Trends

Like Google Earth and other Google products, Google trends presents a simple, understandable and fun interface to an enormous amount of data. I no longer have to rely on "Vogue" magazine to tell us what is in vogue and I can see urban folklore trends before they get to the suburbs!

Some trends follow obvious and predictable events. Notice how the news and search trends for "eclipse" are synchronized and peak at the times of solar or lunar eclipses.

Other trends are less obvious in the time domain but seem to be more localized. For example, my personal experience told me that GNU/linux seemed to be much more popular outside of the U.S. than it is within the U.S. Google trends search on Linux indicates that this may indeed be the case. Look at the top cities and regions:

Google Trends search on "Linux"

	Top regions (normalized)       Top cities (normalized)
1. 	India                            Munich Germany 	
2. 	Czech Republic                   Warsaw Poland 	
3. 	Russia                           Berlin Germany 	 
4. 	Indonesia                        Frankfurt Am Main Germany  		 
5. 	Norway                           Hamburg Germany 		 
6. 	Hungary                          Milan Italy 		 
7. 	Hong Kong                        Rome Italy 		 
8. 	Romania                          Helsinki Finland 		 
9. 	Poland                           Paris France 		 
10. 	Germany                          Sao Paulo Brazil
Neither the U.S. nor any of its cities appeared in the top 10! You could almost imagine a correlation between linux and World Cup Soccer position, except that the U.S. will be in the World Cup first round. With the exception of San Francisco, the U.S. is also conspicuous in its absense from a Google trend search on "opensolaris":

Top regions for "opensolaris" searches (normalized)

1. 	Russia 	
2. 	Czech Republic 	
3. 	Singapore 		 
4. 	Hungary 	
5. 	Sweden 		 
6. 	Japan 		 
7. 	Taiwan 		 
8. 	Italy 		 
9. 	India 		 
10. 	Poland
Similarly, judging Java Desktop based on its popularity in silicon valley or within the U.S. gives a skewed answer. It's my understanding that even the linux version of Java desktop had better internationalization and localization than most alternative desktops. This would be easy to overlook in a country where 80% of adults speak only one language.

It's great to see that the U.S. made it to the World Cup first round, but I wonder if something should be done to revitalize "software engineering" there?

Other regional trends

Where are the most "property investment" google searches coming from? New York, Las Vegas, Sydney, London? No, when it comes to property investment, Dublin Ireland punches above its weight. Dublin is also near the top of the list for searches on property in Spain, Turkey, Romania, Orlando and Cape Town. Of course, people outside of Dublin may be using a different search term or language. Colloquialisms and slang also come into play. I was surprised that the southern Wisconsin "bubbler" colloquialism was searched often enough to appear on Google trend's radar but Silicon Valley buzz phrases such as "impactfulness" and "touch base" were nowhere to be found and "dotcom" seems to have moved to Malaysia.

I should be careful about jumping to conclusions based on Google trends. For example, a trend search on "Solaris" shows a spike in March of 2006. The news sidebar shows the sad news that Stanislaw Lem died on 27 March, 2006 after a long writing career. One of his science fiction novels, "Solaris", was made into two popular films. Also, a trend search on "Sun Ray" indicates a promising little spike right now. But look at the top city, New Orleans. When I first saw this I thought, "Of course, after hurricane Katrina turned hundreds of PCs and hard drives into a soggy, corroded mess and destroyed years worth of valuable data, someone decided it would make sense to use Sun Ray ultrathin clients and put the data on higher ground!" Unfortunately, the world hasn't quite caught up to my imagination. This trend seems to have come from a popular New Orleans bar and grill called, "The Sun Ray Grill".

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