Sex, Obama and God: What the People Want (In That Order)

If knowledge is power, then Google is the New York Yankees, CIA and Vitali Klitschko rolled into one. As the internet juggernaut maintains its dominance online, its influence on the physical world is growing thanks to the sheer amount of data it controls.


While one arm of Google is fighting to digitize and sell the field of human knowledge, another arm, Google Trends, is analyzing search terms as raw sociological data. By counting the frequency with which a given search term is entered over time, Google has its finger on our collective pulse.

Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist, claims that the real-time data is a more accurate gauge of public behavior than traditional predictors which rely on agèd data to make forecasts. Varian has urged the U.S. government to stop looking at the past to predict the future.

The government, for example, was caught off guard by the popularity of its Cash for Clunker’s program. Google’s data, however, showed a tremendous spike in interest over the length of the program i.e. the number of people searching for the program online was very, very high. Had the government been aware of this data, or so the logic goes, it could have been better equipped to deal with the program’s popularity.

Google Trends is still part of Google Labs, a classification which is given to projects still in the development phase, but already Trends provides a rose-colored window into our collective soul. Keying search terms Sex, Obama and God into Google Trends yields a line graph displaying their popularity as search terms over time. Only during the month of his election was Obama more popular than Sex; since his campaign began in 2008, Obama has been a more popular search term than God.

Google Trends' current forecast calls for lower unemployment and a rising housing market. Varian reports that fewer people are searching for unemployment benefits online while more frequently searching for affordable housing and real estate agents.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

26 ultra-rich people own as much as the world's 3.8 billion poorest

The Oxfam report prompted Anand Giridharadas to tweet: "Don't be Pinkered into everything's-getting-better complacency."

Getty Images and Wikimedia Commons
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new report by Oxfam argues that wealth inequality is causing poverty and misery around the world.
  • In the last year, the world's billionaires saw their wealth increase by 12%, while the poorest 3.8 billion people on the planet lost 11% of their wealth.
  • The report prompted Anand Giridharadas to tweet: "Don't be Pinkered into everything's-getting-better complacency." We explain what Steven Pinker's got to do with it.
Keep reading Show less

People who constantly complain are harmful to your health

Moans, groans, and gripes release stress hormones in the brain.

Photo credit: Getty Images / Stringer
popular

Could you give up complaining for a whole month? That's the crux of this interesting piece by Jessica Hullinger over at Fast Company. Hullinger explores the reasons why humans are so predisposed to griping and why, despite these predispositions, we should all try to complain less. As for no complaining for a month, that was the goal for people enrolled in the Complaint Restraint project.

Participants sought to go the entirety of February without so much as a moan, groan, or bellyache.

Keep reading Show less
Videos
  • Facebook and Google began as companies with supposedly noble purposes.
  • Creating a more connected world and indexing the world's information: what could be better than that?
  • But pressure to return value to shareholders came at the expense of their own users.
Keep reading Show less