Sunday, 1 September 2013

Porn is more popular than Politics; and other interesting Google Trends results

Favorite students' past-times are those long addled evenings spent with friends, beer and strange cocktails, arguing philosophical questions that could never be answered one way or the other: people are more interested in money than love, Madonna is more popular than Nelson Mandela, people care more about cats than dogs etc. Except, now days anyone with an interesting question can now simply punch in the topics on Google Trends and hey presto, end of the philosophical musing: in fact trending searches are listed at http://www.google.com/trends/topcharts and so with one click I know dogs outrank cats as a search term in the USA in the Pets and Animals category.

What are students in the future going to talk about from now on over beers and cocktails, I wonder? Currently Google can't answer that one.

Google isn't so much a search engine as it is a marketing tool centered around a search engine. The search engine just helps people trying to sell stuff understand how to sell stuff. And Conservation Biologist's are little different try to sell a message that biodiversity is important – so in the light of the declining share of the search market in the environment, one has to try and understand where or to who are we loosing out market share. By identifying search trends, which we can broadly say represent people's interests, we can perhaps use these terms ourselves (like so many animal names have been used for cars or even operating systems) or create alliances that will help close the widening gap between people and the natural environment. What made me realize this was that one of my post popular posts is titled “A sexy Tail”. There must be a lot of disappointed internet users out there who found out the post was really about Cape Sugarbirds.

An important disclaimer on the information I'll be presenting below: I've only used one search term (an English one) to compare between these chosen subjects. However, they may not be the ones that really represent how people are searching for certain themes. In addition – certain terms may cover a wide variety of topics and so the relative ranking may be skewed by other connotations for the chosen word. I have also not looked at synonyms for these terms that may be used in other languages which may represent something completely different. However, I do think these illustrate with broad brush strokes what is important to people; and illustrate broad trends in what is gaining popularity versus what is not.

To check out broadly how the Google Trends tool will work, its good to look at trends where you kind of know what to expect. A good example would be Democrat vs Republican. We know from USA politics that these bars and lines should be broadly parallel and equivalent in average, which they are:


One way of finding out how much a country may be contributing to internet search results is actually to compare trends for that country name compared to others (spelling the country they do in that country: eg. Brazil as Brasil. It turns out people from their own country are more likely to do a search on that country if you examine the rankings by map that comes along with Google Trends.



As an ornithologist I was interested to see how my topic faired within the natural world. Here, it was necessary to broaden the search terms – birds showed an unnatural peak associated with what I presume is a band called 'Angry Birds'. Even given that Birding is a niche tourism market, and perhaps driven by interest in the UK, I was surprised that birds ranked higher.


Now lets look at those topics that form the basis for civil conversations, at least between members of the middle classes of the world: Sport, Business, Holiday. Here the results are very interesting, not just the sport-business crossover trend, but also the dance between business and holiday with seasonal changes in search terms which we would expect with holiday seasons. I suspect that declines in Holiday and Business represent more a trend away from broad search to brand search, but that is just speculation on my part.



We can explore Sport on a finer scale – I've always wondered what was more popular:
Rugby, Football, Golf or Tennis. On a global level you'll always be more assured of a conversation if you know a little bit more about Football than Tennis for instance. And is that decline in golf a result of bad behaviour from Tiger Woods or a disconnect between new internet users and the sport?



But now – lets explore the human psyche a little more. Lets see what we're really interested in at the personal level.

Love, Hate, Money. If I was to write a book or make a movie, I'd call it “Love in time of War on
Money” – or some combination of these terms, as these are all big search items over their natural opposites. It would be a load of crap, but it would at least be found on the internet and I'd make some money out of it.



It is still reassuring to see that Love outranks Money (even when the research is restricted to a country level). But then – we have to ask ourselves who's searching for Love? Turns out it's the Philippines, so what kind of love are we actually talking about here? Interesting, the United Kingdom is the world's largest searcher for 'Money', followed by Ghana, Nigeria and the United States. Sadly, South Africa also makes the top 10 of this list. However, it is reassuring to see that even within the USA and SA Love outranks Money when restricting results to just those countries.

But what about the darker side? Politics vs pornography. When I explored those two terms initially, the results looked encouraging, with Pornography on the decline (chart not shown here), but I was alarmed to see that the top related search term was Child Pornography. Turns out that is a term probably used by concerned parents, and people really interested in human flesh and copulation don't use that term. Change pornography to porn (the chart below) and you'll see what people are really searching for. Also interesting – the map that tells which countries are searching for it. The top ten Naughty countries include, in order of ranking: Papua New Guinea, Trinidad and Tobago, Pakistan, India, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, United Kingdom, Ireland and Mauritius. It is scary to see the difference in search volume between Politics and Porn. Are porn stars actually more influential than politicians and we're just not ready to admit it?



Religon of course is a tricky topic to tackle, and while trends with major religons and search terms are interesting, I'll not present them here for fear of being flamed. I'll just comment that it is interesting that Beatles are perhaps no longer more popular than Jesus (Beatles, Jesus). John Lennon of course is saying you should be looking at The Beatles vs Jesus Christ.  You can do those ones yourselves.

So before I get side-tracked, and into real trouble, has any of this been helpful?

Well, what got me going on all this was the concern that Climate Change has become a bit passé. Although interest peaked around 2007 (together with Carbon offset and other related terms), its been declining ever since.



However, so have searches for Health and Education. So we need to remind ourselves that a declining chart doesn't necessarily represent less interest in a topic, but it does show that it is loosing 'market share' as the use of Google Search grows year on year. While use of the Google search engine continues to grow apace, according to http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm most growth is in developing regions: Africa, the Middle East and Latin America and so language and interests are bound to look like they are changing simply because of the different degrees that these demographics are contributing to the charts presented here. But, even restricting searches to English speaking countries doesn't help the trends for Global Warming and Climate Change.

But I doubt I'm going to be using any porn related vocabulary to increase my rankings (we already have birds called tits and boobies). Looks like I'm going to enlist that group the Angry Birds if we're to revive interest in one of the world's most serious environmental issues of our time. Damn, just found out Angry Birds is an internet game.

Time for another beer anyone?

In 2012 more than 5 000 million searches were conducted via Google per day!
Data from http://www.statisticbrain.com/google-searches/ (blue line), with a moving average trend line in black.

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