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The Google Ogle Defense: A Search for America's Psyche

Walters and his team used Google Trends to compare several search terms in Pensacola, one of dozens of cities for which metrics are available. A couple clicks later, and "We could show that orgies are more popular than apple pie or boating in the Pensacola area," says Walters.

Barely even a contest, really, with the blue "orgy" line on the graph soaring way above the red pie line. The graph doesn't reveal specific numbers, just comparative popularity.

Orgies: more American than apple pie.

Maybe.

Because the real trick in making use of Google search terms is figuring out how to interpret them.

Does the fact that more people Googled "pomegranate" than "watermelon" in early 2008 mean that more people were eating pomegranates?

Or does it mean that everyone was researching the wunderfood's antioxidant properties? Maybe people hate pomegranates and everyone was rushing to blog about those weird seeds.

Do more people in Pensacola really have orgies than go boating? Even though the city is on the Gulf of Mexico?

The uncertainty illustrates "the disparity between using the Web as a marketing tool and using it as a research tool," says Gary Price, a librarian and the vice president of innovation for an Internet search firm. Meaning, when someone types in "Peru," the Web surfer might be looking to visit. But the person might just want to find out the country's gross national product. We have no way of knowing.

A Google Trends defense in court assumes that every prurient Googler is interested in visiting Orgyland, rather than learning about its exports from a safe distance.

And safe distance is really Google's biggest sell. Google is where we safely learn about swinging, erotic furries, objectum-sexual (don't ask, just Google) and a whole manner of other subcultures that we don't necessarily plan to partake in, but feel compelled to research nonetheless. Because we can. Because they're there. Because we can ask our own mothers for apple pie recipes. "Orgy" might be a popular search term not because it's a popular practice, but because it's not. How do all those limbs fit together, anyway?

The Internet so easily lends itself to depravity. How we behave in public might not be how we behave in our bedrooms, but how we behave on Google doesn't seem to reflect how we behave in bedrooms either. It's more like how we behave at a drunken bachelor party in Las Vegas.

Using Google Trends to ascertain community standards? Well, that's just comparing apples and orgies.


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