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Google Defends “Meaningless” Zeitgeist

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When Google put out its year-end Zeitgeist, an account of the hottest searches in 2006, bloggers immediately felt the list’s creators were fudging it a little for decency’s sake. Google responded on its blog saying the list was edited to save us from the boredom of constants and givens.

Google’s “Top Searches in 2006″ was topped by searches for Bebo, MySpace, World Cup, and Metacafe. But the blogosphere at large wasn’t buying it. They wanted to know where all the sex went, casting doubt on the list. WebProNews’ own Chris Richardson called the list “meaningless.”

Google responded to the hubbub, defending its actions on a more Kantian level. (In philosophy Immanuel Kant asserted that there are only three constants in life: birth, death, and sexuality). In search life, searches for “games,” “maps,” and “sex” are constant, which, in short make them uninteresting after a while.

The title of Google’s compilation, “Zeitgeist,” is a clue, says Google software engineer Artem Boystov, that the list seeks to chronicle what’s hot for a given period time, not hot every day all day:

[W]e do not simply retrieve the most frequently-searched terms for the period — the truth is, they don’t change that much from year to year. This list would be predominated by very generic searches, such as “ebay”, “dictionary”, “yellow pages,” “games,” “maps” — and of course, a number of X-rated keywords. These are constants, and although unquestionably popular, we don’t think they actually define the Zeitgeist.

The goal of the Zeitgeist, Boystov notes, is to record what searches were popular in 2006, but no so popular in 2005. “Bebo, for example, had very little traffic in 2005,” says Boystov.

And, to give Google some credit, the year-end list is very enlightening once you strip away those pesky constants. While we’re interested in birth, death, and sexuality (the last one, for men, is interesting every few seconds), those basic, or base, interests are hardly illustrative of any greater points.

But when the “What is. . .” query list shows that eight out ten searches of this type were for information about pharmaceutical products, you get a much clearer image of the society at large.

And then you reach for the alcohol.

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Google Defends “Meaningless” Zeitgeist
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