Sense-making with Google Trends


From the O’Reilly Radar I came across this fun tip: use Google trends to investigate words with seasonality. What I like about this so much is that it gets at how we make sense of the world. Just as you can use Google images to see what a fleam looks like without knowing what it means or how to translate destornillador without bothering to find out what language it is, you can use Google trends to learn about words that have distinct temporal profiles.

Perhaps you’ve never heard of Beltane, but a quick trend search shows that it stimulates great interest around the end of April every year. Now consider Christmas. Notice that this exhibits the pronounced anticipatory pileup associated with counter-flowing temporal wind. I discussed this effect in detail in an essay about December birthdays. You might think that New Year has a similar profile, but you would only be revealing your cultural chauvinism: New Year casts two shadows, and depending on where you come from it can mean quite different things. Mother’s Day also makes multiple appearances on the calendar.

A typical causal downcalendar decay is evident in this plot of Incredibles. No one had ever heard of the movie The Incredibles, and then suddenly it burst on the scene. We also see a significant Oscar-related spike. For another interesting profile, Tim O’Reilly singled out poor John Kerry as the archetypal example of “falling off a cliff.” Buh-bye John. So sorry.

I could play with this for hours, much as I did with the mesmerizing Name Voyager. There’s something viscerally satisfying about plots like Memorial Day, Labor Day, summer. Got any good ones?

2 thoughts on “Sense-making with Google Trends”

  1. It’s good to see the Show-Me state is the most curious about “Christmas” each year: “what is this C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S that I hear those people from Illinois talking about? Maybe the Googles will know!” I would hazard a guess that the most commonly associated search term from St. Louis is either “lights” or “displays” considering recent local trends.

    That aside, why no mention of Punxsutawney, Dr. Paracelsus?

  2. Punxsutawney is good. I also like how, if you’re having trouble remembering when Robert Burns Night is, you can always look for peak “haggis”.

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