Dec 6th, 2002 by Ned Gulley
If you could peel back your skull and peek at the synaptic fireworks inside, it would probably resemble the view from a search voyeur page. Search voyeur pages, like the one at Metaspy, show in real time the phrases that people are typing into search engines. At Metaspy, you can choose the censored version or the spicy version, but if you’re interested in understanding the global brain, you really need to take in the full view. Predictably the world spends a lot of time searching for sex. Metatiger also has a search voyeur page. The searchers are mostly German, so given the aforementioned nature of most of the searches, this page is a good place to pick up helpful German phrases. There used to be lots more voyeur pages, but since they are diversions rather than revenue generators (not to mention matters of privacy and offensive content), it’s easy to see why they’ve mostly disappeared. Nevertheless, I find them completely riveting.
Several people forwarded me this article from the New York Times: Postcards From Planet Google. Google doesn’t have a search voyeur page, but apparently they have something like it at their headquarters. They also make a weekly compilation page, called the Google Zeitgeist (which for some reason they make difficult to find). The people at Google probably have as good idea as anybody in history ever has about what the world is collectively thinking about. Right. Now. Watching the ebb and flow of large-scale trends is interesting in itself, sort of like reading People magazine (“Michael Jackson is down this week, but digital cameras are up up up!”). Watching individual searches go by can also be surprisingly poignant. Every search is a snapshot of thought, a story, and the multitude of stories gives you a fine sense of the vastness and richness of the (frequently horny) world.
Here’s someone fishing for the answer to a homework assignment: comparison huck finn gods must be crazy. Here’s an unhappy person: declaring bankruptcy in Canada. And a puzzled person: pros and cons of alcoholism.
Amusing searches are all well and good, but what predictive value does a search engine have? The New York Times article ends with these words:
Google’s worldwide scope means that the company can track ideas and phenomena as they hop from country to country.
Take Las Ketchup, a trio of singing sisters who became a sensation in Spain last spring with a gibberish song and accompanying knee-knocking dance similar to the Macarena.
Like a series of waves, Google searches for Las Ketchup undulated through Europe over the summer and fall, first peaking in Spain, then Italy, then Germany and France. “The Ketchup Song (Hey Hah)” has already topped the charts in 18 countries. In late summer, Google’s logs show, Las Ketchup searches began a strong upward climb in the United States, Britain and the Netherlands.
Haven’t heard of Las Ketchup? If you haven’t, Google predicts you soon will.