If you go to Google’s zeitgeist page, you can see the most widely searched terms on the site this week. Zeitgeist is German for “sign of the times,” and no surprise that this week the most popular terms are all related to Hurricane Katrina in one way or another, even search terms about higher gas prices and hip-hop artist Kanye West.
The fact that Google, and most of the rest of the internet, can and does keep track of this information is somewhat remarkable. Beyond simple reminders of the most popular pop icons or the news of the day, Google is (to steal a phrase from John Battelle) a database of intentions. Millions upon millions of searches adding up to some collective picture of who we are, what we’re looking for, and what we want.
What do Japanese teenagers think is cool this week? What pop star is selling, and who is falling off the charts? Which politician is popular in Iowa, New Hampshire, or California, and why? Where do suburban moms get their answers about cancer? Who visits terrorist-related or pornography sites, and how do visitors find them? What type of insurance do Latino men buy, and why? How do university students in China get their news? Nearly any question one might frame can be answered in one way or another by mining the implacable Database of Intentions that is building second by second across the internet.
John Battelle, The Search
Google is changing the way we understand knowledge and the world. And this show we’re asking what we can learn about ourselves by understanding what we’re looking for.