I'm teaching a course on data science this quarter, and was looking through some tools that a number of my colleagues have shared with me over the past few months. One especially interesting, starter tool for helping students think about and experiment with their own curiosities is "Google Trends". In this trend block below, I contrast google interest in "Taxes", "Health Care" and "Gun Control":
Then, I added "Gay Marriage".
What is interesting to me is that this data is derived from what people search for; not what people are fed through the media. We have a cyclical interest in taxes (around tax time in the US); a sustained interest in health care; and a relatively tiny, but spikey in response to the media interest in both gay marriage and gun control. We do not go looking for "hot button" issues on search engines. Is our lack of searching for information about these issues due to a lack of curiosity or media saturation? If we contrast taxes, gun control and gay marriage, its would appear that our interest plays a key role in searching for tax information - it spikes around the US Tax day of April 15 each year. gay marriage and gun control are tied to events and discourse in the media. Health care spikes around the debate over Obamacare, but is otherwise steady. There is sustained interest in health care.
So, these search terms that are part of public discourse started to bore me as I analyze them. I decided to search for things I really care about: Wisconsin, beer, ice cream and scotch.
Needless to say, the steady decline in Wisconsin is as distressing as the steady increase in Beer and Ice Cream searches are encouraging. And Scotch spikes in December, when kids like mine struggle to figure out what to get dad for the holidays! (hint: Scotch). Search data can be fun. Next post, twitter trends for Ice Cream!
What are you curious about? Try Google Trends out for yourself - Google Trends Link