19 May 2006

Ask Google

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The SF Chronicle profiles an intriguing new Google feature:

Elmhurst, Ill., Loves Gay Porn. Which U.S. city seeks the most sex? Who wants to impeach Bush the most? Ask Google Trends…

the fact is, for all of last year, Elmhurst, Ill., population about 43,000, home of the Sunshine Biscuit Co. and former home of the largest Chevy dealer in the United States and pretty much quaint upscale yuppie Anytown, U.S.A., was the American city that looked up the term “sex” most frequently on Google.

Isn’t that cute? Isn’t that interesting? Sort of? I know this because Google just unveiled this nifty and somewhat baffling tool called Google Trends, wherein you simply enter your search term and choose a couple of parameters and hit Return and boom, you can see which regions (or countries or cities) in the world are looking up that term most actively for a given year (the data also shifts day to day), using Google’s massive search database, and it’s random, semipractical stuff like this that makes it difficult to hate Google for whoring out to China and for becoming the new Microsoft and for their billionaire geek teenager CEOs. But that’s another column.

Google Trends. It is utterly fascinating, at least for a while. It is cool and useful and at the same time enormously frustrating due to its obvious limitations, though I imagine it will spawn enormous amounts of titillating filler for countless PR firms and marketers and research papers and news reports that cite all sorts of vague data that seems to tell you something really important but when you stop and think about it doesn’t really tell you all that much at all. You know, just like religion.

Elmhurst, Illinois, is apparently way into sex. Or at least the idea of sex (googling that hugely broad term returns a decidedly unsexy array of sites, including those for “Sex and the City,” the Sex Pistols, Playboy.com, the National Sex Offender Registry and Sex Addicts Anonymous — not exactly a steaming cup o’ hot titillation).

But that’s not all. Elmhurst has darker, juicier secrets. Turns out Elmhurst is also, at least for 2006, the town most actively looking up “anal sex” (followed closely by Norfolk, Va., and, of course, San Antonio, Texas). And also “porn.” And also “gay porn” (just ahead of Las Vegas). And also “vibrator.” Do you sense a trend? I sense a trend. And also someplace I might need to get a summer home.

What does this say about Elmhurst? What does this say about small towns across the United States? What do you think it says? Because that’s pretty much what it says.

Google, thoughtfully, also includes any relevant news articles it can dig up to go alongside your search results to perhaps explain some of the interest. Does this help explain why Rockville, Md., looks up “Vishnu” more than any other city? Verily, I have no idea.

But still, it can get interesting. Who’s looking up “impeach Bush” most actively? Portland, Oregon. (San Francisco is third). “American Idol”? Honolulu, Hawaii — by a strangely huge margin. “Gas prices”? Minneapolis. “Dildo”? That would be Oslo, Norway. “Dildo,” among U.S. cities? Tampa, Fla. “Tom Cruise”? Cambridge, Mass. “Tom Cruise gay”? Irvine and New York. “Da Vinci Code”? Salt Lake City. “Gun control”? Cincinnati. And “Viagra,” for 2006? That’s Fort Worth, Texas. Go figure.

In fact, Google Trends is pretty much the biggest “go figure” tool you’re likely to see all year. You can speculate to your heart’s content about why the hell Phoenix would be looking up “Jenna Jameson” more than Las Vegas, or why Nashville is so heavily into Christ, or why they really love Ashlee Simpson in Newark, N.J., or why Philadelphia, for some unknowable reason, loves the fact that Britney Spears is pregnant whereas Santiago, Chile, really, really loves Pearl Jam, but you could only guess. One bit of historical news: Jesus has resurged and is once again more popular than the Beatles. Just FYI.

Hat tip to Stephen Frankel.

One Feedback on "Ask Google"

Dave Gregg

How’s this for ironic: FIVE of the top ten U.S. cities searching for “sex” also appear among the top ten U.S. cities searching for “heaven!”
I blogged about it, with a speculation from a Christian’s perspective.


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