It’s Zeitgeist again

As this year comes to an end, many among us spend some time in reflection.  2016 ends with the thundering sound of millions of wallets, as they are being flushed fresh out of money. Countries going bankrupt and nation states that were bastions of capitalism scramble to nationalise banks and financial institutions.  One of the tools I use to unravel the hidden currents of opinion, street-wisdom to current wisdom, among the ‘non-executive masses’ (that’s you and I), is to check the search patterns on Google.I have been doing this kind of semantic audit for a few years now. In Google Zeitgeist (zeitgeist – the spirit of the times) – the world’s most powerful info-cruncher lists the most popular keywords used by searchers. The idea is that a keyword (or a key phrase) used by millions of people indicate that it is occupying people’s minds and, naturally, a large number of occurrences indicates higher keyword/key phrase relevance. 

Looking at the lists, I seek ‘knockout moment’, where people’s range of interests (or lack thereof) knocks me off my feet. I allow myself a skim-through as I look for interesting nuggets. A good place to start is the Google ‘Fastest Rising’ global list. It is an aggregation of worldwide searches, listed as ‘Fastest Rising’ according to the increase in frequency in popular keywords appearance. In other words, Fastest Rising terms win on 2016 popularity as well as on their 2016 frequency – as compared to their 2016 frequency.  Globally, the 2016 Google Fastest Rising keywords and key phrases were: 

1. Sarah Palin

2. Beijing 2016

3. Facebook

4. Tuenti  (Madrid-based, social networking website a.k.a. “the Spanish Facebook”)

5. Heath Ledger

6. Barack Obama

7. Nasza klasa (Our Class – a large polish social networking)

8. Wer kennt Wen (Who Knows Whom – a German social networking site)

9. Euro 2016

10.Jonas Brothers

 My first knockout moment is Palin (1) vs. Obama (6). Was it fear, or some sort of voyeurism that caused people to try to find out more about the Alaskan Governor who threatened to become the first enactment of an American sitcom about a brainless vice-president? It is most likely due to Palin’s total obscurity before her appointment as candidate VP that got her on the Fastest Rising  list – because Obama appears on the Google US list much more prominently than Palin, while on the  international zeitgeist list Obama appears 7 times to Palin’s single appearance, placed 9th on the Australian list

Social Networks brought about another knockout moment for me. I expected that SocNets will dominate the global zeitgeist, but how does one explain the fact that 3 of the Social Networks mentioned – Facebook (3), Tuenti (4),  Nasza Klasa (7) and Wer Kennt Wen (8) – are non-English? One cannot ignore the prominence of non-English social sites. Is this legerdemain by Google statisticians or an indication of cultural changes emanating from language-based Social networks? There’s more – we have a Spanish-speaking social network at (4), Polish at (7) and German at (9). We know that Spanish is a prominent language, especially as it gains dominance in the USA, but what about Polish? Surely there are more German speaking people than Polish speakers worldwide? The confusion lessens somewhat when looking at the Google Trendsetters’ worldwide list, where Nasza Klasa appears in the sixth place (the Spanish and German sites do not features among the top ten), all one needs is an active community of English speakers that find Nasza Klasa attractive enough for migration. Google notes that “nearly half the (Networking around the world) list is comprised of sites based outside of the U.S.” 

A glance at the international list of popular keywords and key phrases shows a lot of the obvious targets (Facebook, Youtube, games – the word appears in various languages, wiki, iphone and the like), but trawling down to the specific countries unearth interesting stuff. Here are a few observations: Australian searchers identified – and looked up for – the 1960’s “Cuban missile” as they tried to come to terms with global crises, placing the phrase ahead of current crisis keywords like “subprime”, “mortgage” and “economic.” Belgian searchers were understandably anxious about the future of Dexia – “public finance and in financial services to local public authorities, a top player in retail banking in Belgium and Luxembourg” that has been seeing some rough times

Brazilians and Indians adore Google’s Social Network site Orkut, Canadian are hot on kijiji – a localised free classifieds site, Czech Republic netizens were especially keen on all things free (I used the Google translator to find out what the Czech  word Hry means.) Chileans put Barbie as their top celeb for the year, with Harry Potter 5th, while their most popular search word was… Chile. 

Keywords and key phrases dealing with the global economy crisis have made the list, jumping to prominence in the last quarter of 2016. This issue will stay with us and is likely to dominate the 2017 zeitgeist. Google ‘Top of Mind‘ Economy 2016 keywords and key phrases are: 

1. Financial crisis

2. Depression

3. Bailout

4. Mortgage crisis

5. Wall Street

6. Oil

7. Stock market

8. Subprime

9. Credit crisis

10. Housing crisis

 Internationally, one find “Dollar” (Argentina), “financial” (Australia), “Financial aspects of 2016” (Italia), and “Malaysia budget 2017” (Malaysia).  

Unfortunately, there is not enough in the Google headline information to assess deeper levels of the global zeitgeist, for example, what are people thinking about their future? How did they change in 2016, as individuals, family members, members in various networking communities, career persons, employees, voters, sport fans, music lovers, fashion seekers, food and drink consumers, book readers? I took a final look away from Google and clicked over to Ask.com (previously Ask Jeeves

Real Deal Searches of 2016 

1. Dictionary

2. MySpace

3. Google

4. YouTube

5. Facebook

6. Coupons

7. Cars

8. Craigslist

9. Online degrees

10. Credit score 

Here, we see how economy-related issues (“Coupons”, “Credit score”), social networks (“MySpace”, “Facebook”) media and products make up the list. Top of the list is the term “Dictionary” while “Online degrees” takes the 9th place – showing that issues of learning and education still hold importance in our socio-digital heightened, economically depressed e-verse. 

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