Friday, July 21, 2006

Paris Hilton vs Bird Flu: How Do the Internet Mindshares Compare?

One of the most human of qualities is to wonder what other people are thinking.

It's a given that readers of this blog often consider the ways that an H5N1 pandemic are likely to impact society. We have taken the task as our own. Still, it's plain as day that not too many have a comparable level of concern.

So, How About the Average Joe?

In the past, it would have been very expensive to try to compare how much mindshare the world places on "Bird Flu" versus some other topic of pressing world concern --- say, for example, "Paris Hilton."

An honest survey would cost at least several grand. Moreover, even if one is willing to pay, it is not easy to line up a competent polling firm.

Now, amazingly enough, you can get a very useful indication for free.

What's the Trick?

The Digital Point Keyword Suggestion Tool will answer for you the question:
"Today, how many people did an internet search for 'name your phrase'."
For the moment, let's not second guess how Digital Point designed their box. This is intriguing technology, and it deserves a careful look. Still, let's first just see if this nifty tool tells us anything interesting about public concern about bird flu.

So, What Happened?

Pessimist though I am, I was still surprised by the results: (1) "Bird Flu" --- 5,900 searches per day and (2) "Paris Hilton" --- 110,000 searches per day.

Bottom Lines?

Many people who have concerns about the possibility of a bird flu pandemic will have asked themselves, "Am I the only one concerned about this?" Well, the first inference is "Yes, there are many concerned people, but almost 19 times as many are concerned about what's up for Paris Hilton."

In other words, bird flu still has quite a trivial public mindshare.

The second inference is that we now have a stunning new way to use internet search data to help us understand public opinion. For me, this second inference is HUGE.

Entire careers have been made out of less --- much less.


Blogger Dean Foster said...

For awhile, there has been something called googlebattle:

it does a whole web comparison. So it captures some of the same idea, but over a longer time frame. What is totally weird, is that bird flue wins , 64M to 45M.

Definitely room for a paper somewhere in all this!

12:31 PM  
Blogger Shane said...

Actually, I tried googlebattle and paris hilton does still win the battle (90M vs. 70M), though it is certainly a lot closer than the Wordtracker comparison.

However, I think that googlebattle and wordtracker are measuring different things: wordtracker claims to measure the number of searches done for a specific phrase, whereas googlebattle compares the number of existing sites with the given phrase. Both are interesting gauges of public attention, but I'm not sure that these two measures are directly comparable with other.

12:42 PM  
Blogger J. Michael Steele said...

Just as a test case of googlebattle, I put in a comparison for which we all know the answer: Lisa vs Bart. What I get from googlebattle is ...

Lisa Simpson 15,600,000
Bart Simpson 6,130,000

Any right-thinking person who was once a ten year-old boy knows that this cannot be right.

Time for some methodological investigation!

1:20 PM  
Blogger Dylan Small said...

I don't think you should feel too bad about the bird flu losing out to Paris Hilton. She also edges Bill Clinton in googlebattle by about 96 M to 88 M (although adding William Clinton probably would put him over the top).


12:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didnt find thing that i need... :-(

8:11 PM  

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