A google-eyed view of the world

By logging more than 150 million search queries posted by surfers every day on its web site, Google finds itself able to predict world trends before any other media.

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By  Vijaya George Published  January 14, 2003

Google has a fascinating insight into what people all over the world are thinking. By logging more than 150 million queries from 100 countries every day, the search engine has discovered a few patterns in world thinking.

Back in Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California, queries posted by surfers scroll on a projected display behind the receptionist. The display called Live Query, shows updated samples of what people around the world are typing into Google's search engine. The terms scroll by in English, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, French, Dutch, Italian and many of the other 86 languages that the search engine tracks.

Searches include phrases such as People who shouldn't marry ... she smoked a cigar ... Mr Potatoheads in Long Island and auto theft fraud how to. What Google's log team has discovered is that despite its geographic and cultural diversity, most people in the world spend their time thinking about pretty much the same things. Most popular searches across the world include topics on celebrities, current events, products and computer downloads.

"It's amazing how similar people are all over the world based on what they are searching for," says Greg Rae, one of three members of Google's Logs Team, which is responsible for building, storing, accessing and protecting the data record. A look at the queries has taught him to learn words in different languages. There's anthrax he picked up in German, Italian, Dutch and Spanish. Rae can say which countries took their elections seriously simply by virtue of the kind of searches on Google. He can tell you which celebrities are on top of the charts. And he can tell you which political events have been watched with interest all over the world. And the one word that was posted the most during the September 11 attack? Nostradamus.

By maintaining a database of the queries logged by people over the past year, Google has found that it is in a better position to predict trends before any other media. The search engine is also aware of the commercial potential of this database. "There is tremendous opportunity with this data. The challenge is defining what we want to do," Craig Silverstein, director of technology at Google is reported to have said.

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