Of course everybody on the Internet uses Google for search. But I like some of the parts of the Google site that you might not visit as often. I did a blog post earlier about the Ngram viewer, which shows you the frequency of various words and word combinations over time in the Google Books database. Google Trends does the same thing for Internet searches. Of course, the time covered is much shorter (since 2004), so that you can’t see the historical trends that made the n-gram data so fascinating. Nevertheless, there are some interesting short-term trends.
In my prior post on n-grams, I noted that “chess” and “poker” have been cited about equally often in books since the year 2000. Before that time, “chess” was much more frequent than “poker.” However, for Web searches, “poker” has been dominant. The second graph shows the number of references in the Google news database. There, “poker” has also been consistently ahead of “chess” except for one big spike in the chess graph (blue) when Bobby Fischer died. Interestingly, there was no corresponding spike in Web searches for “chess” at that time. A cynic might say that the news media covered Fischer’s death out of a sense of duty, not because people were actually interested in it.
Both in Web searches and in news articles, “checkers” (red) trails by a large margin.
Google Trends also gives you some geographical data. This gives us a chance to make some surprising and not-so-surprising comparisons.
I’m sure that it comes as little surprise that the two countries with the highest rate of searching for “chess” are Norway and India (blue bars). The reason, I suspect, is two gentlemen named Carlsen and Anand. I’m a little bit more surprised to see Canada as the top “poker” nation (yellow bar). (Note: It’s possible that some other nation not shown beats Canada, because the nations have been ranked according to their frequency of “chess” searches.)
What’s astounding to me is the country at #5. Who would have thought South Africa would be the nation with the fifth-most “chess” searches? Not only that, it is the ONLY country where “checkers” outranks both “chess” and “poker.” It has by far a greater rate of searches for “checkers” than any other country on this list. Why is South Africa such a hotbed for checkers? Did anyone know this already?
I have less to say about the cities list, except to point out that Chennai is Anand’s home town.
Here is one non-chess comparison that I found interesting: “science” versus “math.”
There are two interesting patterns going on here. First, each word has a very distinctive pattern that is closely related to the school year: the number of searches for “science” and “math” drops precipitously during the winter holidays and the summer holidays. For some reason the number of searches for “science” tends to decrease as the school year progresses, while the number of searches for “math” stays roughly constant throughout the school year. Maybe students need help on math all year long, but they need science help more only at the beginning of the semesters?
Second, there is a long term trend to fewer searches for “science” and more for “math.” I cannot fathom the reasons for this. I did notice that for many search terms, not just “science,” there has been a gradual decrease in frequency since 2004. This suggests that some people are turning to Websites other than Google to do their searches. But that doesn’t explain why searches for “math” are on the upswing. Perhaps math is getting harder?
By the way the trends are even more pronounced if you restrict the data to searches within the United States:
Enjoy doing your own Google Trends analyses, and let me know if you come up with some interesting ones!