Like a missile on a radar screen, popular culture can be tracked, analyzed, ranked and rated by looking at search engine queries. Although they each parse the data a little differently, most search engines do give us a peek behind the curtain by publishing charts of their most popular searches. Eager to know what's hot, and what's not? Read on.
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines zeitgeist as "the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era." Google provides a snapshot of it, with their the Top 10 Gaining and Top 10 Declining Queries. The page is also peppered with interesting factoids, such as popular pets, celebrities, news sources and research tools. Unfortunately the data is three weeks old, so don't expect to see current news or upcoming holidays. For international stats (from eighteen countries), scroll down the page. Top Google search in Russia for the month of October? Pet therapy! I wonder what that means.
What is Jeeves' IQ? It has nothing to do with the popular butler's intelligence quotient, but rather the most "interesting queries" performed at the Ask Jeeves search engine last week Jeeves tracks Top Advancing Searches, as well as Top News Searches and Top Searches (overall.) During the holiday season, they also tally Top Hot Holiday Product Searches. At the moment, Apple iPod is winning over Delphi Portable XM Satellite Radio and gift baskets. I think it is going to be a high-tech holiday season.
Much like an MTV or Billboard music chart, Lycos ranks last week's top fifty queries, indicates whether they are gaining or losing popularity, and how long they've been on the list. There is also a fun daily column on Internet culture and trends written by Lycos Manager of Content, Dean Tsouvalas. Other charts include Lycos 50 Elite (the most popular queries in Lycos' history), Web's Most Wanted for 2003, and five years' worth of monthly archives (useful for researching past trends.)
Although all of today's charts are "family friendly," only the Yahooligans! Buzz Index specifically tracks the search patterns of kids. Updated five days a week, the Buzz Index tallies two-days of traffic, so results are quite current. What's on kids minds this week? Christmas, games and science fair projects. Grown-up Yahoo! has their own buzz chart ( http://buzz.yahoo.com/ ).