What do our search terms say about us?

The annual list of what the world searches for online has been released.  No real surprises — Britney Spears and Barack Obama top the lists, which are littered with pop culture (WWE, Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan) and political (Sarah Palin) references.  The Olympics, the iPhone, and functional terms like credit score make a good showing as well.  The lists are here.

More interesting than the list of results is how the search companies tabulate the rankings, and what it says about us.

For example, “Yahoo doesn’t reveal exactly how it calculates its rankings other than to say it analyzes the number of queries for a specific term and its increase in popularity. Generic search terms such as “car” are ignored, as are most company names.”

Why would you remove generic search terms?  Searching is searching, there is no need to massage the results.  If online users are looking up brands, that says a lot about how we choose which products to buy and use.  And there is no doubt we are using Yahoo! and other search engines to find basic information, like a phone number to our local pizza place.  We may not all be searching for the same simple piece of information, but by the same measure I believe (or maybe hope is a better term for it) that most of the population isn’t searching for information about Britney Speaks either.

The Ask.com, whose list is apparently unedited, lists the term “Dictionary” on the top of its list, and shows Google, Facebook as being of great interest to users as well.  Their results suggest, among other things, that finding the sites we use most is one of the most important things a search engine helps us to do.  They may not have the same PR value, but for people who want to understand what people are using the internet to do, it says a lot.

The fact that Yahoo! feels its necessary to adjust its rankings for PR purposes makes me wonder what they do with the actual results.  Do they manipulate the results to align with advertising listings?  Do the search engines promote certain information that supports their political agenda, or their personal interests?  Do the results that search engines provide reflect the full scope of information that is out there period?  Maybe its just a sad cry for attention.

Whatever the reason, the lists make for good cocktail party conversation, but little else as far as I am concerned.

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