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The Internet America Online

Visualizing Searches Over Time 56

An anonymous reader writes "Chris Harrison has built a visualization that explores what people are doing online over time. He explains, 'Search engines are the gateway to the internet for most people, and so search queries provide insight into what people are doing and thinking. In order to examine millions of search queries, I built a simple, cyclical, clock-like visualization that displays the top search terms over a 24-hour period.' Interesting to see that the masses online have fairly coherent and consistent search behaviors. He also investigates the notorious AOL dataset."
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Visualizing Searches Over Time

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  • Locale? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @08:12AM (#18205502) Homepage Journal

    TFA talks about the time of day that certain terms were searched for but doesn't say what timezone he is assuming the searchers are in. Most people assume you are talking about the USA these days, but even that covers four hours. But what about Europe? Even back in 1997 they must have accounted for a fair chunk of searches.

    • Re:Locale? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by an.echte.trilingue ( 1063180 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @08:24AM (#18205572) Homepage
      He uses Eastern time. Read the notes.

      What I find amusing is the fact that one of the most popular search terms in the AOL data set was "myspace," which he attributes to AOL targeting home users who desire to use the internet for social activities. To me, this indicates that people who use AOL to search do not know the difference between a search box and a URL bar.

      • Re:Locale? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @08:30AM (#18205610) Homepage Journal

        To me, this indicates that people who use AOL to search do not know the difference between a search box and a URL bar.

        I have set up systems for people who are very non-technical and they are exactly like that. They want one way to find stuff and having an alternate confuses them terribly. So I set their home page to google and tell them to search for what they want.

        And yes, if I had read down a bit further I would have seen him discuss timezones. The web started at CERN, of course.

        • I intended that post to be humorous, but as I re-read it I see that it does come off being pretty, well, trollish. That's why they say to tick the AC for jokes, I guess.

          However, as some swiss friends of mine perpetually insist on reminding me, yes CERN did come up with a few of the many technologies behind the WWW, but that is not relevant to the question of locale here. The fact is, at the time of the data sample, the overwhelming majority of users of both of the search engines were in the United States

      • Re:Locale? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by MicktheMech ( 697533 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @08:32AM (#18205620) Homepage
        If you scroll down that page to where he talks about google and yahoo you'll find that's exactly the case. Apparently, Google is by far the most common AOL search term.
      • To me, this indicates that people who use AOL to search do not know the difference between a search box and a URL bar.

        "Don't know", or "don't care"? About the only time I actually type something into the URL bar (as opposed to using it for copypasta from IRC/email) is when I've already been there so it'll pop up in the drop-down box after a couple characters (of course, if I visit the site *too* often, it'll already be in my bookmarks somewhere, so I can just go to it that way). Otherwise, using the searc

      • I wondered about that too, having seen other lists of search terms where actual URLs are near the top.

        However, many/most people are head-down hunt and peck typists. When you open a browser to google (and I assume AOL is that same) the cursor defaults to the search box not the URL bar.

        Someone opens the browser, types in the url they want and hits enter without even realizing they are typing in the wrong box, because they are watching their fingers not the screen.

        That's what I always figured, anyway.
      • by Kelson ( 129150 ) *

        To me, this indicates that people who use AOL to search do not know the difference between a search box and a URL bar.

        Semi-off-topic, but there do seem to be an awful lot of people who get input fields mixed up. I run a comic book fan site [] that profiles characters connected to the Flash. The character has been around since 1940, so there are a lot of villains, supporting characters and guest stars to add. I've tried to make finding specific characters as easy as possible for multiple styles of navigati

        • Your website on the superhero, Flash, is really awesome. It's cool you learned from an accidental usability study :)
    • Re:Locale? (Score:4, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 02, 2007 @08:44AM (#18205686)
      Even back in 1997 they [Europeans] must have accounted for a fair chunk of searches.

      Yeah, I'm searching for "more insulting understatements from isolated Americans", right now.

      • Your search - "more insulting understatements from isolated Americans" - did not match any documents.


            * Make sure all words are spelled correctly.
            * Try different keywords.
            * Try more general keywords.
            * Don't expect sentence comprehension
            * Find something more fulfilling to do than search for random stuff on the internets
  • by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @08:12AM (#18205504)
    Well, well. From the graphic, it looks like the main purpose of search is music, games, and porn. Interesting.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by mwvdlee ( 775178 )
      On a completely different subject, does anybody know where I can find soundtrack CD's for adult computer entertainment products?
    • by garcia ( 6573 )
      Well, well. From the graphic, it looks like 7+ years ago the main purpose of search was music, games, and porn. What would be interesting is to see if it's changed at all to bittorrents of music, games, and porn or if it changed to Myspace music, Myspace is lame, and Myspace porn in the last 3 years.

      BTW, I had a 5150x5150 image of a Google Map printed [] on a 42" printer and it's fucking huge. While that was pretty cool to see all the detail (it's centered around the Twin Cities Metro and stretches into Wes
    • What is hard for me to grasp is with his smarts he output various sized jpegs! Why? Ludicrous!
      • Not to mention the graphical quality is, well, a little sparse. It took me longer than it should have to get a sense of this 'rhythm' that he refers to. I know, I know - searches are text, but come on, Edward Tufte [] would be all over this one.

        I want color, dammit!
    • by msobkow ( 48369 )

      It looked like people take a break on porn from 05h00-06h00. Even porn purveyors need a couple hours of sleep, I guess.

    • I never would have guessed that so many people are interested in music and games.
  • Would be nice if Google (or even better, a co-op between google, yahoo and msn) would start putting out a lot more of these. Or are they already doing this, just that I don't know where they are?
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by liteyear ( 738262 )

      Google do do a lot of nice things like this. Their Zeitgeist [] is one of the more interesting.

      They expand on their results on significant dates, such as the end of the year. It's particularly interesting to see seemingly unusual searches peaking for brief periods. They might relate to big news in another country, or even the million dollar question on some game show!

    • Speaking of Google, does anyone else find it kind of funny that the number 1 AOL search term for the timeframe is google? I got a chuckle out of it.
  • My new hobby... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by omgamibig ( 977963 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @08:46AM (#18205702) to find explanations for the jumps in google trend graphs. This one really got me: [] Explain the sudden rise in 2006. Reason: n%2C+sting+ray&ctab=0&geo=all&date=all [] Another interesting thing is that searches including 'fuck' increase during weekends: &date=2006-10 []
  • like goatse. i'm not looking at it again
  • AOL set? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tomstdenis ( 446163 ) <> on Friday March 02, 2007 @09:35AM (#18205952) Homepage
    As much as I hate AOL, I hate misleading summaries too. Search queries ARE NOT PRIVATE. AOL leaking it [or just giving it out] shouldn't be viewed as negative. There is no [] (it redirects to the http version). No security, no privacy.

    • by Raenex ( 947668 )

      The vast majority of email is sent cleartext too. So you would have no problems with your ISP publishing that? How about every web site you visit? Every form you fill out in cleartext? Your phone traffic isn't encrypted either. Should the phone companies publish that as well?

      If a company collects vast amounts of sensitive data I would hope for some discretion in releasing that data.

      • There is a legal precedent for the expectation of privacy over the phone. Your net traffic bounces off of a dozen routers before hitting the target host.

        There is no legal precedent that says cleartext net traffic has an expectation of privacy. Especially, since, unlike phones, publicly available encryption software/tools can enable you to have privacy. That people *choose* not to use them is their fault, which is a good reason why people should really understand the basics of computing/networking before
  • I would have found the AOL data more interesting if he would have filtered out "MySpace". He makes a good point that lots of people just type in a site's base name (like "Google" or "MySpace") rather than the whole URL ("" or "") but he filters out Google and Yahoo but not MySpace. MySpace dominates the AOL results to the point that it makes the other, interesting, data impossible to read (literally and figuratively) and much less useful. Ie. I would have like to see what pe
  • and here is how it looks.

    24HR Results Top 3 searches:
    1. Pr0n
    2. Porn
    3. Beowulf Clusters of Porn

    1 Week Top 3 searches:
    1. Porn
    2. P0rn
    3.Soviet Russian Porn

    1 Month Top 3 searches:
    1. Pornography
    2. Goatse
    3. BDSM overlord porn

    Kinda makes you think....
  • by humungusfungus ( 81155 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @10:19AM (#18206228)
    I found it interesting that it seems most people type in things like "information about -something- '" into a search engine.

    It seems to me to be a somewhat naive way of searching given that many sites don't necessarily spell out that they are giving information about a given subject. It is an oblique reminder of how many people might view the Internet as a formal collection of officially produced, authoritative "Information" instead of the jumble of stuff that it is. Perhaps search engine logic commonly treats the string word "information about" in a special way given people's apparent proclivity to do this. ....and if they don't, perhaps they should.

    Regardless, I would drop those words from the data as they don't really help in showing what people are searching for. It's similar to including the word "and"; it conveys little about what people are searching for and more about *how* they are searching.
  • they cried, "porn, porn, porn!"

    So that's what the Billy Idol song was trying to say. Damn Brits and their silly abuse of our English language.

  • Obviously what people want to use the internet for is "information" and "about"...
  • FT(AOL)A: Civic terms, such as state, county, gov and Florida are surprisingly ubiquitous, although mostly popular during the workday. Is AOL's average user a retired Floridian?

    I find it interesting that "county" appears so often in AOL searches, it seems like an odd civic term to be popular. Though, when looking at the Google trends [] for "county, city, town, state, gov", county is right up there with state in the US, but below city. Why would AOL users be more concerned with county rather than city?
    • Well most counties have "County" in the name yet very few cities have "City"
      • by msbmsb ( 871828 )
        But how often are people searching for information about their county? How much of a need is there for AOL users to do that?
    • In my job, I often need to know what county a given city is in. I haven't memorized what county every city in California is in. There's a website [] I can use that will tell me, but it's a lot faster to just put [city name] CA county into Google. (Especially since I can do it all in a new tab using only the keyboard.)

This process can check if this value is zero, and if it is, it does something child-like. -- Forbes Burkowski, CS 454, University of Washington