Towards a taxonomy of search trends

Inspired by a recent xkcd comic that shows how search terms trend over time, I decided to play around with Google Trends to see if I could find any interesting patterns.

“Random Obsessions” from xkcd

Here’s an attempt at classifying the different patterns that I observed.

Semantic Crosstalk

I have just been on the Italian island of Elba for some field work, so naturally I looked it up. There seems to be an annual cycle that peaks every summer – which is precisely the tourist high season there. But something strange happens in 2013 and the cycle is no longer so regular afterwards.

google_trends_elba.png

Google Trend for “Elba” (link)

The reason turned out to be the actor Idris Elba, who starred in two high-profile movies released in 2013 – Pacific Rim and Thor : The Dark World.

 

Exam Cram

Another periodic pattern is seen in the trend for “protist”, which is one of my pet interests. Except in this case, there are two peaks every year, once in the winter and once more in the spring. I’ve already noted a similar pattern on my protist website, and I believe that the same explanation applies. This is a search term that people mostly search for because they have to for school or for an exam, and the two peaks each year correspond to the two semesters in a typical school or college calendar.

google_trends_protist.png

Google Trend for “protist” (link)

 

Is there any search term that stays more or less stable over time? The best example I could come up with was “banana”, the Minions craze notwithstanding….

Steady As She Goes

google_trends_banana.png

Google Trend for “banana” (link)

 

Annual Reminders

One term that I expected to be either stable (like “banana”) or driven by events in the news was “autism”, however it also has a periodic trend, peaking in April each year, which turns out to be Autism Awareness Month. At the very least we know that the awareness is being raised!

google_trends_autism.png

Google Trend for “autism” (link)

 

Volcanic Eruption

Finally, a search term that came out of left field to become one of the most-googled phrases in the history of Google, I present to you, ladies and gentlemen, … “Donald Trump”

google_trends_donald_trump.png

Google Trend for “Donald Trump” (link)

 

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