The Zeitgoogle

John Fraim puts forth several interesting ideas in his article Electric Symbols: Internet Words And Culture that was published in First Monday. He writes that aggregate data about searches on the Web can provide insight into cultural attitudes and beliefs. Here is how Google Zeitgeist data can be interpreted: 

“While the Google Zeitgeist is interesting, for the most part the top ten Google words (weekly or monthly) simply reflect leading things and people coming and going from the attention of popular culture. The top ten words offer few surprises and little insight into the hidden forces behind popular culture.

Far greater cultural insight exists in the larger database of words ranked outside the Google top ten words. It is at the lower ranking levels that words move away from reflecting external cultural events to expressing internal attitudes.”

He goes on to write that the lower ranked words “are closer to collective psychology and the internal world and are more expressive of the internal world.”

I think this has some interesting implications for weblogs and the sites that track them, such as Daypop. The Daypop Top 40 shows the daily froth of popular culture and news. A Yearpop Middle 100 might provide insight into common themes and values in the blogging community over a longer period of time.

Comparing analysis of distinct groups of blogs could be valuable too. Do Radio bloggers tend to focus on different issues than Blogger bloggers? How different are warbloggers and techbloggers?

Another application could be comparing the lower ranking word searches on the intranets of two organizations considering a merger. Differences and similarities could provide valuable insight to those who are considering merging the two organizations. Do they compliment each other? Are they largely redundant in their searches, showing high compatibility of organizational culture?

That is just one idea cherry-picked from the article. I highly recommend reading the whole piece.