Patterns in the Group Mind

Friday, August 7th, 2009

I’ve been playing with Google Insights. It’s a great toy. It measures ‘search intensity’. The number of searches being made for a certain term.

Off the back of the recent timeline of global media scare stories, I got curious about what searches actually look like.

For example, the search “violent video games” reveals a very distinct pattern.

Google Insights search:

Why that distinct pattern? If you add the dates, it clarifies things:

Google Insights search:

Every April and November the issue flares up. Why?

April 20th is the anniversary of the Columbine Massacre. Though dimishing, the echoes of that event still reverberate through the group mind.

Not sure about the November peak? Maybe because Christmas video games are announced?

Face Off

A cool thing about Insights. You can pile multiple search terms into the interface and force them into a face off. A bit like putting a fly and a spider and an earwig in a bottle. You’ve done that, right?

I like this one for putting the Twitter hype in perspective.

Google Insights:

It’s also good for the settling of age old conflicts.

Google Insights search:

(Though, technically, the results for ‘apple’ might get some noise for people searching for the popular fruit online)

Google Insights:

Why those big peaks?

Google Insights:

Hahah. Brilliant. Those peaks occur at the height of summer in July. Though there was a considerable dip in 2007. Bad summer then? Maybe we could map these to global temperatures to make a more human (and tasty) barometer of weather fluctuations. Maybe future super-ironic generations will use searches for “ice cream” as climate records?

ANYWAY. Insights a great fun tool for scoping patterns in data or to rate preferencess – or even to help with personal decisions.

Google Insights:

Have a play. Let me know any cool stuff you come up with.

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Show Comments ( )

  • Mat Morrisroe

    Finally Google answers the question, Daddy or Chips?

  • Scott Lewis

    A possibility of the April peak of videogames is that most videogames are released before Christmas or in the first quarter (around April). So more companies are releasing games, and there are more games to talk about at those points.

  • Ezza

    Surf vs Ski…Ski produces some wintery mountainous peaks to ski down, whilst the sea is looking a bit flat for surfing.

  • Wolfman

    An interesting one is global warming verus pollution searches. There appears to be a trend where people are less interested in global warming and pollution during the summer months.

  • Andreas Ramos

    The mid-April spike has an explanation: it’s Hitler’s birthday (April 20th). Neo-Nazi, militias, KKK, white supremists, skinheads, and rightwing terrorists celebrate it, both as celebrations and also for acts of terror. Not just Columbine: there is also the Oklahoma City Bombing (major US rightwing terror): both were rightwing attacks. The FBI and police in many countries go on the alert for mid-April.

  • Jon

    I reckon it probably has to do with the dads/older blokes in a household getting their fix of good games before (and after) the damn kids have summer holidays and take over the Xbox and PC.

  • DannyT

    Popular cities

    This was where i ended after a few minutes experimenting, there are very few European cities that match those volumes. Also interesting is Nigeria’s interest in London.

  • Freakstone
  • Shane

    As well as violent video games, there is an annual dip in searches for serious topics like terrorism, communism, etc DURING THE SUMMER.

    …Or is there? Remember that Google Insights for Search plots the popularity of search terms compared with all other terms during a given period. So it could be that searches for communism, terrorism and violent video games remain constant… just that searches for ice cream EXPLODE during the summer!

  • Phlester

    The November peak is no doubt connected to the US election season as well.

  • Narf

    Would be cool to see these stats for 1998 (The year before the Columbine attack) and 1999 (The year of the Columbine attack) to see if there are any correlations.

    • david

      @narf yeah I’d like to try that. Maybe on the next version…

  • Dawson

    The April 20th thing is a good call, but mostly only accounts for whatever journalists are writing whatever stories remain about the Columbine Massacre. Other data points to think about: November is when suburban mothers who are concerned about what games their kids play are gearing up for their Christmas shopping, and I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that GTA games are generally released in the last week of October.

    More than anything though, is the fact that the search term “violent video games” has a loaded academic meaning, and all of the students writing their papers on the effects of violent video games are doing their research in… November and April, about a month before the end of the semester.

  • Caps Lock
    • david


  • Ceiren Bell

    Re: the peak in April and November searches for ‘Violent Video Games’ — I lecture in Media Studies, and these are the months that we set our papers for that subject so maybe that’s got something to do with it :) with that in mind, it may be that it’s diminishing as the Media Violence Debate becomes less relevant to studying the subject — after decades of dedicated study there is still no conclusive proof that media such as gaming directly causes people to become violent.

  • Stuart

    For whatever reason there seems to be very distinct and consistent peaks in April and November for quite a few searches I’ve done including “war on drugs”, “legalization” etc.

    Assuming we can rule out issues with data collection/aggregation etc, and values are accurate enough, possible causes for the phenomena could be school holidays, school projects (starts of terms etc), times when industry lobbyists are active….

    It’s interesting and likely all highly debatable – especially if the causes are not the obvious conclusions people jump to – a la Freakonomics…

  • Vic Houghton

    I call this one “Sinister Grannies”.

  • Menno

    I like this one as well:

  • Angela White

    Question: How did you get the months to display? I can’t figure it out?

    Thanks in advance!

    • david

      @angela white – I added those myself. In Insighst though, you can roll over the graph to see the months.

  • Mark Elliott

    The April & November peaks are undoubtedly searches by college students. “Video Game Violence” remains a wildly popular topic of choice for the undergraduate research paper, particularly among lazy students, who, as you might imagine, generally begin their “semester-long” research 2-4 weeks before semester’s end. Nothing to do with Hitler or Columbine or even Christmas…just every third nineteen-year-old avoiding a trip to the library.

  • Dean

    Searches for baby names vs abortion in Aus:

    Peaks in baby names every winter. 9 months before winter: Spring. Figures show similiar pattern in the US.

    Also, most likely the downward trend seen in most of these could be accounted for by the increase in google searches themselves over the last few years, as the term is measured relative to other search terms so obviously as google use goes up so to will the number of search terms.

  • EricG
  • dsi

    I am also with this information, Nicely content. Thanks for sharing information with us

  • Britnee

    I think the reason for the November and April peaks for “violent video games” is because for students, that’s close to the end of their semesters and I’m sure many of them are writing their end-of-semester papers on “violent video games”. Therefore, that’s why there’s higher search results during that time.

  • Amy

    My husband is in the video game industry and says that common release dates are after the end of a fiscal quarter, i.e. the April end of first fiscal quarter, and November, end of third fiscal quarter. Isn ‘t it fairly common to release new products at these time periods? Seems more likely that concerned parents are a bigger demographic than people who have some weird archetypal responses to Columbine or students doing research papers.

  • Tiago Menezes

    Interesting enough, April 20th is also Adolf Hitler’s birth date.