Five things I learned from the genius of Google’s Zeitgeist

By Kevin Kelleher
December 10, 2010

The word Zeitgeist is defined as “the spirit of the age.” But the German term was itself a translation by Romanticists of the Latin phrase “genius saeculi.” Those Romanticists didn’t think of “genius” in its modern meaning of an extraordinary mind, but rather its etymological roots of a guardian spirit that watches over people from their birth.

I delve into the etymology of Zeitgeist because it casts an interesting light on the choice by Google to describe its annual summary of search trends, especially when you consider the company’s thoughts on artificial intelligence. Google’s search engine is hardly a guardian spirit, but if it doesn’t exactly watch over our online lives, it does watch them carefully enough – remembering data points it collects in each search and distilling them into interesting trends.

Some of the general trends Google’s Zeitgeist for 2010 discovered are interesting, if hardly profound. Here are a few insights gleaned from all the searches done through Google search engines in the last year.

The power of a Steve Jobs presentation remains strong. The iPad was released in early April, but Google searches for the term peaked in January – two months earlier, when Steve Jobs unveiled the Apple tablet. Which suggests Jobs drew more attention to the iPad than the iPad itself did.

Facebook and Twitter flourished at micro-publishing platforms. Facebook was the more popular, of course, but to get an idea of just how much more it’s dominating the online conversation, look at this chart.

iPhones and Android phones may be thriving as gaming platforms, but the good old web browser still remains popular too. Two of 2010′s fastest rising search queries were for “Friv” and “Gamezer” – sites offering flash and multi-player games for PC browsers.

There is an inverse relationship between searches for “swine flu” and those for “Justin Bieber.” I’m just saying….

As the snappy video Google put together to summarize the year suggests, 2010 was a year that seemed to bring much more bad news than good. But then again, it doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out.

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