How killing time online predicts the future

November 30, 2011

You thought you were just goofing off with all those aimless web searches on George Clooney and Lady Gaga. But Ask.com was taking your timekillers and using them to predict what will happen next year.

Here’s how: analysts at the search engine, which allows users to ask questions rather than simply typing in a topic, assumed increasing numbers of questions asked on a topic signaled growing interest. (Ask.com has about 3 percent market share in search, according to research firm comScore Inc.) Based on the data from its users, Ask.com analysts are forecasting trends that will take off as 2012 unfolds.

For instance, based on questions about the good-looking sister of Kate Middleton, who married heir to the British throne Prince William in April, Ask.com predicts that Pippa will become one of the top ten baby names of 2012.

Ask.com went one step further and used its search data to write future headlines, in fields from TV — “Dr Oz surpasses Dr. Phil in ratings in a post-Oprah world” — to music– “Breakout star of 2011, Nicki Minaj, leapfrogs pop icon Kate Perry in album sales”– to snacks– “McDonald’s adds the McRib to its permanent menu.”

It is even making calls on the stock market: “Facebook goes public with world’s largest IPO.”

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I’m wondering if ask.com itself is helping perpetuate the future simply by suggesting trends? Since many people are followers of followers then doesn’t this make sense?

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