Lots of commentary on Techmeme today about Google’s new Hot Trends feature, which builds on the search engine’s previous Trends and Zeitgeist features by adding news and blog posts. Many people seem to pay particularly attention to the absurd or stupid things that people search for, including “legless chihuahuas” and “nose bidet.”
Fair enough. Don’t get me wrong. There’s no question that people search for plenty of ridiculous stuff — and yes, the Trends include lots of stuff about World of Warcraft, etc. But still, I think dismissing Google’s Hot Trends as a throwaway toy or a sideshow is missing something. And I think search guru Danny Sullivan made the point in a comment on Duncan Riley’s post at TechCrunch made the point pretty well: “legless chihuahuas,” he pointed out, were in the news; Oprah referred to a “nose bidet” on her show; and one of the other search terms was a radio contest question.
In other words, browsing through the search terms is a pretty good barometer of what people are interested in at a given moment. When I looked at the terms, Justis Richert was a popular term — because the porn actress who was born with that name happened to perform… well, a service for a state trooper while he was on duty (and still wound up getting a ticket, apparently). In other words, it was sparked by another news story.
Anyone who has spent any time running a news-related website knows that there are the stories you wish people were interested in, and then there are the ones that they really are interested in — and they aren’t always the same thing. For better or worse, Google’s Hot Trends and other traffic-measuring tools are a glimpse inside the mind of the people formerly known as the audience (as Jay Rosen called them). Get used to it.
A commenter here notes that Google’s Hot Trends could pose some competition for Technorati — and it certainly could for Technorati’s WTF (Where’s The Fire) feature.