Socio Physics: What is Google Trends telling us ?

March, 20th, 2013,

1  – Seminar by Dr. Tobias Pries : ” Quantifying Economic Behavior Using Big Data ” 

Today, the AMRC was hosting a seminar titled “Quantifying Economic Behavior Using Big Data” given by  Dr. Tobias Pries.  Dr. Pries is an Associate Professor in the  Behavioural Science and Finance at Warwick Business School. His research aim to carry out large scale experiments on complex social and economic systems by exploiting data generated by our interactions with technology (Google, Wikipedia, Flickr, Yahoo and many others …). Dr. Pries also gave a TED Talk on how concepts from physics can be used to describe stock market.

In his research, Dr. Pries is using  Google Trends. This is an online tool which measures how often a word has been googled. Dr. Pries’ research is focused on analysing correlations between data extracted from Google Trends and real life data such as stock market prices.

As Dr. Martin Weigel pointed out : if measuring correlations between data is one thing, giving a valid interpretation is often challenging.  In particular, when interpreting data, one has to be careful in identifying causes and consequences.

2 – Google Trends and “Education”

I couldn’t wait to use Google Trends. I rushed into my office to feed Google Trends with different words.
The followings plots are extracted from Google Trends using the a words, all related to education  :

{Education, Mathematics, Biology, History, Calculus, Music, Geology,Literature, University }

Let me state the obvious, “Education is going down”.
I got a bit worried, and decided to look for data which would , if not increase, at least stay constant. I found one!  The result for “dance” looks stable. Of course, “dance” can not be compared to the word “calculus” of the previous section. Let me point out that data for “classical dance” remain constant as well. Finally, I was hoping to see an increase in data related to informatics and programming. But I did not. Again, data related to the search “Programming” decreases in time.

Google Trends result for “Dance”
Google Trends result for “Dance”
Google Trends result for “Programming”
Google Trends result for “Programming”

3  – What do people Google then ?

It is a bit worrying to see that less and less people seem to be interested in the topics mentioned previously. Therefore, I looked for a few which will show an increase of activity in time.

{Facebook, Wikipedia,Twitter,Youtube,Linkedin}

4  – Conclusion : Google Trends is a power tool

No doubt that Google Trends is a powerful tool providing information on population behaviour. Though one has to be careful in the interpretation of the results.

Finally, while “Education” seems to be a less and less popular topic, the search of the key words “Tuition Fee” has increased.

Google Trends result for “Tuition Fee”
Google Trends result for “Tuition Fee”

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