Here's what you Googled this year

From convenience to necessity, Google is well on its way to usurping the dog as man's best friend. Loyal, faithful and ever-friendly, it rarely disappoints.

That the UAE has embraced this life tool to stay up-to-date with news, gold prices and global affairs is entirely unsurprising – but some of the terms searched for may raise a few eyebrows.

Hannah Montana figuring in the country's top ten fastest rising queries? A Disney creation attracting more online curiosity than Emirates ID cards or even Atlantis The Palm?

Even advertising and marketing experts were surprised by that result.

Google has released its annual Zeitgeist (German for "spirit of the time") of searches – the results of the aggregation of millions of queries it receives every day.

Google Zeitgeist is an annual look into the year's top Google searches. It offers a unique perspective on the year's major events and hottest trends based on global searches, as well as searches conducted in the UAE and 35 additional countries.

Of the unpredictable results, Avinash Bhojani, Group Chief Executive of advertising and marketing firm Bates Pan Gulf, said: "This is really news to me. I had no idea [Hannah Montana] was so big here. But this does show who uses Google, because the results don't reflect the actual demand of the region.

"It is interesting to understand current trends, but we're also fully aware that the demography is different here. While the zeitgeist results definitely influence online media buying, they have little impact on strategies for other mediums," he said.

Fastest-rising queries in the Zeitgeist are the search terms that have seen the largest increase in search volume over a specified amount of time.

Google uses an algorithm that compares the percentage increase in searches for a specific term over a specified time period.

It implements a minimum threshold to limit queries with very small search volume from appearing on this list. For example, without a minimum threshold, a new query searched for ten times in 2008 will show up as having a 1,000 per cent increase over 2007, which, while mathematically accurate, is not indicative of a large trend. Google also uses additional filters to remove duplicate entries, including misspellings and "spammy" results.

In the UAE, Google's "fastest-rising" lists of 2008 were intriguing. The UAE showed it was getting closer to aligning itself with global curiosity as both, the country's and the world's fastest rising queries were Beijing, Facebook, Barack Obama and the late actor Heath Ledger.

The launch of Bahrain Air earlier this year drew huge interest, placing fourth on the list.

"Certain events and news trigger rapid searches," said Bhojani. "If enough information is not available through television or print, people will use Google to get to the bottom of things."

But how does that explain Obama figuring in the lists when the traditional media is already obsessed with almost every inch of his life?

"The media discussed his current life and maybe his recent past, but people are curious. They want to know his history, his cultural and religious lineage. They really do want to know everything," said Bhojani.

The most popular or most searched queries by users in the UAE, however, raised no surprises – with Dubai, UAE and the Emirates taking the top three spots.

Increasing interest in YouTube and the opportunity to share videos took it to the top ten on both lists. However, it was the most searched terms on the economy that reflected the country's top concerns.

While last year's most popular economic search terms were based predominantly within the UAE, this year's list included interest in the economies of Kuwait and Japan – the latter being the UAE's largest customer for oil.

The global economic climate took concerned residents to the search field for better understanding on "inflation", "recession" and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Disney took home two winners with Hannah Montana ranking sixth in the country's fastest-rising queries and the character's real life persona, Miley Cyrus, figuring fourth in the list of famous individuals.

For the Middle East, Egyptian pop superstar Tamer Husni beat Saudi's pride, Rashid Al Majid, by one place on the fastest-rising queries of famous people.

Lebanese singing sensation Elissa pulled in third, topping Kuwait's Mishari Al Afassi. The Koran reader drew a lot of interest during Ramadan and was closely followed by Lebanese vocal legend Fairuz.

The current economic crisis has failed to hamper the UAE's travel plans with exotic Hawaii topping national interest. There were no surprises with the other fastest rising vacation queries, though Fujairah finishing second revealed how popular it was as a local getaway.

The global fastest-rising query list includes four social networks, several US politicians and international sports events. In several countries, despite the US election, Google users were more interested in musical acts. Such is the case with Russia, where new president Dmitri Medvedev got less attention than some popular cultural events.

The search trends also seem to be able to resurrect cultural icons. Poland's fifth fastest-rising query, Jozin z Bazin, is proof of this fact, as the performer of this 1978 Czech song started touring again, after the reaction that it generated on YouTube (also owned by Google).

-Google Zeitgeist and Trends applications are available year-round at www.google.com/zeitgeist


Privacy

Since the search terms released by Google Zeitgeist are typed in by a large number of people and cannot be tied to any individual or group, it is not an invasion of privacy, says Google.

"We store the following data in our logs – your search query, the time and date you typed it, the IP address and cookie of the computer you used, and the type of your browser and operating system.

"IP addresses and cookies cannot identify individuals. They don't tell us where someone lives, or who they are.

"At best, all Google can tell about someone from an IP address is their general location – for example, London. Search logs are anonymised after nine months," Google said.

Data is kept in search logs for nine months, following which the last two digits from both the IP address and parts of the cookie numbers are permanently deleted.

This breaks the link between the search query and the computer it was entered from. It's similar to credit card companies replacing digits with hash marks on receipts to improve customer security. (SD)

 

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