We Are What We Google – What Online Search Records Tell

Bill Tancer, head of research at online analysis firm Hitwise, is the curator of 10 million users’ Web browsing records–the complete history of every click and every search term–pulled from the logs of Internet service providers (ISPs) around the world who have either sold the data to Hitwise or traded it for free analysis. Pooled together and scrubbed of its identifying features like names and phone numbers, Tancer says the logs show more than just how people use the Internet. In Click, his fast-selling book released earlier this month, he argues that the ISP’s massive data dump can tell us what consumers want, predict the economic future and maybe even offer insight into human nature.”What I find really fascinating is how much we tell search engines–more than we tell surveys, more than our family members, more even than our priests or rabbis,” he says. “This kind of data about online activity may be the best thing we have to really understand ourselves.”Tancer points out that since 2005, for instance, searches for “prom dress” have spiked in January, long before retailers began their advertising push for prom apparel in March. When he first revealed that data, his retail customers told him it must be an error. He believed them–until a publishing exec explained to him at a conference that teen magazines were publishing their prom-focused issues earlier to lengthen the lucrative advertising season that follows.

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