Social Networking: Society Clicks to ChangeBy Reuters - Print
In the new book, "Click: What Millions of People are Doing Online and Why It Matters," author Bill Tancer said analyzing web searches gave a wider picture of society and people's behavior. Tancer, who does research at Hitwise, an Internet tracking company, said one of the major shifts in Internet use in the past decade had been the fall off in interest in pornography or adult entertainment sites because younger adults are on social networking sites.
SOCIETY CLICKS TO CHANGE
Tancer said the change in communication patterns was one of the most noticeable shifts in society in the past five years -- a key point for marketers seeking to learn about their audiences.
But analyzing data also showed what preoccupied people, allowing Tancer to predict the outcome of reality TV shows.
"I noticed in our data that some of the top search terms are about tropical storms in the United States," said Tancer.
"Before Hurricane Katrina rarely would you see a search on tropical storms but the devastation from Katrina has made us as a society much more sensitive to tropical storms."
Tancer said the current obsession with celebrities was also reflected through web data, with celebrity websites garnering more attention than sites devoted to religion, politics, well-being and diets combined -- and no sign that this is waning.
This celebrity mentality had also overlapped into the November presidential election in the United States with surfers looking for images of Republican vice presidential candidate Sara Palin rather than looking for her policies.
"A lot of the focus around the candidates in general is image based. People want to know how tall Barack Obama is and also to search for their families," he said.
"You have to get far down in the search terms to link the search for a candidate with any issue."
But Tancer said the speed at which information spread on the Internet had meant in some cases it was consumers generating the story and the media is last to record it -- or fact-check it.
"With the explosion of this type of false information on the Internet I think we will see someone come forward and develop a new type of software that can filter for the most accurate information," he said.
"Maybe accuracy is the next thing we will all search for."
(Editing by Miral Fahmy)
© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved
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