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1/21/2009
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Google Reports Inauguration Day Searches

The importance of the Internet as an information source is underscored by the growth in inauguration-related Google searches from 2001 to 2008.

Confirming what much of the world already knows, Google's account of inauguration-related searches reveals how important the Internet has become as an information source.

In a blog post, Google engineer Jeffrey Oldham and quantitative marketing manager Fred Leach discuss how inauguration-related searches have multiplied as online information gathering has moved into the mainstream.

"During the last nine years, the growth of the Internet has changed the way the world seeks information," they observe. "From President Bush's first inaugural address in 2001 to his second in 2005, the number of inauguration-related searches increased by more than a factor of 10. From 2005 to today's address, the number grew even more."

Equally significant, if not more so for traditional media organizations, is the extent to which Google has become the TV Guide of the Internet. "Few of the 2001 queries requested 'video,' and none requested streaming," write Oldham and Leach. "By 2005, a few queries such as 'inauguration audio' and 'streaming video of inauguration' appeared. Today, technology has become so prevalent that queries such as 'YouTube live inauguration,' 'live blogging inauguration,' 'inaugural podcast,' and 'Obama inaugural speech mp3' formed one-third of all inauguration-related queries."

Other collectors of video metrics have reported a similar trend. Earlier this month, ComScore said that Americans viewed 34% more online videos in November than they did a year earlier. And that trend has been noteworthy for some time: In a slightly different but related metric, ComScore said in January 2008 that the average time spent viewing online videos in November 2007 rose 29% from the time spent in January 2007.

What were people looking for? They sought information about President Barack Obama and what he said, of course. But they also wanted to know more about those involved in the inauguration, like Pastor Rick Warren, the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, Aretha Franklin, Elizabeth Alexander, Yo-Yo Ma, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and John Roberts, chief justice of the United States.

The data reported by Oldham and Leach also underscores the way in which Google searches provide insight into what's happening in foreign countries, where information is often less easy to obtain because of government restrictions.

If, as the blog post suggests, Google searches represent a useful yardstick for what's on the minds of people in countries around the world, such information is certain to be sought and sifted with increasing interest by intelligence and security agencies, both here and abroad.

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