Google searches point to economic recovery (and a Kayne West obsession)


If Google ran the world, it would be streaming a nice fireside chat FDR style this Sunday to let you know that things are looking up. If Google's chief economist Hal Varin is right, and the search terms don't lie, then the economy may already be recovering.

Talking to the Washington Post while in D.C. to convince the government of the power of search, Varin pointed to the decrease in searches for information about unemployment in March. According to Google, the search giant's popularity and massive data mining efforts give it the power to see "snapshots of consumer sentiment" well before the government.

While it's an interesting way to look for an economic recovery, basing a complex prediction on the search trends of the American public has to leave a little room for interpretation. For example a current look at Google Trends which Hal references as a tool to use for gauging economic recovery reveals another picture.

On September 14, a year after the economy performed a Sumo-size bellyflop, the most popular searches on Google are:

  • Kayne West and Taylor Swift VMA

  • Halloween costumes

  • Lady Gaga Hermaphrodite pictures

  • Jay Leno

  • Michael Jordan

  • Kate Gosselin

  • Serena Williams outburst

Sure there's a Kelly Blue Book and a Webster's Dictionary thrown in, which might indicate a strong desire to sell used cars and to find a definition for recession, but the obsession with pop culture makes it hard to glean any useful facts out of the day to day search trends. Granted, a longer look at the results may yield more useful information, but that also means the recent spike in searches for unemployment numbers could be a bad sign.

It will be interesting to see if Google searches can predict an economic recovery and provide the government with a better pulse of the nation's sentiment. Sadly, when I asked Varin if the Google could predict whether healthcare reform would pass he simply replied, "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that"