Climate change | Google Trends #1

You have to hand it to Google. They are just all over business development. They have found something that everyone needs, perfected it quickly and delivered it so effectively that nobody else can hope to compete.

Then whilst they continue to improve the core offering they find a great way to make money without most of their customers even realizing it.

Not resting on this success they invest in both the core offering and start to add bells and whistles. At some point along the way they get big enough and powerful enough from unprecedented popularity to start changing and then setting the rules [it used to be that a Panda was just an endangered species].

One of the many bells is Google Trends, a neat tool that spits out data on search behavior for a key word from 2004 to present.

Here is a graphic of what Google trends says about the keyword ‘climate change’




The numbers here are all proportional to the peak of search activity over the period — in this case the peak searching occurred in December 2009. So low numbers represent less interest in the term relative to the peak and trends in the data show if the term is growing or waning in popularity. It is also possible to pick seasonality or specific events that trigger a spike or trend in search activity.

What can we say about climate change?

On the graphic I have added a few select events, particularly the various UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) that have been an end of year staple for a few years now

We didn’t really bother too much about it until An Inconvenient Truth tweaked our curiosity in 2006. Then we got really excited around the time of the COP in Copenhagen when then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was calling climate change ‘the greatest moral challenge of our age’.

And what has happened since those heady days? Well, we have had three more COPs in Cancun, Durban and Doha with progressively more pathetic efforts at tackling the greatest moral challenge, accompanied by a downward trend towards pre-Al Gore levels of interest in the topic.

In a few more years we will have forgotten about it altogether.

Trends also suggests that regional interest in the topic now comes exclusively from the developing world with 8 of the top 10 countries by search volume from Africa. Only these are the places with the least resources to do anything about it.

Stats can also be a hoot. You’ll notice that after each COP there is a trough in search volume as everyone in the northern hemisphere tucks into their Christmas turkey and a regular annual dip in traffic in the northern hemisphere summer when its warmest!

No doubt that many equally critical challenges await and will trend upwards to their moment in the spotlight only to fall away again. Such is that nature of our attention span. It would just be nice if things went away because they were fixed.

On the upside, thanks Google for what will be endless hours of statistical fun.

The new gold

You would never call an actuary sexy. Number logic people just don’t have the suave of a James Bond or the sass of a Marilyn. They are just too precise. Absorbed by detail and loving that a + b = c, especially when b is the reciprocal of the square root of f, they just lack that playful oomph.

That said being a good number cruncher was never a bad career. Thanks to the acute need for their skills, especially from insurance companies treading the tightrope of premiums over risk, data people have always been well paid and in reasonable demand. Over the years it has been quite tricky to get a place on an actuarial degree.

Now, however, sexy is in for the statisticians too, because the mad men need them. Or more strictly, there is a new breed of advertiser who have taken the mix of imagery and psychology invented to persuade us all to buy things to a whole new level. Now it is possible to predict as well as persuade.

Thanks to the already huge and rapid accumulating databanks on our online profiles, our offline purchases and even where we are throughout the day (yep, that handy little app in your smartphone does more than tell you where you are and how long it takes to walk three blocks), it is now possible to track behaviours and from that predict what might happen next, or better still intervene with an irresistible offer.

The mad men who want to place that person specific ad on the right device at the right time need the data crunchers to do the sums.

Here is a simple example. Your Facebook profile says that you like the delectable British soul singer Sade (mine does) and your mobile pings a GPS signal that you are in Sydney. Instantly the ticketing website you use puts two and two together and sends you an email with Sade tour dates. Not only that but her Sydney concert listing is flashing with a special offer of 10% off the usual ticket price. Outcome obvious, you have an outstanding night out and can’t wait for her next tour.

Here is another example. Your credit card purchases at the casino hotel, activity at the gaming tables and even what goes out of the mini-bar in your room are monitored in real time. What you buy, win, and loose on your casino weekend break are matched to a predictive model based on thousands of previous punters that tells the hotel staff the optimum time to offer you a free meal voucher or a discounted show ticket for the next evening. That optimum being the point being just before your instinct tells you to cut your losses and check out.

This is just the start of the thousands of uses that analysis of data can support. Take a moment and you will think of plenty yourself.

Usefulness readily translates into products and services that become a new gold, the nuggets that come from data mining. The vast datasets on what people do, where they do it and when trawled, filtered, analysed and modeled to predict what, where and when they will do next. All so that businesses can deliver a timely intervention.

The talk is of a multi-billion dollar industry built around analysis, interpretation, and prediction, followed by delivery of highly targeted suggestion. It is a whole new field for anyone unfazed by terabytes of data and permutation algorithms…. and who are also unfazed by where the money comes from.

I wonder how many of the new gold diggers will dare to ask.