Monday, May 15, 2006

A nation's interests? Google tells all

Google lifted the veil this week on one of its best-kept secrets
writes Anand Giridharadas in the IHT:
which nations search for what. Who looks up democracy most avidly? Who seeks out Allah or Christ most faithfully? Who types in "drugs" or "sex" most frequently?

No country's secrets are spared.

Pakistanis look up "Danish cartoons" more avidly than anyone, according to Google. They also lead the rankings for "sex" - with their neighbor and nuclear rival India seldom far behind.

…French users … shed light on France's power struggles. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy draws as many searches on his own as his rivals, President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, combined.

…Not everything on the site is a surprise. People in Boston and Minneapolis and in Halifax, Nova Scotia, lead the search for "mittens." Dubliners top the list in "Guinness" searches. When it comes to looking up "dowry," surfers in Pakistan and India are clear leaders.

Other findings are quirkier, and at times to difficult to explain.

Even though homosexuality is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom ranks No. 2 for searches for "gay sex," behind the Philippines.

And consider the list of cities that most frequently look up "amour," the French word for love. Paris, allegedly a romantic haven, is absent from the top 10. The top three berths went to Rabat, Morocco; Algiers and Tunis.

Other findings suggest the stirrings of a trend. Searchers for "Allah" come overwhelmingly from the Islamic world. But, in a sign of shifting social realities, the word is searched from the Dutch-language version of Google more avidly than from the Arabic-language one. Norwegian, French, Danish, Swedish and German sites also featured in the top 10 for "Allah" inquiries.

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