Database of Intentions

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John Batelle, in his 2005 book “The Search,” likened Google to a “database of intentions.” In an April 2009 white paper entitled “Predicting the Present with Google Trends,” Google economists Hal Varian and Hyunyoung Choi determined that Google Internet search query analytics may not absolutely predict the future, but it can almost certainly lend insight on the present. Expanding on this idea, I’ve looked at a series of cases, from Iran to Indonesia, Mexico to China.

Internet search analytics on proper nouns, such as electoral candidates or even Bollywood stars such as Shahrukh Khan, can be easily monitored. Recently, I’ve begun exploring Google Internet search query data on antonyms, such as war and peace. In a recent post for Harvard’s Internet & Democracy blog, I found that contrary to rankings on the Global Peace Index, the most “peaceful” nations were often those most searching for “war” terms online.  I likened online “war” and “peace” to Orwell, not Tolstoy. On Friday I broadened this query by looking across languages in three regions in the Middle East: Iraq, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories.  In the wake of the Gaza War, and the January Israeli offensive, Israeli Internet search queries on “war” diminished to pre-war levels within one week, finding parity with queries on “peace.” In the Palestinian territories, however, this reduction in volume took six months.  In short, the Gaza offensive created only a blip in Israeli Internet user focus on war, but search queries on “war” persisted for over 25 times as long among Palestinian Internet users.

Google may “predict the present.” And the Google “database of intentions” may reveal denizen pathos long after guns fall silent. Perhaps Google can offer “cloud” perspective through what Clausewitz termed the “fog of war.”

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