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What Yahoo Buzz Tells Us About Ourselves
I love Yahoo! Buzz. Always have. I loved it in its first incarnation (think Google Zeitgeist) and I love it now, in its current form. And not just because I work inside the big Purple Palace, mind you, but rather because it tells me everything both delightful and horrifying about myself in one concise web page. I am a searcher. I love searching for everything on the Internet. I pride myself on my ability to find anything for sale or of interest in a minimum of time and keystrokes. Just ask my wife. She thinks I’m nuts, but that doesn’t stop her from consulting me any time she’s looking for anything on the internet. Also, I’m an American. Not in a particularly patriotic sense, but for the notable exception of reality TV, I follow more or less the same popular icons as most of my fellow citizens. So as an American Searcher, when I’m clicking through Buzz today, I’m both riveted and appalled by what I see.
As I write, at the top of the top searches, as expected, is “swine flu symptoms.” A quick buzz search yields 102 stories on the pandemic. It’s fascinating. Has anyone ever seen a disease spread like this? Or maybe it’s just that we’ve never seen this in the Internet era. It is really spreading this fast or does the Internet just make it seem that way? By the time this column publishes we may well know, but for now it’s one of the world’s greatest mysteries. I mean by the time you read this we will either be shutting down entire countries (Mexico was the first to shutter at time of writing), yelling and screaming about the impending Aporkalypse, or we’ll be saying “whew, I thought that was going to be a lot worse.” Whatever the outcome, I challenge anyone to find a surgical mask or a bottle of hand sanitizer on any shelf in any store within a mile of where you are right now. That’s how big this story is, and that’s how plugged in we all are, as evidenced by search behavior.
This just in
On to other stories. Judging from the TV coverage during my morning workout today, I’m expecting the Chrysler story line to be buzzing pretty loudly, which it is. Chrysler announced today it’s officially going bankrupt. As I write this, Chrysler shows 133 stories on Buzz… But wait—what’s that between the swine flu and Chrysler? Kirstie Alley put back on the 75 pounds she lost, Jon & Kate Plus 8, American Idol, Christina Applegate smoking (!), Kentucky Derby, Jon Gosselin (of Jon & Kate fame), and Sarah Jessica Parker. I mean I’m happy for Sarah and Matthew and their unborn twin girls, but come on, all of those stories are getting more search volume than Chrysler going bankrupt? How can that be? What does that say about us? What does that say about me?
Search is what we want
This is at the same time the most revealing and disturbing thing about search. Search is demand. Search tells us what we’re really looking for, what we really want to see. Just as we, the American public, really do want to see dysfunctional couples duke it out on Jerry Springer, we really are in fact much more interested in Kirtstie’s saddlebags and unfaithful Octo-dads than the fact that our nation’s only remaining industrial foothold is eroding around us faster than the price of pork belly futures. We’re about to raise the white flag on the companies that practically built this country, but we’d rather read about how Simon trashed the latest batch of talentless contestants on Idol. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of American cars in general, or of Chrysler in particular. The last Chrysler car I owned was the ’72 Dodge Dart handed down to me by my big brother, that I drove in high school. In fact, I can’t even bring myself to buy anything but Toyotas anymore, so I’m definitely part of the problem – but come on, American Searchers, a horse race is a bigger deal than the biggest bankruptcy story of the decade that just broke today? I hate myself.
This is one of the many reasons I’ve stayed in the search industry all these years. Search fascinates me. It tells me more about myself and my fellow American Searchers than just about anything else I can find (and sometimes more than I want to know!), and like Yahoo! Buzz, it’s updated pretty much in real time, 24/7/365. At this point in my day, I can only find peace in the fact that Chrysler is getting more buzz than Dancing With The Stars. BTW, Can you believe Julianne Hough is calling it quits?!
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