In the last 30 days, the town of Princeton has searched for “robot unicorn attack” on average (that is as percentage of total traffic) 25 times as much as Seattle, 30 times as much as Boston and Los Angeles, and 50 times as much as New York and Chicago. For those that are unfamiliar, Robot Unicorn Attack is an online flash game in which one controls a unicorn journeying through a colorful and obstacle-filled fantasy land. On a global level, Reykjavik, Iceland leads the pack of robot unicorn searchers, topping New York by a factor of 30. Unfortunately, Princeton strangely does not show up on the global listing. But extrapolating the data in comparison to New York, it turns out that Princeton residents have in fact searched for “robot unicorn attack” 50 percent more than Reykjavik residents have over the past 30 days.
Is there any logic behind this seemingly bizarre connection? Brad Pitt has been searched for in Cuba twice as much as anywhere else since 2004, and Morocco searched for Charlie Chaplin 4 times as much as the United States in 2009. Similarly in these cases, there is no apparent reason for the discrepancy. And quite realistically, it is impossible to ever truly find out why Princeton and Reykjavik share such an obsession with this simple fantasy game. Further research reveals that the game is quite popular in all of Scandinavia (especially Sweden), and that in the US it is particularly popular in New Hampshire. Welcome to the world of Google Trends.
_Colonial Traces in Search Language_
French is not an official language of Algeria, and has not been since the country became independent in 1962. The fight for independence from France was not an easy one, and after finally achieving it after years of war, the country underwent a process of Arabization, focusing mostly on the education system. Today, Arabic, at least the colloquial variety, is spoken by virtually the entire population, save for perhaps a few Berber-speaking holdouts. Yet, looking at the top 3 searches for Algeria from 2004 to today, the top three results are algerie, telecharger (download), and jeux (games). In Saudi Arabia, where Arabic is equally spoken, the top three results are for forums, photos, and games—the main difference being, however, that all three are searched for in Arabic, along with all of the other top results. Yet comparing searches in Algeria for jeux and the Arabic word for games, alaab, reveals that since 2004 search volume for jeux has been double that of alaab. In fact, in 2004, it was more than fifteen times the volume. However, by 2009, jeux did not even manage 50 percent more volume than alaab. It would seem then that Arabic is slowly gaining control over the game search market. But even such a conclusion could have its faults. Perhaps Algerians have discovered the game options on the francophone page jeux.fr are inferior to the games offered on the Arabic-language games.maktoob.com. Yet the results from Morocco and Tunisia, two other effectively Arabic-French bilingual countries, are not as promising: jeux is winning by around a margin of seven.
The republic of Azerbaijan presents a similar parable. After gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the republic pursued a policy of pan-Turkism, scrapping the Cyrillic alphabet and eliminating Russian from its educational system. Walking around the capital, Baku, one may still notice some lingering signs in either Russian or the local language, Azeri, rendered in Cyrillic script, but they are becoming a rare sight. Yet the Russian word for “download,” скачать (skachat), still persists in the Azerbaijani cyberworld. The word “download,” a rather ubiquitous term globally, has also gained currency in Azerbaijan. One would expect Azerbaijan, whose government and people were vigorously attempting to erase any reminder of Soviet oppression to adopt the English in favor of Russian. But the opposite proved true. In 2004, “download” was searched for 50 percent more than was skachat, until late 2006 when both were searched for equally. In February of this year, skachat was searched for 50 percent more than was download. The Turkish word for “download,” indir, fared even worse, garnering only around a quarter of the volume of skachat. A Russian mail client, mail.ru, which is searched for using Latin letters, has a 4 to 1 dominance over Yahoo, the next most popular mail client. Thus, as the number of Russian speakers in Azerbaijan has decreased since 2004, the internet presence of Russian in Azerbaijani cyberspace has nonetheless increased. Though Azerbaijan has greatly strived to distance itself from its Soviet past, its Internet searchers have embraced Russian cyber-terminology in the last few years as a means to access vital internet resources.
When was the last time you searched for “free software” on Google? How about “download movie?” Or what about for the word “download” by itself? If you have not, which is likely, this comes as no surprise as, on a global level, these search terms are rather rare for a searcher in the US. A searcher from Pakistan or Indonesia on the other hand is around eight times as likely to search for “download” by itself as an American searcher. Add “mp3” to end of “download,” it is revealed that an Indonesian is 30 times as likely to search for the term. Returning to the term “download” itself, the trend results reveal overwhelmingly that it is poor countries that are the most data-hungry. Searchers in Nigeria, Mozambique, and the Philippines search about four times as much as Americans for the term “download”; Ghana, Mongolia, and Myanmar about five times as much; and Croatia, Brazil, and Egypt about three times as much. Searching for any combination of “video,” “games,” “music,” “movies,” “mp3,” or “photos” with the term “download” will further confirm the general trend. What then is the fascination with data hoarding / downloading in economically undeveloped nations? Perhaps because a commercial culture around music and movies never developed in these countries, the only way of accessing these resources is through illegal downloading. There is no Amazon Indonesia, and “Amazon” is searched for ten times as often in the US as in Indonesia. In a country where Internet users as a percentage of the population has gone from 0.2 percent to 11.1 percent from 1997 to 2007, torrenting and illegal downloading has been part of internet culture from the beginning. Yet perhaps on some level, the search for the term “download” by itself or combined unspecifically with a media form represents an extreme desire for digital possession. The presence of a legitimate commercial venue for software purchases in the US does not compensate for the fact that someone in Bangladesh searches for “free software” ten times as much as a US searcher. The popularity of the search term “download mp3” implies that searchers in those countries are interested solely in downloading music, no matter what it might be. In countries where material possessions have long been limited, hyper-downloading can represent an opportunity to experience traditional consumer culture in a new form: cyber-consumerism.
_Mid-2000s African Spam Culture_
In 2007 in Cote d’Ivoire, the top 10 searches were:
1. lite 1.4
4. 1.4 extractor
5. extractor lite
6. email 1.4
7. email lite
8. email 1.4 lite
9. 1.4 lite extractor
10. exmail extractor 1.4
It is normal if these results are totally meaningless to you. This is a fossil of a West African scamming culture that peaked from 2004 to 2007. In Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, and Benin “1.4 lite” is either the most or 2nd most searched term from 2004-present, and in Togo, Ghana, and Gambia it was among the top ten. To find out what the results of the search term “1.4 lite” are, one need simply to type the term into google.ci (Google Cote d’Ivoire.) The first result seems to be the result most Ivorians were looking for: “Email Extractor Lite 1.4” which is hosted on the website “bigbooster.com”. At the top of the web page, surrounded by ads for JustBeenPaid, the “Moneymaking Breakthrough of the Decade,” is a grey box in which there is some pre-written text: “Copy text from any source and paste it into here. Then click extract button. You can select different separator (or enter your own), group a number of emails and sort extracted emails alphabetically.”
What this basically means is that I can copy and paste a long list of text—say from a Google results page, or the address list of a _Nassau Weekly_ staff email—and this little program will get rid of all the annoyances of contact names and carrots and deliver me a neat list, alphabetically sorted and with commas, that I can then copy into my address bar. That’s scamming 101 for you all and the main Internet activity for much of West Africa in the past decade. No information on this West African phenomenon is available online so the details must be extrapolated. Did West Africans scam individually or was there some organized group that ran it all? Also of note is that traffic from Cote d’Ivoire for the “1.4 lite” is less than a quarter of what it was at its peak in August of 2007. Have anti-scamming protective measures by browsers and email clients limited the profitability of email extraction and spamming? “1.4 lite” is not completely dead, but it has surrendered the top position to telecharger (download), which now garners twice the search traffic.
—“Celine Dion” has been searched for 8 times as much in Mali as in her home country of Canada since 2004.
—“Hot dog” was searched almost three times as much in Hungary as in the US in August of 2009.
—“Donald Trump” has been searched for in Kenya twice as much as anywhere else since 2004.
—“Lady Gaga” has been searched for around twice as much in Honduras and Mongolia as in the US in 2010 so far.
—“Beyonce” has been searched for around five times as much in Eritrea as in the US since 2004.
—“Goth” was searched for twice as much in West Virginia as in Virginia in 2009.
—“Depression” was searched for twice as much in West Virginia as in Virginia in 2009.
—“Lesbian online dating” was searched for 100 times as much in May 2006 as it was in February 2010.