Is Sarah Palin more popular than porn? Search me

Do search terms really indicate what Americans are thinking? It all depends on whether you believe Americans are actually thinking. Cringely has more.

In the past two days there have been a bunch of news stories about what America searches for -- and by extension, what Americans are most interested in. The results are either a) surprising, ii) totally predictable, or Z. highly dubious. You be the judge.

First, the surprising. It seems that Americans are now more interested in social networks than pornography. No, that is not a typo. Reuters quotes Hitwise general manager Bill Tancer, who clearly knows a thing or two about flogging his new book ("Click: What Millions of People are Doing Online and Why It Matters," available at an online bookstore near you).

To wit:

[Tancer] said surfing for porn had dropped to about 10 percent of searches from 20 percent a decade ago, and the hottest Internet searches now are for social networking sites.

"As social networking traffic has increased, visits to porn sites have decreased," said Tancer, [who] indicated that the 18-24 year old age group particularly was searching less for porn.

I'm guessing Tancer has not visited many social networks, or that all his Facebook friends are old farts. Because when you're age 18 to 24, social networks ARE pornography. In fact, they're better. Have you seen some of those profiles? Two words: humena humena.

Next up, the predictable. Hitwise also measures the most popular searches for political terms. You can guess which lipstick-wearing pitbull of a hockey mom tops the charts there. Per the Washington Post:

... in her first two days in the national spotlight, US Internet searches on all things Palin -- her photos, her biography, her family, anything -- outnumbered any other politician in the past three years, says, which also monitors Web data. In many cases, her name was searched alongside the word "hot."

I'm guessing that also includes searches for Palin's head photo-shopped onto various nude or bikini-clad models.

Does that qualify as porn? If so, I think Tancer needs to revisit his conclusions about social nets.

So is search really a good indicator of what people are thinking about? Here's what else Tancer had to say about search terms:

...elbows, belly button lint and ceiling fans are on the list of people's top fears alongside social intimacy and rejection.

And you know what? He nailed it. My biggest single fear in life is that I'll bang my elbow on a ceiling fan, dislodging belly button lint from my navel and costing me opportunities at social intimacy. Amazing.

Then again, maybe he's just trying to sell books. And maybe this is a sign we all should pull our noses away from Google for five minutes and do something else -- go for a walk, have coffee with a fellow human, hunt a caribou, or heck, buy a dirty magazine. At least that way you'd get some exercise flipping the pages.

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Robert X. Cringely

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