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What’s the Buzz about? An empirical examination of Search on Yahoo! (04 Jan 2005)
The Yahoo Buzz Index displays a "winner–take–all" structure. A few terms dominate by showing up for many weeks. American society seems to be consistently interested in entertainment, scandal and sports, so searches on these topics are frequent. We also conclude that users are not necessarily making use of Yahoo for academic or research purposes, at least at a frequency to appear in the Index. More commonly, searchers wanted information about topics related to entertainment.

The Yahoo Buzz Index is highly competitive. Serious topics such as "Fallujah" have to compete with terms such as "Britney Spears" to succeed. Yahoo searches appear to be faddish, with the greatest number of searches centered on pop culture. Unexpected, weekly "breakout" events, such as a search for Fallujah or John Ritter, may shoot these search terms to the top of the Index, but they are short–lived. An event in the news or a scandal can shift the public’s short attention span away to searches on new and different personalities or topics. This is the one week of fame for these terms.

The death of Ronald Reagan, on 5 June 2004, provides an interesting case study. This event never made it into the Buzz Index over the next few weeks, while the usual suspects "Britney Spears" and "Jennifer Lopez" continued to make it. Ironically, dead presidents have to compete with pop culture icons in the world of today’s search engines for attention — a commentary in itself on American culture.

When utilizing search engines, we are a culture of voyeurism and escapism — whether it appears in searches for entertainment, scandal, or natural catastrophes. Those individuals that linger on the Buzz Index have a talent for remaining in the public eye, such as J–Lo, Britney Spears or Beyonce. Ironically, Madonna, a master marketer, showed up only four times in our survey, perhaps due to her declining influence with younger audiences. Individuals, more than events, appear heavily on the Index. Individuals are dynamic, while events are more likely to be static. Moreover, today’s celebrities tend to take on a larger–than–life personality that dominates American culture. We can conclude that those individuals who find an interest in the Yahoo Buzz Index tend to be interested in celebrities, rather than meaningful, world–encompassing events.

Our hope is that this research will spur greater interest in how users search online. Future research will certainly include a textual analysis of search terms.
Article URL: http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue10_1/bladow/index.html

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