Early feedback on a new feature for Google Trends is split down the middle. Some analysts see Hot Trends as a valuable tool that lets users view a list of the current top 100 fastest-rising Google search queries in the U.S. Others see it as a gimmick.
Google launched Hot Trends on Monday night. In addition to tracking the most popular searches in real-time, the tool lets users select specific dates to see what the top-rising searches were at any given point in time. It's an evolving concept that Google believes is ready for prime time.
"What's on our collective mind as we search for information? What's interesting to people right now? Hot Trends will tell you. At a glance, you'll see the huge variety of topics capturing our attention, from current events to daily crossword puzzle clues to the latest celebrity gossip," Google software engineer Corey Vickrey wrote on the company blog.
Google has produced a manually compiled list of popular searches, called Google Zeitgeist, for more than six years. More recently, the search king launched Google Trends to show the popularity of search terms in relation to each other over time.
Hot Trends takes this list to a new level, Google said, by providing an up-to-date snapshot of what's on our collective mind, as Vickrey put it. Here's how it works: For each Hot Trends result, the associated Google News, blog searches, and Google Web search results appear, offering users more context for each result.
For example, the No. 2 Hot Trends result on Tuesday, May 15, was a cryptic phrase: "I who have nothing." The associated news articles and blog results showed that this is in fact the title of a song that was performed on American Idol that night. And the associated Web search results reveal this was originally a song made popular by Shirley Bassey. Mystery solved.
"Hot Trends aren't the search terms people look for most often -- those are pretty predictable, like weather or games or perhaps MySpace. Yes, sex too. Instead, the Hot Trends algorithm analyzes millions of searches to find those that are deviating the most relative to their past traffic. And the outcome is the Hot Trends list," Vickrey wrote.
The Google Hot Trends tool captures a growing trend in social search and analytics evolution, according to John Lovett, an analyst at Aberdeen Group. Google said that its hope was that people would find this tool entertaining and interesting, yet Lovett sees some usefulness in the business arena.
"The concept of tapping into the social capabilities of search can bring real business value to companies in the form of identifying merchandising opportunities, producing relevant content, and creating highly trafficked sites," Lovett noted. Aberdeen's research shows that 38 percent of companies surveyed are currently using analytics data mined from search to apply collective knowledge to improve the accuracy of their results. Google's data, he explained, can be used to bring hot topics or relevant information to the fore.
Lovett said that especially for media sites, the ability to deliver content in real-time is critical to capturing breaking news and ensuring that end-users are benefiting from the interest of others. At this time, 23 percent of companies Aberdeen surveyed are using Web analytics to deliver dynamic content in this type of automated manner. Yet this number will grow as an additional 50 percent of respondents plan to implement this practice within the near future, Aberdeen predicted.
Beyond Hot Trends, there are a few other new changes to Google Trends to make it more informative and user-friendly, the company said. Now, in addition being able to view the top countries and cities that searched for a term, users can view the top "sub regions," such as states within the U.S., across more than 70 countries. Users now can compare the leading presidential candidates around the country, for instance.
With the release of Hot Trends, Google is retiring the weekly Zeitgest list, but Vickrey said the search firm still will compile monthly lists for each country, and will continue its annual year-end roll-ups. Hot Trends is currently available only in English, but the company said it hopes to release international versions in the future.