Google tool tracks hot Web Search trends

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What’s hot and what’s not on the Web?

Answering that isn’t always easy, as preferences of surfers are dynamic, changing every so quickly.

However, trend trackers can now use a new software tool developed by Google Inc. to identify what online visitors are looking for.

The tool monitors the most popular search queries on the Internet.

Launched earlier this week, Hot Trends is a new feature of the Google Trend report.

“Hot Trends is Google’s newest tool for users who want to keep their finger on the pulse of what the world is searching for,” Google said in the statement.

It said results for each Hot Trends report will include information from the associated Google News, blog searches and Google Web search results, putting the information in context for users.

Hot Trends enables users to view a list of current top 100 fastest rising Google search queries in the U.S. It also allows users to specify dates to discover what the top searches were on a particular day.

Canadian technology experts are split on whether the new application has any value beyond its novelty.

While an e-commerce expert believes Hot Trends can serve as a valuable marketing tool, another IT analyst sees the product as an entertaining diversion.

“I think it will be very popular for consumers for its entertainment value,” says George Goodall, analyst at research firm Info-Tech Research Inc., in London, Ont.

He said Google’s new offering will probably share the limelight with sites such as Slashdot.org , which bills itself as a purveyor of “news for nerds” and Digg , a community-based popularity Web site that focuses on technology and science.

Goodall said traditional trend-tracking firms and research organizations won’t be replaced by Hot Trends, mainly because of the product’s unique characteristics.

Unlike Zeitgeist and Trends which provide Web search information based on weeks-old data, Hot Trends’ information is based on data culled every hour.

That brief time span, would be too short for a manufacturer to launch a product, or for an organization to switch gears on a program, said Goodall.

Another IT industry expert doubts if any group would even consider responding to such a “fleeting” snapshot of people’s Web search habits.

“Does it make sense to link a product or a strategy to a search result that lasts only an hour?” asks Catherine Middleton, associate professor of IT management at Ryerson University in Toronto.

She said marketing firms will probably not want to respond to something that changes so quickly. “Are what we’re seeing (on Hot Trends) real trends or merely blips and point-by-point data?”

Middleton is also “not entirely sure if the data provided by Hot Tends is useful.”

For instance, on the product’s “Hotness” chart, Kassie DePaiva, one of the actresses in the daytime TV soap opera One Life to Live, was ranked as “on fire.”

Hong Kong tycoon Joseph Lau Luen-Hung was listed as “volcanic” and Harry Belafonte’s daughter Shari was “spicy”.

Another professor, however, believes Hot Trends will be a valuable tool for marketing firms that employ time-sensitive pricing strategies or organizations that require up-to-the-minute updates on “hot button” issues.

In recent years, firms have been unloading their mass-marketing strategies for a more precisely targeted market segmentation approach, according to Tim Richardson, professor of e-commerce and international business at Seneca College and the University of Toronto.

Hot Trends, Richardson said, could be the ideal tool for companies looking for a “blow-by-blow” report on consumer preferences and how they are affected by various factors.

As an example, he said, buying habits could be swayed by events such as catastrophes, storms, riots or wars. “Some companies might be able to use a tool such as Hot Trends to help them decide on how to price or package products and services appropriately.”

Richardson also thinks polling firms and political organizations might find Hot Trends useful in gauging public sentiment over a current topic.

“Some Hot Trend searches appear banal right now, but with the U.S. presidential and Canadian federal elections coming up, it will be interesting to see what searches will be recorded.”

Richardson pointed to other Google products – which initially appeared to serve no purpose beyond their entertainment appeal, but later proved useful for other purposes.

“Google Images, Google Maps and Google Earth were viewed as toys until people found out ways to use these tools to enhance business offerings.”

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