So what IS Google Zeitgeist?


The Google Zeitgeist?

The other day, I ran into this little graffiti while doing a night shooting in Frankfurt with a friend.

On a stone along the bank of the Main river across from the banking quarter, the words “Google: Zeitgeist” were written, which seemed a bit strange, if not to say abstruse!…

A New Google Tool?

My friend and I started to philosophize about the meaning: Google Mail, Google Street View, Google Docs, Google Analytics… there are so many Google products, could this be a new one? What’s its purpose? Create Zeitgeist? Manage Zeitgeist? Track Zeitgeist?

Google itself provides the following definition for Zeitgeist: the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era.

A Google Bomb?

My friend came up with another suggestion: Maybe the artist wanted us to actually go and google the word: Zeitgeist. It might be an easter egg like when you entered “miserable failure” in google a while ago, you ended up finding the White house!

A Social Comment?

With the stone placed exactly opposite to the Skyline of Frankfurt’s banks, we were wondering if the artist was trying to comment on the banks. The graffiti seemed rather fresh, so it might have been painted during the bank bailouts?
It might also be a social commentary on our society in general, strongly relying on Google.

Let Me Google This For You

Sure enough, to find out what’s going on, I googled it later that night.
Turns out, Google Zeitgeist actually IS sort of a product by Google. Or rather a group of them that allows to show certain trends in web research at a certain point or over time.

At the end of each year (and this has been going on since 2001(!)), Google summarizes the aggregated search data, which then kind of gives an idea of what the world has been looking for during the last year. What are people’s questions? What are their concerns?

What’s wrong with this picture?

This archival ABC News report from 2006 shows what is on people’s minds that year, according to Google:

Apparently, the Google Zeitgeist does not quite match what makes the news or generally hits the media – which would be regular indicators of a Zeitgeist. Does that mean gogle is wrong? Or are journalists not hitting people’s nerves when they are reporting on certain issues? That would be a major problem in the business, or would it?

What about the art?

None of this gives us any clue of the artists point of view who painted the stone. It can merely give us ideas on interpretations.

Although I love considering the artist’s point of view, what the person really meant is not significant to me though.

What I do think is important is the fact that this is a manifestation of something unique to the online world that has made it into the offline sphere (assuming the stone doesn’t have Ethernet yet 😉 ).

Why care as a Journalist?

Google and “Google Zeitgeist” have clearly made it into “World Zeitgeist”. The question is which Zeitgeist is influencing which? Will they remain separate or convolute together? Would that mean that searches would have to change? Or would journalists report more on what people are looking for?

I am strongly supporting reader (audience) oriented journalism. But is this the right point of orientation?

As usually, I am leaving with more questions then answers. Maybe you can provide some answers, or just give your opinion? What is the Google Zeitgeist for you?


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