Search in the City

Saturday, January 1, 2011
By Sharad Goel

To ring in the new year, let me entertain you with some visually appealing but ultimately content-deficient graphs (i.e., infoporn). Hopefully the eye-candy will knock you into a sugar coma deep enough to prevent you from questioning the point of these plots and let you simply enjoy the moment. The topic: top web searches in 2010 by city. The medium: the wordle.

The two word clouds below show the top 500 search queries on Yahoo during 2010 in New York and Los Angeles, respectively. (Technically, they represent the New York and Los Angeles CBSAs.) The most popular queries are pretty much the same in every city: “facebook”, “yahoo”, “google”, etc. To highlight the intercity variation, each query is sized according to the proportion of country-wide issues of the query generated by the city. For example, since 9 out of 10 searches for “lirr” (the Long Island Railroad) originate in New York, compared to 2 out of 10 searches for “derek jeter”, the former is drawn relatively larger.

While such graphs are not particularly useful for conveying information, they do, as Andrew Gelman has observed, evoke an enjoyable puzzle-solving feeling. So in the spirit of data-driven revelry, I leave you with the full-blown version!

Happy New Year!

N.B. My descent into the underworld of infoporn was instigated by Jake Hofman, who in a recent talk shamelessly presented this crowd-pleasing slide while announcing, “this has no scientific value—it’s just for fun!”

Illustration by Kelly Savage

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