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Kiss and tell
Defining a nation's collective consciousness is a difficult task. For years, researchers have struggled to collate and find a pattern in data that would help classify a people. In recent years, statisticians have taken recourse to the web;studying online queries, quests and habits - tracing digital footprints to find some sort of definition.
For some time now, to that same end, Google - the holder of one of the largest online repositories of such data - has been releasing its lists culled from billions of search queries from all over the world.
The zeitgeist (German for "the spirit of times" ) that the search giant releases every December comprises these individual lists. The data is not empirical and it does not represent a large majority of people (especially in a country like India where many people have not even heard of the internet), but it provides a reasonable idea of what captured the people's imagination in the year that was.
For this country of ours, this year's zeitgeist throws up some surprising, and then, some not so surprising facts. It displays a dichotomous nation that is so pronounced in its divide, yet so united in the way it thinks...
HAZARE TAKES ON BOLLYWOOD
If there's one thing that unites the people in this country, it has got to be its demigods and -goddesses from Bollywood and its centurions from cricket. No wonder then that film actors were the most-searched celebrities by Indians with Katrina Kaif taking top spot. Sachin Tendulkar, the only cricketer to feature in the people list, took seventh position.
When it came to 'fastest rising people in search', a certain Anna Hazare took pole position. Poonam Pandey, a model virtually unknown in 2010, made it to the same list at number two purely on her offer to strip to her birthday suit if the Indian cricket team won the World Cup. India won. Pandey won. The people who sought her on the internet, ultimately had to satisfy themselves with a few saucy pictures and promises of more to come.
Apple's Steve Jobs posthumously squeezed in at the number three spot and was followed on the charts by Band Baja Baraat's Anushka Sharma, Dabangg Salman Khan, teeny-bopper Justin Bieber, Singham's Kajal Agarwal (more popular in Tamil cinema), Barbie doll Katrina Kaif, Kingfisher Vijay Mallya and Bollywood's first lady Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan.
Expectedly - and probably a little worrisome for the netas - none of our politicians found any mention in either the 'fastest rising people in search' or the 'most popular people in search' lists.
Bollywood's popularity was also reflected in the number searches for Songs. pk, a Pakistan-based web site that allows people to illegally download Hindi film songs. This site's popularity across India should act both as an alarm as well as a sign of opportunity for the recording industry in the country. Alarm because a huge number of people are downloading songs illegally;and opportunity because these people are prospective consumers if someone can provide digital songs at an affordable rate.
FRIENDS & FAMILY FIRST
Other than celebrities, India - at least the part that connects to the web - can't get Facebook out of its mind. The social networking site was not only the 'fastest-rising search' string on Google in 2011, but it was also the 'top search' string for all 16 cities in India for which data is available.
In fact, communication is still a primary reason why people in India are using the web. According to Google data, most Indians are either seeking social interactions on the net or a service on which they can set up an e-mail account.
The fact that mobiles are popular with Indians (we have over 800 million cellphones according to latest TRAI report) is reflected in the exponentially large number of search queries that were made for 'way2sms', a service that allows people to SMS to any cell phone number through the web site "for free".
BHARAT VS INDIA
At first glance, there is little difference in the kind of information a netizen in Delhi seeks when compared to someone in, for instance, Mysore. Facebook, YouTube, Indian Railways, Songs. pk are prominent search queries in the four metros as well as 12 other cities like Patna, Bhubaneswar, Jaipur and Bhopal. But if the list is expanded to 20 search strings, a few patterns emerge. People in smaller towns are often looking for information on universities and education options. IGNOU, Gujarat University, Kerala University and Anna University find a mention here. People in smaller cities also spend more time looking for jobs or better career opportunities. They also tend to look for localised information. For example, news web sites and portals offering content in local languages like Hindi and Tamil feature prominently in the list of top searches for smaller cities. The data also reflects the lifestyle divide, with search queries related to travel and lodging featuring prominently in the data collected from Delhi and Mumbai. Banking, loans and financial management were also on the minds of people in the metropolises.
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