Research highlight

Information theory: Strong economies ask Google about the future

Scientific Reports

April 6, 2012

Internet users from countries with a higher per capita gross domestic product (GDP) are more likely to search for information about years in the future than years in the past, a quantitative analysis of Google search queries indicates. The findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports this week, suggest there may be a link between online behaviour and real-world economic indicators.

As use of the Internet and other technological systems grows, increasingly large amounts of data are being generated, the empirical analysis of which can provide insights into real-world social phenomena, from influenza epidemics to stock market trading volumes. Tobias Preis, Helen Susannah Moat, H. Eugene Stanley and Steven R. Bishop examined Google search queries made by Internet users in 45 different countries in 2010 and calculated the ratio of the volume of searches for the coming year (‘2011’) to the volume of searches for the previous year (‘2009’), which they call the ‘future orientation index’. They compared the future orientation index to the per capita GDP of each country and found a strong tendency for countries in which Google users enquire more about the future to exhibit a higher GDP.

The results hint that there may potentially be a relationship between the economic success of a country and the information-seeking behaviour of its citizens online.

doi: 10.1038/srep00350

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