Tag Archives: Google

Seeing Climate Change through Google Search

We recently released a project in collaboration with some brilliant folks at Google Trends and WebGL extraordinaire Michael Chang. Google Trends, based on Google Search data, takes searches (terms and queries) and shows how often that search is entered compared to the total search volume across various regions of the world. These outputs can also be seen as time series data since 2004 and the search’s related terms or topics.

Big Data Snapshot

When Simon Rogers approached us earlier this summer and asked if we’d be interested in a complex project with a lot of moving parts and unpredictability on a short timeline— we said yes. Google Trends wanted to create an experience based on Climate Change queries to unveil their new API to the public at the GEN Summit conference in Barcelona.

The Global Editors Network (GEN) is a community of editors and innovators dedicated to creating programs in order to reward, encourage and provide opportunities for media organizations and journalists in the digital newsroom. GEN Summit is an annual conference that brings together the “leading minds of the media industry to discuss the future of news” and showcase some of the innovations being made in the space.

So, a slightly different audience than we are used to. How could we create an interactive experience geared toward journalists? How could we layer billions of searches from all over the globe and add some visual flare all the while respecting journalism’s obligation to inform clearly?

The data from Google Trends is anonymized, aggregated and normalized, allowing reporters to find and compare salient points in worldly matters. We compiled a list of related topics to climate change searches (like Drinking Water, Air Pollution and Wildlife) and we compared the quantitative data (volume of searches over time) with the major cities of the world to see how ‘important’ topics were in these places. We also had really interesting qualitative data: the literal queries entered into the search field.

Query Data Large Snapshot

New York

While the detailed data on small towns and volume of searches in major cities were really interesting, these queries were the home run, so to speak. In caring about the civic health of our cities and nations, journalists would have the potential to identify some of the trending questions before major issues bubble to the surface without a proper platform to debate them.

Our final interactive experience is a linked experience between a multi-touch wall and four Chromebook Pixels.

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The multi-touch wall shows queries popping up as the globe spins. Using real data, the piece simulates the activity of users constantly querying Google on our eight topics around global warming. The Chromebook Pixels allowed users to dive into some of the more qualitative data and excerpts of recent publications on topics in these major cities and towns around the world.

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As expected, we were prototyping and tweaking visual and interaction design daily during the final two weeks leading up to the GEN. All our work paid off though, and the Summit went smoothly and the piece was well received. Thanks to our collaboration with Chang, another version of the Chrome Experiment of the multitouch wall was showcased a few days later in New York City.

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See the project here.
You can also read the write up about the project in the Washington Post here.