The recent Baha'is: Forecasts I article here featured data available on the internet in its methodology and the need to study trends as a basis for successful forecasting. What might be learned from Google's marvelous search trend service? Interesting and somewhat unexpected findings are presented and discussed.
Starting with the single search word "baha'i", Google reports insufficient data to apply its analysis technology. However, the word "bahai" yielded results.
Time Trends 2004 to Present
Due to some technical limitations in this shop and the narrow width of text on this web page, the time trend is presented in the following two images, which are parts of one graph horizontally:
The lower graph in the data series, News reference volume, shows various spikes which are most often related to Baha'i news coming out of Iran. Much of this activity probably originates with press releases by Baha'i institutions.
One hypothesis might be that the Volume trend may substantially be a function of the rate at which new Baha'i content is added to the internet. We might reason that if such content is rising rapidly, most searchers, whether Baha'is or others including "seekers", would be more likely to use search engines to discover new content.
The points above labelled A through F by Google correspond to news stories, with A denoting Baha'i-related news in Egypt and B to F, in Iran, respectively. Generally, labelled times A-F on the Search Volume plot correspond to increases or even spikes in the News plot. This may help evaluate the meaning of Search Volume data -- to some extent it relates to the amount of Baha'i-related News in the secular media.
The above data consisting of two variables over time, Volume and News, may be used to construct composite variables defined as some derivative of the two raw input variables. One such variable might be constructed based on Volume minus News to explore the information further, regarding volume increases not associated with secular news, and hence, perhaps indicative of interest in internal events in the Baha'i community not reported in the secular media.
Mysterious 2007 Search Volume Spike
Without mathematically constructing and plotting such a composite variable, what can we note via visual inspection? First, many spikes in Volume seem to be associated with some rise in the News variable. This might be seen as a normal response among Baha'is to search the internet for further information related to a Baha'i news story in the secular media.
Now let us focus on the biggest Volume spike, near the end of the first half of 2007. It might seem strange that the biggest short-term increase in "bahai" search volume over some seven years (2004-2010) is not associated with any noteworthy rise in the News variable. In other words, this search Volume spike may suggest that something happened in the Baha'i community which was of great interest and not reported in the secular news media. What happened?
Could it be the Momen Moment, described by this reporter? Or something else causing an apparent stampede, most probably by Baha'is, to search the internet ... regarding what? More on this theme below.
Baha'i Search by Country
The number one spot of Iran in this data might prompt us to reflect on the interpretation of the Volume data above. Namely, if we suppose that some censorship, perhaps starting in the 2007-2008 period, limited the ability of Google searchers in Iran to look up the "bahai" keyword, it might explain some or even all of the Volume drop seen in the first graphs up to the present. This consideration highlights how wrong data interpretations can be. For example, if this possible censorship factor exists as described and is removed from the data, the Volume trend might appear to be flat or even rising, and lead to very different conclusions.
This country data also brings to mind that Baha'i institutions might strive to make their web pages simple; that is, considering their world-wide audience, and the likelihood that many site visitors may have slow computers or slow internet connections, or both, if web page byte count from image and/or html size is kept as low as possible, the pages will not take forever to load and be viewed.
This is the first venture by the author in Google trend analysis. It may be possible to generate the above graphs excluding certain countries, such as Iran and Israel (mostly Haifa as shown below), to see if this Google tool might be able to screen the data in a way that might reveal trending interest in Baha'i matters by various sub-populations.
In this regard, please note also that only one keyword "bahai" was used. The Google tools are capable of much more detailed trend analysis, including multiple keywords, assuming sufficient sample size is found to document the trend with sufficient confidence in result accuracy.
Baha'i Search by City
Clearly, Baha'i munchkins in Haifa have been very busy on the internet. And they can use this data to show supervisors that they are not just playing computer games all day.
Since the Baha'i World Centre is itself a center of Baha'i information, such as computerized files of Baha'i writings, world-wide administrative information and such, one might wonder what they are searching for. To say the obvious, one searches for information one does not already have. For example, news of activities in Baha'i communities might be of great interest as local press releases become new internet content.
On the other hand, many Baha'is (excluding the author), whatever their membership, and others might see this data as an occasion for a paranoid fit -- make a peep on the internet and your every syllable may be quickly logged at the Baha'i World Centre. Talk about information-gathering power. Can any of the various Baha'i "splinter groups" compare with this? Not a chance, according to the present data at least. Now we know one more factor regarding who the winning horse currently is and no doubt will be going forward.
All else being equal, this search breakdown by city suggests that approximately one half of the big Volume spike in mid-2007, which this report has suggested might reflect an orchestrated publicity event among Baha'is, dubbed as the Momen Moment, most probably came from Baha'is in Israel. Was this just routine monitoring of the action, so to speak? Might it also be consistent with the supposition that some possible liberal conspirators, if they exist, were located at the Baha'i World Centre? Alas, this data will not tell us that, so this remains only as an interesting clue.
On the other hand, the other half of the supposed Momen Moment volume spike in searches was distributed widely around the world. In sum, the observed 2007 Volume spike, if in fact related to the Momen Moment, may partially quantify success of the imagined liberal conspirators described in that report.
As for the remainder of the entire world beyond the Baha'i search traffic in Israel, almost all searchers are located in major cities in Canada (3 cities),Australia (3 cities) and the USA (2 cities).
In conclusion, the analytical tools and the images above graciously provided by Google might be used to further research behavior of Baha'is and perhaps the general public also, with proper data screening, regarding the ever-growing presence of Baha'i material from all corners on the internet.
© 2010 James J Keene