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What are people searching for and where are they looking?

This article appears in the issue March 2008 (100 Companies) [Volume 17, Issue 3]
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Another factoid that comes from this survey is how many distinct searches are launched each hour. We asked that question so that we could determine if the number of searches reported by the media is a real reflection of what is going on today. Our research on the digital marketplace is based on an estimate of number of queries on the Web, because that determines the advertising revenue that fuels the digital marketplace.

Our estimates before this survey were that an average of one to two queries per hour would be a conservative guess. Based on that estimate, we multiplied the number of Internet users by the number of hours of searching and the number of queries per hour, and found that the media estimates, large as they are, represented only one-third of the Web querying activity that was actually happening.

Our original estimate turns out to have also been too low. Participants told us that they were launching more than three queries during each hour that they searched. That seems about right. The number of searches per hour is of particular interest to Web sites that want to monetize their sites with advertising revenue.

Knowledge workers are skilled searchers. It appears that they are using the Web constantly. Savvy administrators who invite outside seekers of information, particularly content providers, should tap this source of additional income.

We’ll be repeating this survey on searching behavior, using multiple sources to get a good cross-section of Web denizens. Our research group tracks technologies and markets associated with creating, managing, finding and analyzing unstructured information. How and where people search for information determines the success and direction of those markets.

But our research is also driven by plain curiosity. Information exchange is an inherently human activity. How do we manage it in an online world that is now global? How do we move human interaction into cyberspace effectively? What kinds of interfaces work? How can we replace that dialogue of "Here’s what I am looking for"—"Did you mean X?" that is so effective in person. This question alone is enough to keep anthropologists and information researchers busy for many decades. 

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