Mon July 15, 2013
Great, Liberal & Expensive: What Google Autocomplete Says About Austin
Sometimes, what people are searching for on Google is as revealing as the results themselves.
If you’ve used Google, you’re familiar with its autocomplete function – suggestions the search engine makes when you begin entering a search term. According to Google, the autocomplete suggestions reflect the search activity of its users – the terms and questions they are Googling – plus the content of web pages themselves. And what people are searching for often times says a lot about the subject.
In 2012, blogger Renee DiResta created a U.S. map showing the autocomplete terms Google offered for each state when users make a query: autocomplete suggestions like “Why is Texas so awesome?” or “Why is California so liberal?”
Atlanta resident Nate Shivar drilled down further – compiling a list of autocomplete stereotypes about the U.S.’ 50 most populated cities.
So what do people really think about Austin and other Texas cities when they’re searching on Google? Doing our own queries and recording the autocomplete suggestions, the KUT newsroom learned people are asking:
- Why is Austin so liberal
- Why is Austin so expensive
- Why is Austin so great
Conceptions about the Capitol City contrasted with several other Texas cities. Googlers asked why Houston is so populated, cheap, humid and ugly. Autocomplete results for Dallas mirrored those for Houston, with queries asking why is Dallas is so cheap, boring and humid.
Searches for San Antonio revealed similar stereotypes: people wondered why the city was so boring, ghetto and humid. El Paso stood out among other Texas cities, being perceived as particularly safe – a nod to its ranking as the U.S.’ safest large city.
As of this writing, people also want to know why Texas cities are so windy. (That question – "Why is Austin so windy?" – displaced the query in Shivar's original post, "Why is Austin so gay?")
This may not be the first stereotype that comes to mind when considering the Texas climate, but the trend likely results from recent stormy weather conditions. Several factors play into the search suggestions Google generates, including the search language, freshness of the topics, and the location of the searcher. And although it can take a few days or weeks for a term to show up in search suggestions, Google updates its autocomplete results frequently.
The Atlantic Cities blog has more about Google’s autocomplete stereotypes.