2126: Google Trends Maps

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Google Trends Maps
It's early 2020. The entire country is gripped with Marco Rubio fever except for Alaska, which is freaking out. You're frantically studying up on etiquette and/or sexting.
Title text: It's early 2020. The entire country is gripped with Marco Rubio fever except for Alaska, which is freaking out. You're frantically studying up on etiquette and/or sexting.


Google Trends is a website for visualizing Google search activity by date and region. Used properly, it can give a picture of what topics people are interested in (as evidenced by what they search for) at particular times and in different places. Used improperly, it can simply amplify random noise.

Randall has created several Google Trends maps of search activity in the US. Each map colors in states according to which of two (or more) search queries was more popular. As noted at the top of the comic, all of these based on real queries (though not reflecting the same time period across all maps). However, none of them seem to show any especially useful comparisons. States in gray did not return enough data for Google Trends to consider it significant.

  • "Frostbite" vs "heat stroke": This is probably the most sensible comparison of the lot, showing which of these two risks of exposure people search up more often. However, the results are fairly obvious: in the colder northern and eastern states, "frostbite" is the more common search, while across the south and west, it's "heat stroke". In the map, a tiny part of North Carolina (specifically on the Outer Banks) is miscolored red compared to the rest of the state being blue.
  • "Best church" vs "best strip club": This map would seem to indicate people in Nevada (and only in Nevada) are more interested in strip clubs than religion. This may have something to do with the fact that Las Vegas is in Nevada.
  • "Bigfoot" vs "Mike Pence": Apparently, everywhere except for Indiana, people in the US are more interested in a mythical hairy creature than in the current (at the time of this comic's release) Vice President of the United States. Since Mike Pence was once the governor of Indiana, this makes more sense if the time period covered precedes his nomination as Trump's running mate.
  • "Etiquette" vs "sexting": Similar to the church/strip club example, this map contrasts search interest in polite behavior (etiquette) against risqué behavior (sexting).
  • "Little dog" vs "big cat": The Trend map contrasts two searches for either oddly-sized pets (in particular, "little dog" probably refers to small domestic dog breeds such as the Chihuahua; "big cat" could refer to large domestic cat breeds such as the Maine Coone, but is somewhat more likely to refer to large wildcat species) or unidentified and briefly glimpsed wildlife that often snatch household pets left outside. The smallest canid in the wilds of America is the kit fox, Vulpes macrotis, which is smaller than the American wild dog, Canis lupus familiaris. By contrast, "big cat" is a term for the largest members of the cat family (Felidae). Except for the jaguar, which is a roaring cat of the Panthera genus that inhabits Mexico and sometimes Arizona, the largest wild cat in North America is the mountain lion, Puma concolor. It is also known as cougar, puma, catamount, ghost cat, over seventy other regional names, and the misnomer panther. (The cougar is ironically of the Felinae subfamily, all of which purr, and not Pantherinae, which roar. Black panthers in Africa are black-coated leopards, while black panthers in the Americas are black-coated jaguars, and both are Pantherinae. No black-coated pumas have been verified, leading zoologists to believe such sightings are misidentified.) "Little Dog" is also a Canadian television series, set in Newfoundland and Labrador, which explains the larger number of searches for Little Dog in Maine, the state closest to Newfoundland and Labrador. Interestingly, there mainly seems to be an inverse relationship between the range of coyotes and cougars and the respective searches.
  • "Shark attack" vs "childbirth": While both of these things might be considered risky, there is not much of a relationship between them. As might be expected, the "shark attack" search is more common in most coastal states (and, for some reason, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Nevada, despite being landlocked). Just like Frostbite vs. heat stroke, a tiny part of North Carolina is miscoloured.
  • "Snakes" vs "ants" vs "bees" vs "alligators": These are all dangerous animals that cause occasional human fatalities (mainly from allergic reactions for ants and bees). There is no noticeable pattern in which animal is searched most often, though only Florida has alligators as the most common search of the four. Florida presumably has Alligators as the most searched item on this list as it is where the Everglades are located, a vast area of swamp and marsh that, aside from maintaining the ecosystem and the water supply of Florida, also is home to an obscene number of alligators. This may also be a reference to comic #1845, as Randall yet again chose a map embedding that draws attention to (and arguably makes fun of) Florida. The search volume for bees in Utah may be erroneous because Salt Lake City is home to the minor league baseball team "The Bees" and thus Utah would have a large number of searches looking for the baseball team rather than the animal.
  • "Retirement planning" vs "bungee jumping": The implication here is that people in some states are more concerned with short-term fun rather than long-term planning. The contrast is more striking since bungee jumping is a potentially dangerous activity and people practicing it might be seen as likely to die young enough not to need a retirement plan. Bungee jumping is actually a quite safe activity, due to most operators following rigorous safety procedures, but habitual thrill-seekers may then end up putting themselves at greater risks in other ways.
  • "Super Bowl" vs "funeral home": This is an attempt to contrast interest in a popular sports (and media) event against a rather somber topic.
  • "Resume tips" vs "skateboard tricks": Another comparison between learning a "serious", goal-oriented skill (career advancement) and a "silly", fun skill (skateboarding). It is also an imperfect rhyme. Interestingly, of the states with enough data for a result, only Arizona had more hits for "skateboard tricks".
  • "Donald Trump" vs "What do I do": The implication here seems to be that people in some states are more likely to ask Google "what do I do?", either in panic or in ignorance, than they are to look up the latest doings of the US President. The split shown is not too different from the actual split between states voting for Donald Trump and for his opponent, Hillary Clinton, with the implication that states that tended to vote against Donald Trump being more likely to search for information about him than resort to the more existential query. This may be regardless of personal ideology, in either case, as both supporters and detractors will have their own reasons to follow their respective state's trend; boiled down to this intentionally simplified view, it leaves the reasoning fully open to individual interpretation.
  • "Existential crisis" vs "Marco Rubio": Senator Marco Rubio was a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Everywhere but Alaska, people were more likely to look up his name than to search for "existential crisis". This may be due to Cabin Fever, which is common in Alaska due to the long, dark winters and frequent isolation.

The title text uses two of these maps to paint a picture of the year 2020 (implying that these search patterns are both meaningful and likely to continue into the future). In this scenario, most of the country continues to read about Marco Rubio (except for Alaskans, still searching for help with their existential crises), and individuals are trying to learn about etiquette, sexting, or both, depending on their location.


The least informative
Google Trends Maps
I've created over the years
(All are real but not all cover the same date range)
[12 maps of the United States are shown with the states colored. There are labels for the colors.]
[Map 1]
[Blue:] Frostbite
[Red:] Heat stroke
[Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Washington are red. All other states are blue.]
[Map 2]
[Blue:] Best church
[Red:] Best strip club
[Nevada is red. Alaska, North Dakota, and Wyoming are gray. All other states are blue.]
[Map 3]
[Blue:] Bigfoot
[Red:] Mike Pence
[Indiana is red. All other states are blue.]
[Map 4]
[Blue:] Etiquette
[Red:] Sexting
[Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, and West Virginia are red. All other states are blue.]
[Map 5]
[Blue:] Little dog
[Red:] Big cat
[Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming are blue. All other states are red.]
[Map 6]
[Blue:] Shark attack
[Red:] Childbirth
[California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia are blue. All other states are red.]
[Map 7]
[Blue:] Snakes
[Red:] Ants
[Yellow:] Bees
[Green:] Alligators
[Florida is green. Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are red. Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming are yellow. All other states are blue.]
[Map 8]
[Blue:] Retirement planning
[Red:] Bungee jumping
[Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming are gray. Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin are blue. All other states are red.]
[Map 9]
[Blue:] Super Bowl
[Red:] Funeral home
[Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, and Washington are blue. All other states are red.]
[Map 10]
[Blue:] Resume tips
[Red:] Skateboard tricks
[Arizona is red. Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming are gray. All other states are blue.]
[Map 11]
[Blue:] Donald Trump
[Red:] What do I do
[California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin are blue. All other states are red.]
[Map 12]
[Blue:] Existential crisis
[Red:] Marco Rubio
[Alaska is blue. All other states are red.]

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I'm not quite sure I understand the comic. And no, the irony of saying that on a wiki dedicated to explaining them is not lost on me. Do the maps show which word/phrase is more common in google in each state by comparing only the options to each other or where they actually the top searched words/phrases at some point in time? 10:28, 20 March 2019 (UTC)

Pretty sure they're all top searched words/phrases in some states at some point in the past. It's just that Randall has merged maps from different time periods. For example in the first map, "heat stroke" and "frostbite" are two real results, but the former is likely a result that appeared in summer, while the latter is likely one that appeared in winter. By merging the two maps you get a map that doesn't make sense, as it looks like they were the top searches in the same time period while in reality they weren't. Herobrine (talk) 11:04, 20 March 2019 (UTC)
I think that Randall is just clarifying that each map may be showing trends for a different time range (otherwise people might try to compare the maps to each other, which isn't the point of the comic). I don't think he's saying that the individual results in each map are from different time ranges. Hawthorn (talk) 11:30, 20 March 2019 (UTC)
Yeah, if the results were from different time periods, you could pretty much manipulate them however you want. It would make it much less interesting. Not that statistician don't already manipulate data in any way possible...Linker (talk) 16:51, 20 March 2019 (UTC)

From what it looks like, these are year-long averages. Netherin5 (talk) 12:17, 20 March 2019 (UTC)

Here's one I just made using an example Randall is given: Frostbite VS Heatstroke It does appear to be either using averaging or summing over time to produce a map that is decently similar to Randall's 16:03, 21 March 2019 (UTC) Sam
Randolph's matches the 5 year average exactlyWhereisspike (talk) 21:27, 21 March 2019 (UTC)

Here is an example for the Google Trends on the first example. [1] It looks like he picked last 5 years for that one. There should be a table with links to all of them. 17:48, 20 March 2019 (UTC)

For those that find the actual image to be mysteriously missing, that's because the image source URL is https://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/images/a/ad/google_trends_maps.png , and some ad blockers will silently block it because it looks like a path to advertising images. So maybe turn off your adblocker on this site? 22:37, 20 March 2019 (UTC)

Specifically, uBlock is telling me it matched ad/google_. LegionMammal978 (talk) 20:23, 23 March 2019 (UTC)

Is it just me, or does the sexting graph look like the midwest is "giving it" to the southeast, with Arkansas and Tennessee playing the naughty bits? I wonder if Randall did this intentionally or if I'm just a perv. 01:37, 21 March 2019 (UTC)

I'm pretty sure the best answer to the above is the last line of https://xkcd.com/960/ ;) 04:40, 21 March 2019 (UTC)

I feel like "little dog" is most often entered by people searching for unusually small pets, not people wanting to learn about coyotes (which as far as I know are generally just called coyotes). This would still provide an amusing contrast with "big cats" (either the pet or wild versions). -- 06:46, 21 March 2019 (UTC)

Yes, I agree. People are very unlikely to look up "big cat" for a pet, but many people want or have small dogs as pets. 03:55, 7 March 2020 (UTC)

I've just transcribed the maps by listing which states are in which colour (dammit, I mean "color", I'm trying to use US spellings here). I've left the "incomplete" tag on there, though, because there are things that others might want to review:

  • I only did lists for the color(s) with the fewest states, leaving the longest list as "all other states". This makes it less extensive, but potentially less useful (for, say, searching for a state's name).
  • I wasn't sure whether or not to list the District of Columbia. I'm not sure whether the maps include it or not, and if it is included, it's not easy to tell whether it's blue or gray. The only case where it definitely looks like it's present (because it's a different color to both Maryland and Virginia) is in the "Donald Trump/What do I do" map, where it seems to be red. However, I'm still not certain; it could just be an artifact of Randall's graphics process. (Compare Massachusetts on the same map, where the bit sticking out... Cape Cod? yeah, that... is clearly gray, unlike the rest of the state.) That said, it may be part of the joke that "What do I do" is a popular search in Washington, DC!
  • I'm not American and may have made mistakes in identifying states.

-- Peregrine (talk) 09:57, 21 March 2019 (UTC)

My first thought on Mike Pence and Bigfoot was ... wasn't Mike Pence the one who did "Bigfoot Porn"? But no, that turned out to be the Virginia politician Leslie Cockburn. Still, I wonder whether that brought bigfoot to his mind.

Jensfiederer (talk) 16:55, 21 March 2019 (UTC)

Who’s the Biologist who wrote the Little Dog, Big Cat explanation, because it seems way too scientific and has nothing to do with the TV show OR Coyotes. “That Guy from the Netherlands” (talk) 13:59, 25 March 2019 (UTC)

The Marco Rubio joke seems kinda lost on me. Did he have something to do with Alaskan politics or something? 15:10, 20 November 2019 (UTC)

Surprised about NC on the first map. Of course, both frostbites and heat strokes are possible there (even from my own experience), but the window of opportunity for the latter is a lot longer.