2302: 2020 Google Trends

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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2020 Google Trends
As the 'exotic animals in homemade aprons hosting baking shows' YouTube craze reached its peak in March 2020, Andrew Cuomo announced he was replacing the Statue of Liberty with a bronze pangolin in a chef's hat.
Title text: As the 'exotic animals in homemade aprons hosting baking shows' YouTube craze reached its peak in March 2020, Andrew Cuomo announced he was replacing the Statue of Liberty with a bronze pangolin in a chef's hat.


This comic is another comic in a series of comics related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Randall wants to go back in time to show a 2019 person a Google Trends graph, showing massive spikes in a group of search terms, all around the same time. Some of the terms (flour, webcam, sewing machine) had fairly steady popularity, then rapidly jumped higher. Others (pangolin, Andrew Cuomo) were barely searched for at all until they suddenly became items of intense interest. The joke is that, without context, it would be impossible to guess what caused these simultaneous spikes, and the pattern would seem completely random. A person might guess that there was a single event that drove all of these searches, but it would be difficult to speculate what that might be.

All of these trends are presumably due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Searches for "sewing machine" are likely driven by people trying to make their own cloth face masks, to help contain the spread of the virus, due to an ongoing shortage of professionally made masks. (Ironically, a common search is "how to make mask without sewing machine", so this may be partially driven by a lack of machines).
  • Searches for "Webcam" are likely driven by a massive increase in virtual meetings and video conferencing, as people increasingly work from home and pursue other social distancing strategies.
  • "Andrew Cuomo" was the governor of New York, the state hit hardest by the pandemic in the United States at the time of this comic's publication. He accrued lots of media attention for his (initially praised, but now rather controversial) response to COVID-19. Governor Cuomo (like most state governors) wasn't subject to much national attention before the epidemic, but became something of a household name during the crisis.
  • Searches for "flour" are likely caused by an increase in baking due to people staying at home. This is also referred to in 2296: Sourdough Starter. The searches may be driven by people looking for recipes and baking tips, and it may also be driven by people trying to find flour in the face of local shortages. The little lump at the end of November and December can probably be attributed to people baking for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  • A "pangolin" is a mammal found in Africa and Asia. Pangolins are traditionally little known outside of their natural habitats, with many people in other countries not even aware of their existence (hence the almost total absence of searches at the beginning of the chart). This changed, when it was speculated that SARS-CoV-2 possibly crossed over to humans from wild animals sold in wet markets in Wuhan, China, and pangolins are considered to be one of the most likely sources. This has given the previously obscure creatures a fairly morbid form of global fame and attention.

The title text is a possible "guess" by the 2019 person for these search terms having an increase together: a YouTube craze of exotic animals (which includes pangolins) in homemade aprons (possibly made with the help of sewing machines) hosting baking shows which leads to a response by New York governor Andrew Cuomo. This is not correct.[citation needed]

A recent prior comic that touches on the past's possible views on the present situation from limited information was 2280: 2010 and 2020. In that case, the relative costs of cryptocurrency and hygiene supplies was considered unremarkable by a 2010 person because (unbeknownst to him) the price of both had skyrocketed.


[A line chart plotting the popularity of various search terms from May 2019 through April 2020: sewing machine (blue line), webcam (red), Andrew Cuomo (yellow), flour (green), and pangolin (purple). The yellow line starts at the bottom of the chart and rises about halfway up at the end of March 2020 before decaying to about 20% by the end of April. The purple line starts at the bottom of the chart and has a small lump in February 2020 and a slightly bigger lump in March 2020 before trending back down. The blue line starts at about 10% up the chart and then spikes up to 50% at the beginning of April before decaying to 40% at the end of April. The red line starts at about 20% up the chart, has a small lump in September 2019, and then jumps up to 40% in March 2020 before trending back down. The green line starts at about 30% up the chart, has a small lump in December 2019, and then spikes up to the top of the chart at the end of March 2020.]
[Caption below comic:]
I want to show someone from 2019 this Google Trends graph and watch them try to guess what happened in 2020.

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The graph for US searches for those terms for the past year from Google Trends can be seen here: https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=2019-05-05%202020-05-04&geo=US&q=sewing%20machine,webcam,andrew%20cuomo,flour,pangolin

OK, now I want to see a Google Trends graph for the above exact search! John.Adriaan (talk) 01:00, 5 May 2020 (UTC)
Here is the searches but done by topic instead of exact search (its generally recommended to do it this way) https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=2019-05-05%202020-05-04&geo=US&q=%2Fm%2F0llzx,%2Fm%2F0mynm,%2Fm%2F02pjpd,%2Fm%2F0fkw3,%2Fm%2F0dh5j

Anyone have any idea about the September spike and December bump in webcam searches? 22:49, 4 May 2020 (UTC)

The September spike seems to be due to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Dorian. This can be traced down by google trends when narrowing down the date range and looking at the top search phrases that hint at the Bahamas. 22:52, 4 May 2020 (UTC) --- The hurricane theory seems to agree with a similar spike in mid 2018, days before hurricane Florence https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Florence as seen in https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=2018-08-01%202018-10-01&geo=US&q=webcam. I'd hope webcams would last more than a year...

I agree. There's a spike for webcams every September since 2017, along with a small spike aligning with Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and a spike in October 2018 with Hurricane Michael. 00:03, 5 May 2020 (UTC)

Why is the webcam search profile so different for worldwide vs. US? 23:36, 4 May 2020 (UTC)

Is there a possibility that some of the September Spike in webcams is a (later in years than I'd expect, and surely quashed a bit by smartphones) sudden demand for Family Time with newly departed higher-education students? A modern equivalent remnant of the old September Madness that was at first boosted and then rendered moot by The Eternal September..? (But if it is hurricane season that drives it, and I'm not sure it would be, the fact that (for example) "In Hertford, Hereford, and (not-New) Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen" might explain why it isn't a worldwide driver.) 01:47, 5 May 2020 (UTC)

I would say it is exactly that. A Freshman off to college for the first time, and they and the parents want to make sure they can stay connected. -boB (talk) 20:50, 11 May 2020 (UTC)

RE: All the webcam speculation: There is a spike not due to people buying a webcam, but watching a webcam of the storm surge hitting. Keep in mind that "BEST WEBCAM TO TALK WITH GRANDCHILDREN" and "HURRICANE XYZ WEATHER WEBCAM" both contain the indicated search terms. I'm interpreting the comments above as the first scenario here, instead of the latter. OhFFS (talk) 15:04, 5 May 2020 (UTC)

GOOMHR! (damn, haven't wrote/read that in quite a while) - I was just checking random Google Trends few days ago and wondered what would people from the past think of it. Some examples (both positive and negative trends here): [1] (I especially like the "how to cook" one with its predictive spikes for the past few years). Those are better viewed one by one, instead on a single graph, though. BytEfLUSh (talk) 01:55, 5 May 2020 (UTC)

Also: Why not a paper pangolin, or at least a paper chef's hat? [2] =) BytEfLUSh (talk) 03:44, 5 May 2020 (UTC)
Sorry for spamming, but this is too much fun: [3] [4] BytEfLUSh (talk) 04:29, 5 May 2020 (UTC)
Indeed it is! The pandemic shows up in the google trends for soooo many widely different categories. I had some fun creating several different plots that would be as confusing as possible without the appropriate context: Yeast, China, Netflix, football, cinema; delivery, test, hotel, how to, meeting; tour, bike, flight, alcohol, workout (note how bike and tour are usually correlated but diverge during the lockdowns); office chair, hockey, laptop, furlough, pasta; candle, adopt, barbecue, trip, clapping; restaurant, paris, italy, toilet paper, coffee Rebekka (talk) 06:39, 1 August 2023 (UTC)

Technically there are a few people every year that are indeed from past years: Those that woke up from a long coma. Fabian42 (talk) 09:27, 5 May 2020 (UTC)

A non-coma version can be read in https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52332899 (not from a 2019 perspective; saw the start early this year, but did not realise it hadn't petered out into the expected obscurity). Didn't the Germany/similar version of Big Brother also have to deliberately break the news to the participants? Forgot to look that up, too. 13:37, 5 May 2020 (UTC)

Should the explanation include some reason/event why the peaks begin when they do? Like "Sewing Machine" begins pretty late and I think that corresponds to the CDC changing from telling people "If you're not a healthcare worker, don't bother with masks just keep your distance from people" to "if you have to go out, wear a mask to minimize your chance of spreading the virus". The early rise of flour could be the combined effect of people who are stuck at home doing more baking, and the panic buying clearing out the grocery store shelves. Pangolin rose early and slowly, but dropped off before the end of march; speculation on exactly how the virus started in Wuhan would be more interesting before the virus is in your country, so as it spread the search interest changed over to topics that impact a person directly more than speculation. 12:53, 5 May 2020 (UTC)

IIII is a clock error. 23:12, 8 May 2020 (UTC)

People from China may have guessed it based on pangolin, as it was hit hard by SARS-CoV-1 virus in 2003, and there were already speculations that pangolin or other wild animals sold in markets got the virus and passed it to humans. COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus and pangolins become a suspect again. History rhymes really hard this time. Lamty101 (talk) 08:02, 26 September 2023 (UTC)