You Can Observe a Lot by Watching the Lycos 50

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies 2002 Conference, March 4-5, Boston, MA.

According to Yogi Berra, "You can observe a lot by watching."

Aaron Schatz, a former disc jockey and market research analyst, has taken Yogi´s advice to heart. Schatz writes The Lycos 50, an authoritative weekly list of the top 50 people, places and things users are searching for on the Web.

As the resident Sultan of Search, Schatz has been watching what users are searching for on Terra Lycos since October 2000. By studying some 12 million queries a day (which average 2.3 words apiece), he can observe a lot of trends before the mainstream media spots them.

Following his keynote at Search Engine Strategies 2002 (see yesterday's SearchDay), I asked to forecast what would be hot in the future. Here are some of his observations.

  • Hot Movies in Summer 2002: Schatz knew more than a year in advance that "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer´s Stone" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" would be big blockbusters. Last summer, Schatz accurately predicted that "The Fast and the Furious" would be the year´s big sleeper.

    This year, he already knows that "Spiderman" (in theaters May 3, 2002) and "Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones" (in theaters May 16, 2002) and will be summer blockbusters and that "The Scorpion King" will likely be a bomb. But he can´t track "XXX" staring Vin Diesel (from "The Fast and the Furious"). There are too many searches for prurient content that use the same term.

  • NFL Football in Fall 2002: According to Schatz, NFL football is the most popular sport online. While searches spike every fall, driven by fantasy leagues and office pools, the NFL ranked #21 in The Lycos 50 during the week of the Search Engine Strategies conference (March 4th), as people continued searching through the results of the recent expansion draft.

    While there are some exceptions, athletes are less popular than teams. While the NFL is the biggest sport online over an entire year, the NCAA Tournament is by far the biggest single event, bigger even than the Super Bowl. However, Schatz is completely dumbfounded by the high number of searches for what he calls "the tournament of losers," the NIT. Are people gambling on this, too?

  • Long-term trends: Based on their fast growing search popularity, Schatz is able to predict other pop culture phenomenon. Searches for boy bands and country music have dropped off. Christmas shopping starts in September. Tax season starts on January 1st. When interest rates drop, there are more mortgage-related searches.

    Schatz has also noticed "a news story that involves a video or pictures unavailable offline will often make the Lycos 50 easier than a story that involves no such media. Some examples include searches for the Dale Earnhardt crash last February, searches for pitcher Randy Johnson hitting a bird with a pitch last March, and the Chu Mei-Feng sex scandal tape."

Want to keep up with the next big thing? Each Tuesday morning, you can observe a lot by watching The Lycos 50.

The Lycos 50
http://50.lycos.com

Search Engine Intelligence from the Lycos 50
http://sewatch.com/searchday/02/0507-seskeynote.html
Search Engine Strategies keynote speaker Aaron Schatz entertained and enlightened attendees with the "trends of American culture" he observes as keeper of the Lycos 50 most popular search terms. See yesterday's edition of SearchDay for the full story.

Greg Jarboe is the Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Backbone Media <http://www.backbonemedia.com>.

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