I was recently reminded that almost everyone who is literate and has access to a computer and Internet connection has used Google to find something of interest to them.
The way I was reminded of that was from Google Analytics which gives me feedback on this blog. Over a period of a few days I witnessed a curious rise in the number of hits on a tongue-in-cheek description of a faux energy company (Cosmic Capacity Corporation) that purportedly sells personal black holes.
Typically, the draw of a sample of my dry humor is low. So why should there be a rapid uptick in interest?
Well, I’m just as mindful of national security as the next person, so as I witnessed the first wave of unexpected interest my thoughts were that bad people were trying to expand their knowledge of potentially dangerous devices. After all, anything that could make most anything disappear, and if detected, evaporate itself beyond all trace of detectability must be of interest to criminals.
But whoever they were, they weren’t stupid: they caught on quickly that the posting was a ruse. Stay time was approximately 30 sec.
However, over the period of a week, the numbers continued rising, and then fell just as quickly back to their normal near-dormancy levels. Something strange was going on.
The limited data I have points to a total of 333 hits occurring with an approximately Gaussian (normal, Bell-shaped curve) frequency between January 21 and 27.
With that realization, I may have now solved the mystery. When I looked at the timing and shape of the rise and fall, a memory was triggered of college student life.
I have no way of knowing if this is true, but let’s assume that on Monday the 21st, over 300 students attended the first of the week’s Monday, Wednesday, Friday classes on introductory science in a large University. The lecture hall was packed when the professor announced that a paper on Personal Black Holes was due on Monday week.
On that day (Monday) ten students hit Google and immediately found my blog posting on Personal Black Holes. The next day 25 students hit the site followed on Wednesday (perhaps encouraged by a reminder in class) and Thursday by a much larger group of students. On Friday, 35 procrastinators did the same thing.
I don’t think I would be wrong to suggest that after a Friday night spent in college recreation, Saturday was a day of hangovers and recovery. (Yes, I am speaking from personal experience.) No one hit my site on Saturday, and I imagine the majority were resting, or perhaps writing.
On Sunday, it appears that three late-bloomers hit the site, and the rest were preparing their paper for Monday.
Early Monday morning, one desperate procrastinator hit the site. I can just imagine the student screaming, “You have got to be kidding! This is a joke?”
Yes, it was a joke, a fact the average student figured out in 39 seconds before moving on.
Government and industry is constantly pressing for metrics, ways to measure business success other than from sales. The problem with metrics is that figuring out what to do with the numbers is not always obvious . What do they represent?
Since my site is not a business, and does not earn me a cent, I normally pay no attention to its metrics. However, this time, after moving beyond my initial alarm, I felt that I might be gaining insight into the hidden “research” trends of young college students. As a scientist, that intrigues me.
It would be more intriguing if someone discovered that A students were the first to turn to Google for answers. I’m sure Google would find that satisfying.
It could of course be just the opposite. Perhaps top students hit the library first and then follow up with Google search as a last check. Actually, that result would surprise me, but arguably it cannot be ruled out.
Lastly, it could be that my college class hypothesis is completely wrong. It could be that Chechen rebels were exploring ways to solve their political/military problem, but somehow I doubt it.
As we scientists are trained to say, more research is needed.