Happenings, News

Google Trends: Searching for God and Methodists

HAVE you ever wondered what people are looking for when they go online?

Google Trends, a service launched by Google in May 2006, answers just that question.

Google receives 200 million searches a day in 89 languages from all over the world.

Some people have called Google “the closest thing the Web has to an ultimate answer machine”. It is hard to refute that the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California has its finger on the pulse of the technologically advanced world.

Curious, I went to www.google.com/ trends and typed in the word “Methodist” to find out which country generated the most searches for the Methodists as a proportion of its total number of searches. Lo and behold, it was – Singapore.

I was baffled. How can a nation with 33,000 Methodist members in a country of 4 million generate such a large percentage of searches? What is our 33,000 compared with the United States’ 8.6 million, or South Korea’s 1.5 million? (See Chart 1 above).

I was repeating the analysis to make sure that it was not a fluke when it dawned on me that 33,000 was the wrong number to focus on. The Methodist community is much larger than our membership. Our academic Methodist schools alone accout for 22,000 students, 1,000 teachers, and if you consider the parents a vital part of the school, 44,000 parents. Add all of that to 33,000 and you get a cool 100,000.

And this does not include our kindergartens, nursing homes, family service centres, community outreach programmes, bursary schemes, etc.

But how does the search for “Methodists” compare with the search for Christianity and other religions in Singapore?

Google Trends allows you to compare search terms with one another, so I typed in “Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Methodist”, chose “Singapore” under the region tab, and it churned out the chart below (Chart 2).

The number of searches for “Christian” is approximately three times the number of any of the other searches, except for a spike in searches for “Muslim” in the beginning of 2006.

On a roll now, I typed in quick succession: “God”, “love”, “meaning of life”, “ghost”, “casino”, and many others.

Singapore comes in third in the world in our search for God, and second in the world in the search for “love”!

The fact is that you can read anything you want into these results. If anything, I learned one thing from Google Trends: the Methodist community is much larger than the 33,000 members on paper.

Goh Li-Ern is the Researcher with The Bishop’s Office.