How is it possible to tell what the population is thinking at a given point in time? By using a free service called Google Trends. Trends measures how often people search for a given word or phrase.
Here is a graph of the searches for "Wikipedia". Interest rose gradually until summer 2005 when growth started accelerating. The site achieved preeminence in 2007 and 2008. Searches drop off during the holidays, suggesting that Wikipedia tends to be used during work.
Here are the queries for "Ron Paul". The drop in searches after the primary show that he may be having difficulty converting his campaign inertia to long term momentum.
Google Trends delivers what was nearly impossible almost five years ago, a precise time line of the interests of people all over the world.
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