May 4, 2009

Who Controls Language on the Interwebs?

A rose by any new name may be unfindable.

Last week, official Washington began calling the artist formerly known as "swine flu" the "H1N1 flu," as did the World Health Organization. There are very good reasons for this--the virus isn't transmitted by eating pork products, it is hurting the economy, the relationship between pigs and the virus is debatable, it is more accurate to call it by it's scientific name and the government response is based on science, etc. 

That said, people are looking for information on "swine flu" and people are talking about "swine flu." From BlogPulse:

NielsenBlogPulse view of the terms swine flu vs. H1N1, swine is much more popular.The blue line is the trend for the use of the term "swine flu" in blogs, and the orange trends "H1N1." 

Looking at Google Trends, we see that the change in terminology from "swine flu" to H1N1 was picked up and acknowledged in the news (lower graph), but is not having much impact in general web searches (upper graph). This data is for U.S. searches only.

CDC has said that they were going to work on transitioning their online information to H1N1 from swine. That sounds like a good idea, since we wouldn't want a choice of words interrupting people's ability to find critical health information. 

Takeaway? Use data and trends to find out what people are looking for and build web sites and tools according to data. Help people learn the new terms, but remember that once a meme has legs, it's ingrained in the collective and will not be replaced easily.

In the meantime, wash your hands!, and see CDC for up-to-date information on the H1N1 (swine) flu. 

If you want to track what is happening in the blogosphere the Nielsen BlogPulse is a great resource. Book mark it! Also, Google Trends for what people are looking for. Great FREE sources.

1 comment:

  1. Gwynne, I've been taking a wonderful trip through your blog archives and I just wanted to thank you for this post.

    The act of sharing simple (although sophisticated) insights like this is a great way to foster a data-driven, CITIZEN-driven culture within government communicators.


I hope that you will read and comment, ask questions and make suggestions. I just ask that you simply stay on topic, respect other people’s opinions, avoid profanity, offensive statements, illegal content, and other unpleasantries. Since this is my personal blog, I reserve the right to delete any comment.