Recap: Yahoo! Search at SXSW

Vera Chan and Brian Theodore presenting during SXSWAt SXSW, Yahoo! senior editor Vera H-C Chan (who, among other duties served as editorial lead for Yahoo! Year in Review), and director of product management-Social/RealTime Brian Theodore (the fearless leader behind Yahoo! Clues), held their session, “Chicken or the Egg: What Search Activity Conveys.”

Here is a snapshot of the information provided during the session:

In addition to telling interesting trends, such as what the most popular Halloween costumes will be, or who might become the next American Idol, search activity can be used in more compelling ways.

For instance, it can be interpreted to foresee trends and develop news stories as billions of searches lend themselves to many narratives. Figuring out the “what-does-it-all-mean” goes beyond declaring the winner in an ever-changing popularity contest, or what’s on top of everyone’s mind day to day. What does the rise in apocalypse-related searches following natural disasters say about our modern society? Are the lookups following Tiger Woods’ story prurient, or are we repeating our ancient fascination with the morality tale? And can search activity project what the masses will decide, even before the masses know themselves?

During the session, Vera and Brian discussed the predictive nature of search and how search can have the power to drive news. By analyzing what people are searching for, societal trends can be determined and some would go as far as to say that search trends can actually predict the future. Analyzing search trends helps us understand the impulses and processes of why people make their choices at that particular moment in time.

For close readers of the Y! Search Blog, the description might sound a tad familiar — straight indeed from “An Insider Look From a Yahoo! Search Trend Spotter.” Brian talked about the care of the how-we-collectively-got-here aspect in the search universe, and Vera probed the relationship between searches and news — and both poked at that larger paradox of Search Intelligence: How the act of searching has in itself become a form of insight; whereas before the goal was information, now the pursuit itself has become a tell-tale heart.

Attendees also enjoyed the Y! Prizes given out for the pop quizzes held throughout the session, such as: What’s one event Americans might be attending less of in 2011? Baby showers, preschool pageants, or quinceaneras?

If you guessed baby showers, you are correct. Searches on Yahoo! have shown for months the trend the Pew Research Report confirmed in April 2010, that U.S. birth rates have dropped in 2008, perhaps linked to the recession.

Attendees enjoyed not only the content, but the format of the prezi which can be found here.

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