Lee Gomes on AOL and Sex on the Net

When I was a kid, once in a while when you picked up the phone to make a call, you would hear two other people talking.  Not your mom or dad, but two other people in other houses somewhere in town.  It wasn’t a shared line and it wasn’t on top of a pole like in Hooterville- it just happened sometimes.  Of course anyone who picked up that line should have hung up immediately, but when you’re a kid in a small town there’s only one choice.  After we got bored with listening, we’d make farting sounds and then mumble “excuse me.” It sounds juvenile, only because it was.  But it was also beyond hilarious.

AOL has given the world a chance to engage in an internet version of the same thing by dumping some not entirely anonymous AOL web search data onto the internet.  This data has been the subject of more analysis than Andrea Yates and there have been some interesting patterns uncovered.

Lee has an interesting article about these patterns.  He put the AOL data set into a database and did a little research.

Interestingly, the most commonly used word in the searches was “free.”  The second was “new.”  As a musician, I found it very interesting that “lyrics” was number three.  Free Advice: install a pop-up blocker and an anti-spyware application before you go looking for the lyrics to your favorite song.

Sex, surprisingly, was only number sixteen.  But that’s a little misleading, since that founding father of the web, porn, was the third most popular internet activity.  Again, get that anti-spyware program installed.  It may even be higher since my friends tell me that a lot of porn is distributed via newsgroups, which may not have been picked up by the AOL search data.

Lee notes that in the written word (books, etc.) sex is only around the 2500th most used word.  So how does sex jump 2484 spaces in the journey from book to web? I think it’s because web searches are more like written thought than the written word and I guarantee you sex is a lot higher than 2500 on the list of what people think about, particularly during their leisure time- when they are more likely to be surfing the net.

The other interesting, and often troubling, aspect to this data are the stories that can be gleaned from searches made from the same AOL account.

If you’re interested, you can search the database here.

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