The new Google Trends is a real-time news detection system
Think of the new Google Trends update as the difference between scanning yesterday's headlines and scrolling through Twitter.
Users who looked at Google Trends two weeks ago would have seen a snapshot of trending Google searches based on data that was hours old. The new version, announced today, displays the latest search trends using up-to-the-minute data, said Simon Rogers, data editor at Google's News Lab.
The revamped version of Google Trends can be used as a "a news detection system" — a real-time tracker to help determine what stories news consumers are interested in, Rogers said.
"What's really going viral, and how big is it?" Rogers asked. "That's what the data's really helpful for."
The update, the most significant revision of the tool since 2012, represents an effort by Google to entice journalists to incorporate the data into their reportage and stories. In addition to providing more relevant information, Google is also curating information around trending topics and featuring them prominently on the tool's homepage to give visitors a sense of what stories are gaining momentum online. Some current examples include the 2015 NBA Finals game, the 2016 presidential race and Greece's mounting debt troubles.
In another departure from the previous version of Google Trends, the tool now displays clusters of related terms to give users some context around the words being searched for. Rather than displaying simply "Lady Gaga," for example, the revamped Google Trends might surface "Lady Gaga" and "new video" to clarify that the newsworthy event at hand is the debut of a music video.
"If Lady Gaga's trending because she has a new video, that's what our news system would detect, because it's looking for that combination of the two things," Rogers said.
Those terms are listed in descending order on the Google Trends homepage, Rogers said. Users who look beyond the most popular trends can view more obscure stories that are just beginning to germinate, giving them an early look at topics that are gathering steam.
"As you scroll down past 20, 30, 40, into the hundreds, you start to see those stories that are bubbling up you might not find otherwise as people start to search for something that maybe the rest of us out there in the world haven't actually heard of yet," he said.
Starting today, the Google Trends team is also making data sets around specific topics available on its GitHub page, so journalists with the time and inclination can examine more granular information.
Rogers added that real-time Google Trends are particularly useful to journalists because they show what people are truly curious about — including things they might be embarrassed to talk about on Facebook or Twitter.
"This is what people out there in the world really care about and want to know about," Rogers said. "And then there's a kind of honesty, because people are honest with their searches — and there are questions you ask of Google that you might be too embarrassed to ask in real life."
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Rogers' surname.