Facebook, Twitter, Haiti: Health trends in Google’s Zeitgeist 2010

Google recently released its list of most popular search terms, called Zeitgeist 2010. It’s a fascinating read. OK, not quite, but it’s interesting to try and parse whether this rearwards looking list may also foretell of future trends for specific sectors, in this case health, health care or public health.

While many searches are obviously tied to specific events, such as “Haiti”  (due to the earthquake) or “Michael Jackson” (due to his death), there are some popular terms with crystal ball potential. If people are simply searching for more news about an event, that’s very different than those that are searching for information that will inform and educate them, then lead to behavioral change or technology adaptation.

Some leading search terms that may bespeak future health trends:



-Text to donate

When folks search for information about Twitter or Facebook, for example, they are likely launching down a path that in some percentage of the time results in their becoming users of such technology. So communicating health messages, or using these social media tools for public health practice is likely a sound strategy as use and familiarity grows. A recently released Pew survey, has found that 8% of American adults, or about 14 million, are using twitter. Completely anecdotally, I Tweeted those stats @healthyrx earlier this morning before writing this blog, and will of course send a tweet once I’ve posted this. As Google’s Zeitgeist might suggest, Twitter is becoming a bigger part of our lives, with health focused twitter programs also on the rise, as evidenced by the just convened Health 2.0 conference.

Another example of interesting Twitter usage from the international health and disaster relief arena:

The fact that folks are searching for terms such as “text to donate” points to increasing awareness of using that method for charitable donations, something that the American Red Cross is certainly exploring deeply. A previous Pew survey found that 10% of Americans claimed to have texted donations to a charity.

A simple example of multiple social media tools working to provide support to field operations in disaster relief:

The frequent appearance of health related terms, whether conditions or cures, also speaks to our general interest and thirst for knowledge around all things health related. Of course the zeitgeist doesn’t provide perfect logic and clarity (which I suppose is part of the nature of zeitgeist), after all, can anybody tell me why “cupcakes” ranks so high among food related searches?

Photo credit: Should be obvious