I like to look at Google Trends from time to time to see what it can tell me about things. I realize that search keyword activity is only one data point in a complex system and that with the move to mobile, it is less important than it was in the web only era. And people search for things when they want them. Once they have them, the search volume goes down. But I still think Google Trends can reveal some interesting things.

Here are some queries I ran today:

Facebook and Google are battling it out for video supremacy, but this query really doesn’t tell us very much about where that battle is going and how it will end. It is interesting to note that YouTube has been a mature but stable business for a long time now.

Twitter and the smartphone seem to have risen with a similar curve and are now in decline, with Twitter falling a bit faster than smartphones.

We see a similar shaped curve with Facebook, but the order of magnitude is quite different which is why I did not combine it with the previous chart.

December 2013 sure seems like the high water mark for the mobile social sector.

But not all boats go out with the receding tide.

Here is Snapchat and Instagram, with Twitter thrown in for scale comparison

It will be interesting to see when Instagram and Snapchat start flattening off. My gut tells me Instagram may already be there but we just don’t see it in the data yet.

Moving on from the past to the future, here are some of the sectors that entrepreneurs and VCs are betting on as the next big thing:

If you take out the VR term and look at the other three, you see something that looks like the NCAA football rankings over the course of a season. Each team/term has had a moment at the top but it remains unclear who is going to prevail.

If we look at one of the most interesting coming battles in tech, the voice interface race, the data is less clear.

I think we haven’t really gotten going on this one. But it is an important one as Chris Dixon explained in a really good blog post last week.

My semi regular Google Trends session today confirms what I’ve known for a while and have written here before. We are largely moving on from mobile and social in terms of big megatrends, video is being played out now, and its not yet clear what is going to emerge as the next big thing. Google is betting on AI and I tend to agree with them on that. Voice interfaces may be a good proxy for that trend.


Comments (Archived):

  1. pointsnfigures

    Would be interesting to do a regression on some of these. I think the spikes for the iPhone are correlated with new product introductions.AI is going to be bigger than VR. It has more applications. I think VR is going to be biggest with elderly people that aren’t as mobile. My gut tells me that the VR developers are concentrating on figuring out how to market to millennials.

    1. awaldstein

      You are missing it with the elderly in my opinion. Mobility has zero to do with the need for human touch and face to face socialization.The less mobile you are the more you will walk with a walker for a mile to have a conversation with someone selling you a cup of coffee.Or so watching my mom get close to 100 has taught me.

      1. LE

        Agree with human contact. I think one of the reasons that it’s easier to remain single in NYC is that there is so much human contact (even if it’s not really human or personal) as a result of the amount of people and things going on. My guess is that many people single in NYC would be married if they lived in the suburbs where the same density of “excitement” doesn’t exist. My point is they would have a need and try harder (and perhaps “settle”) because it’s pretty lonely (and boring).To your “cup of coffee” comment back when I was divorced and living by myself I used to sit at the Starbucks religiously every day with my laptop prior to going to work. I had a group of people there that I called “my starbucks friends” that I often interacted with. Once I remarried (and we moved in together in a new area) I still went to Starbucks but I no longer wanted that interaction and purposely avoided making any connections (or sitting there). No need as my socialization needs were filled (2 stepkids in the house as well).My mom is old but lives in a pretty nice active upscale place. There is so much social activity going on there and so many people with time on their hands that my niece got upset that she can’t see her as much as she wants. My mom has to check her schedule (and she is not a social person either typically).

    2. LE

      I think the spikes for the iPhone are correlated with new product introductions.Exactly they are. (Or Apple product announcements, graduations, Christmas things like that).

  2. Henry Sztul

    Couldn’t you interpret the decline is some of those curves (especially the facebook, twitter, android and youtube curves) as an indicator that people are educated on WHAT those services are, feel comfortable with them, and no longer perform web searches on those topics?I 100% agree with where you got to, just questioning the data source…I’ve actually been comparing VR hardware these days to progress + adoption of modems in the 80s + 90s.

    1. kidmercury

      for sure. facebook’s primary use case is mobile and through the app so search volume for it is going to be lower and not necessarily reflective of user engagement.

      1. LE

        But is reflective perhaps of adoption by new users. People that Musk brought back from Mars that have never heard of Facebook (remember Jeff Bridges in Starman?).

        1. kidmercury

          New users coming from mobile — which is most new users now — are mostly accessing via app and so there is no search query footprint

    2. Lawrence Brass

      I Agree, the decline in a curve can mean two things, heavy adoption or less interest, more probably the latter. But the rise in a curve is a powerful signal.I use Google search indirectly as a web launcher, as I usually type a non DNS complete term into the URL text input area which usually gets processed by Google Search. I wonder if Google filters this bad data from the trends.

    3. JaredMermey

      Could be people stopped googling “Facebook” to access Facebook — they just started going directly.

      1. Richard

        Facebook (again) with FB live is changing everything.

      2. Lawrence Brass

        Yep. I guess the peak in the graph that Fred shows coincides with Facebook move to mobile which started earlier but general adoption occured more or less near 2013.

  3. William Mougayar

    It could be a long tail of a few trends, not just one big one.

  4. kidmercury

    oculus is a subset of VR so i think comparing it to the others is a bit out of context…..unless the point is to communicate that a single VR brand is about as large as the other emerging categories.dixon’s post assumes voice will be the primary AI interface. AI is already all around us and i think the primary UX implication of AI is a reduction of steps due to personalization and prediction. google autosuggest reduces the amount of searching i do, as does google now and any recommendation service, while spam filters reduce the amount of manual spam i need to sort through or flag, etc

    1. fredwilson


      1. Derek Fowler

        Why the heck is Twitter is even involved in this analysis ? It is no longer in the contention for any kind of comparisonStop the #twitterlick

      2. Twain Twain

        MS Cortana with MS Kinect and Baidu in the voice interface comparison:* https://www.technologyrevie…* http://www.develop-online.n…The persistent problem of the machines not understanding our language persists, though — even with voice interfaces.

    2. cavepainting

      That is a really insightful observation. Good AI implementations should result in minimalist UIs but deliver maximal relevance and insight.

    3. McKay Thomas

      This reminds me of something Chris Anderson, the CEO of 3D Robotics and long time editor-in-chief of Wired, said. “It’s only called a robot until we figure it out.” A robot that opens your garage door is now literally just called a garage door opener. A robot that adjusts the temperature in your home, “learning thermostat”, a robot that drives your car on the freeway is now just called “smart cruise control”. I think AI fits in the same category. It’s only called AI until we figure it out and then it’s just called “spam folder”.

    4. Russell

      ah irony of your post about algorithms reducing spam … getting spammed!

  5. Semil Shah

    A few notes1/ the VR search term may be too narrow2/ Instagram will be, as mobile penetration grows in the rest of the world, one of the first apps people download — and like other pure mobile plays, people may not search for them in a browser, so hard to extrapolate from this curve as shift to mobile is exponential.3/ Echo is a bigger deal than people are talking about. And, to do that last search with more accuracy, we’d need to know how many people search for it directly inside Amazon.

    1. Vasudev Ram

      > 1/ the VR search term may be too narrowAnd also may be too broad, because there are lots of other expansions for that abbreviation, as a simple google search for ‘vr abbreviation’ shows. First line of google output:We’ve found a total of 79 definitions for VR.(Virtual Reality is the top one though, but then again plenty of non-tech people may be googling for other meanings of VR, which would also be included in Google Trends.)

  6. Joe Lazarus

    Instagram flattened a while back in the US. Their growth is international.

    1. ShanaC


  7. LE

    Once thing to note with searches on google is that people use the search bar instead of the browser bar (and domain name). So a change in behavior for “facebook” is not the same as one for “VR” or something that isn’t a web address or clear destination. Just something to keep in mind.See examples below you can be off the dartboard and get what you need….

    1. Lawrence Brass

      That is my use case, I have been trying to change that but the neurons connected with my fingers don’t care about my thoughts.Favourite links and most used links displayed on the first browser page as in recent Safari,Edge and Firefox versions may be changing this behavior.

  8. Richard

    Fred, you need an independent variable. Google granger causality. The plots you show are simple Time series which tell you nothing more than the trend of the series itself. explore the correlation between the Google search and actions of interest:Monthly average usersApp downloads Video Minutes viewedFan Pages Etc.

  9. Richard

    Google trends sometime are lagging indicators. Periscope looks like it is trending well, but Twitter likely missed the opportunity with periscope. The current and past management, absent a quick restart, should be furious.

  10. cavepainting

    When user knows more about his object of interest or desire and is closer to action, he may distinctly prefer a fulfillment channel (amazon, app stores) vs. search. On the other hand, when he is more in the “research mode”, he may prefer search. It will be interesting to see if trends from amazon or app stores match these. There is an amazon tool called keyword inspector for sellers but have not used it yet.Also, month over month changes are probably more important than absolute comparisons. So, something small but growing like crazy can be lost when projected against bigger numbers of the candidates being compared to.

  11. sigmaalgebra

    Moving on from the past to the future, here are some of the sectors that entrepreneurs and VCs are betting on as the next big thing:Ah, I’d vote for None of Those. For “the next big thing,” need some substance.

  12. george

    Voice is the natural progression towards AI development – this is pretty much telegraphed already by Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon. Each platform has positioned voice to become their first interaction in the value-chain of social exchanges.

  13. Aravind B

    Using Google trends to deduce how products/companies are trending is interesting to an extent, but is extremely unreliable as shown by the following Princeton study and the hilarious response by Facebook’s data science team:

  14. ShanaC

    Talking is a natural thing for humans to do to communicate. Hence the battle for the voiceThe VR thing – I don’t know what is going on thereAnd surprised about Instagram

  15. Gabriel

    You clearly went out to confirm preconceived ideas. We may be searching “VR” more frequently than the last year, but that misses the point. “Virtual Reality” and “VR” searches have **greatly declined** in the last 10 years (by Google Trends). They have done so by a factor of two at least! Take into account that many more people use Google than they did in 2006. Virtual Reality was once a much bigger fad than it is now!

  16. csertoglu

    I think many of the graphs here is a commentary on Google searches, as well. The Snapchat demographic does not search for Snapchat on Google. Instagram users do. I also sense that Facebook and Youtube are probably getting “searched for” less, but stumbled upon on social media or accessed directly through the native apps. It’s a sign of their maturity and the fact that they are stronger now as destinations on their own right.

  17. Doug Nelson

    Really interesting conclusions–however, I can’t help but think it’s impossible to parse interest in the products from interest in the companies themselves. Both Twitter and Facebook in the above charts spike right around their respective IPOs, and both completely drove the tech / business news cycles at the time….

  18. allan_paladino

    Funny thing how people’s interest on Siri peaks over weekends.

  19. awaldstein

    My mom will be 97 in June. Born on Hester Street raised in the South Bronx. Truly an amazing women. First generation New Yorker at her very core.People buy elderly people sweat clothes. I buy my mom Kate Spade bags and jewelry form Tiffanies. She knows life is fading but she is embracing every piece of it she can. Lots of chutzpah in this individual.

  20. Rick Mason

    My father turned 100 this weekend. You let him again wander the streets of London or Dublin via VR and he would most definitely love it.

  21. Twain Twain

    My admiration for you and your mother increased 100-fold, :*).