Media and Politics

Research and Class Material

Search Engines and Social Science: A Revolution in the Making

Written by Filippo Trevisan at the University of Glasgow Engines and Social Science_Google Forum Paper_2013 Final.pdf

This policy paper covers main points and presents additional research out of the Google Forum meetings. It was funded as part of an ESRC Knowledge Exchange Grant (Civic Consumers or Commercial Citizens?: Social Scientists Working with Google to Better Understand Online Search Behaviour) that also funded Google Forum III. 

Key points:

 Google Trends is an especially promising tool that could enable academics to explore new questions.

 Ever since the internet became commercially available in the mid-1990s, search engines have played a crucial role in orienting online traffic, distributing content and constructing knowledge.

 While in the past scholars had been more interested in talking about the role of search engines themselves in shaping society, this approach is being increasingly complemented by work that focuses on how search engines can augment academic research in general.

 It is crucial that academics investigate opportunities and challenges in the centrality of search engines in contemporary informational patterns and social interaction.

 Emerging strands of research using search-engine tools/data productively include politics and public opinion studies; economics and business; public health and epidemiology; and response/reaction to natural disasters.

 Google Trends data offers advantages over traditional social-science methods such as public opinion surveys. It provides enhanced opportunities to study crisis situations as well as the general relationship between offline events and online behaviour.

 Applications such as Google Trends could provide unprecedented opportunities for examining the connections between new and old media.

 The global dimension of Google Trends as well as the geographical filters that can be applied to its output can facilitate international research by providing comparable data at virtually no cost, thus substantially expanding the scope for social-science research across country boundaries.

 Scholars should be aware of the potential drawbacks associated with this emerging methodology, including doubts over data representativeness when generalising from search engine users to an entire population; language differences and “country effects” in relation to search; as well as limited flexibility afforded by Google Trends.

Mapping the Impact of Online Information on the Political, Economic and Social Sphere

Google London


1 March 2010/11:30-5 pm


Co-Sponsored by Google UK and the University of Glasgow/Adam Smith Research Foundation



11 am to 11:30 – Meet in the lobby of Belgrave House to be escorted to the Google floors above.


Workshop One: Politics

11:30 am-12:45 pm

Keynote speaker:  Prof. Rachel Gibson, Institute for Social Change, The University of Manchester

The Party is Not Over: The Online Electorate and Web 2.0

Discussant: Google

General question/answer



12:45-2 pm


Workshop Two: Economics

2 pm-3:15

Keynote speaker: Ashley Lloyd, University of Edinburgh Business School

No Consumer Left Behind: Issues in Bridging Technological Gaps in a Wired Economy

Discussant: Google

General question/answer


3:15 pm-3:45 pm

Coffee/Networking of a Human Sort


Workshop Three: Social Sphere

3:45-5 pm

Keynote speakers: Dr Debbie Keeling, Manchester Business School, The University of Manchester

Prof. Angus Laing, Dean of Business and Economics, Loughborough University

Searching Yourself Well?: How Patients Seek Health Information Online

Discussant: Google

General question/answer


Conference Co-Chairs and Organisers

Prof Sarah Oates

Politics Department

University of Glasgow


Sarah Hunter

Google London

UK Public Policy


Google London

Belgrave House
76 Buckingham Palace Road
London SW1W 9TQ





Andjelkovic, Maja

Oxford Internet Institute

Anstead, Nick


Currall, James

Glasgow (Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute)

Gibson, Rachel


Hosking, Ian


Keeling, Debbie


Laing, Angus


Levy, David

Reuters Institute for Study of Journalism, Oxford

Lloyd, Ashley


Mazanderani, Fadhila

Oxford Internet Institute

O’Loughlin, Ben

Royal Holloway

Oates, Sarah

Glasgow (Politics)

Reilly, Paul 


Pickerill, Jenny


Prescott, Andrew

Glasgow (Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute)

Renaud, Karen

Glasgow (Computing Science)

Rodgers, Jayne


Tong, Jingrong


Van Couvering, Elisabeth


Watts, Leon