Sunday, April 10, 2011

Rebecca Black and QWOP

A direct link to the above video is at

Back at the beginning of 2008, I started something I call the Google Suggestions Time Capsule Project. Every Sunday, I've taken a moment to type the 26 letters of the alphabet into my Google Search and make note of what suggested search items come up as Google's 26 picks for the most likely information I would be looking for.

Using this as a way of tracking the zeitgeist, the popular culture meme-space of the predominantly American-culture internet has been interesting, and there've been some notable shifts that have happened over the almost three and a half years that I've been tracking this. Here's a few I'd like to point out today.

The very first list I made note of contained Zoey Zane as the suggestion for the letter z, which may well prove to be the only time the assumed name of a murdered internet porn actress will come up as the number one suggestion for a letter.

Here's that first list:

Sunday, January 6 2008, 11 am CST, Saskatchewan Canada:
amazon, best buy, craigslist, dictionary, ebay, facebook, google, hotmail, imdb, john lewis, kohls, limewire, myspace, next, orkut, paypal, qvc, redtube, sears, target, utube, verizon, wikipedia, xtube, youtube, zoey zane.

Two weeks later, Zoey's name was gone from the list. In fact, it's turned out to be relatively rare for people's names to appear in this list at all. "Obama" appeared at the beginning of March 2008, only to be replaced by google's social networking site "Orkut" before the month was done. In November 2008, for one week only, we saw "John McCain", "Obama" and "Sarah Palin" appear as the suggestions for j, o and s: this was in the week of the American elections, of course.

The following week "Jennifer Hudson" appeared as the replacement suggestion for j, a remarkable bit of pop culture since she came in seventh in the 2004 American Idol competition, received a 2006 Academy Award for her role in the film Dreamgirls, but it was the release of her debut record album in 2008 that finally vaulted her to the top of the google list for six weeks.

Interestingly, Obama, now the president of the US, also stayed at the top of the list for six weeks, while John McCain lasted one and Sarah Palin lasted three. Obama returned to the list in January 2009, this time staying there for seven weeks. But after that, we were not to see another person's name at the top of the list until this week.

Rebecca Black, the internet teen sensation people love to hate, appears this week as the top response for the letter r. Her video, Friday, is currently at almost 100 million views on YouTube, but the like/dislike ratio is what's completely unusual: almost 2 million people have given the video a thumbs down, and only a quarter million have given it thumbs up. Wired Magazine published a cover story in 2008 about people who are "internet famous", Rebecca seems to be a shining example of that term.

Speaking of internet famous, ever hear of QWOP? It just finished a seven week run as the top result for q. This simple flash game asks you to control an olympic runner using four letters on your keyboard. For me, this one was remarkable because unlike the Rebecca Black story I've seen almost no one in the media talking about this game, and yet it's the number one search suggestion. Yet another example of how the internet has become its own medium? You bet.

Enjoy the journey!

Rob Bryanton

UPDATE: in a surprising turn of events, after reaching over 165 million views, Rebecca's video was removed from YouTube on June 13 2011, just as the video blog version of the entry was about to be posted. Apparently, the creators of Rebecca's video had decided to start asking people to pay a fee for every view of the video, and she retaliated by demanding that her video be pulled off of YouTube.
Good luck, Rebecca!
Next: Courage

A direct link to Rebecca Black's video is at

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