Georgians Are Searching for Putin and Stalin

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is a leading personality in Georgia, a position he shares with President Dmitry Medvedev and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Vladimir Lenin, meanwhile, is a hot topic in today's Cuba, while Azeris prefer to contemplate Mercedes cars.

The evidence for this? Google.

Insights for Search, a tool released recently by the Internet search giant, is shedding light on the interests of Internet users across the world. While mostly a tool for marketing experts — who may find out that Azeris search most for Mercedes, Uzbeks love Nokia, and Latvians have a strong interest in Coca-Cola — the service offers all sorts of other statistics. Some of them are surprising, while others just confirm old stereotypes.

Take Cuba, renowned for being among the last outposts of Marxism-Leninism. Perhaps it is no surprise that its online community is punching Lenin's name into Google relatively more often than any other in the world.

Stalin, on the other hand, has always had a strong following in his native Georgia. But as Russian troops poured into the country in August, local Internet users' interest in Putin and Medvedev surged, according to the site's statistics.

It is unclear how the temporary blocking of Russian internet sites in Georgia during the war affected Google's results.

Insights for Search — found at www.google.com/insights/search/ — appears to have some shortcomings. The rankings represent the number of searches for a term compared with the total Google searches in that country. The tool does not show absolute search volume, so results can be quite distorted in regions with few Internet users or, indeed, few Google users, said Simon Morrison, a spokesman for Google Europe.

"The smaller the number of users [in a given country], the smaller the data necessary to make an impression," Morrison said by telephone from London.

The case is even more complicated in Russia and Georgia, which have local writing systems. Insights for Search's main search function requires uniform spelling or alphabets. Thus, statistics for "Putin" as written in the Latin alphabet exclude data from the many Russian users who use Cyrillic for their online searches. Accordingly, the fraction of Georgians using the Latin alphabet for web searches might be considerably smaller than those using the Georgian or Russian alphabets.

However, they must generate a sufficiently large number of queries to appear in Google's statistics.

"There is a threshold below which you won't show up," Morrison said. He would not give a figure for the threshold, citing "privacy reasons."

Also potentially distorting the results is Google's relatively weak market share in Russia, despite the fact that co-founder Sergey Brin was born in Moscow. The company did not set up its local site until 2003, and Russian-language Google.ru is now the country's third-most popular search engine, while Google.com is fourth, according to Alexa Internet, which collects information on global web traffic.

Entering "Putin" in Cyrillic on "Insights for Search" shows that Google users in Krasnoyarsk have displayed the most interest in the former president and current prime minister since January, while "Medvedev" ranked highest in Novosibirsk.

Yandex, the country's leading search engine, does not have a similar service but does offer statistics about its most popular search queries. The service, at http://wordstat.yandex.ru, says that during the last month, the most searches for Putin in Cyrillic were made in Moscow (62,075 searches), followed by St. Petersburg (18,316).

Worldwide, Yandex users in Germany were seemingly the most interested in Putin, typing in his name 79 percent more often than average.

Google's statistics, on the other hand, might support a belief that Internet users in small, former Soviet countries have a penchant for Russian politicians because of Moscow's lingering strong influence over them.

Before the conflict in Georgia sent interest in Putin soaring, tiny Moldova boasted the strongest relative number of Putin searches worldwide, while Estonia took second place.

In the United States, where Google is the market leader, searches for Putin and Medvedev come most frequently from Washington.

Regional search statistics for "Kremlin," however, are again distorted by the fact that some users are looking for Kremlin, Oklahoma — even though just over 200 people live there.

Similarly, search inquiries for U.S. presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain in Russia are largely limited to Moscow and St. Petersburg, with Obama clearly leading.

Curiously, Insight for Search shows that Kenya, Cameroon, and Uganda have the highest relative search rankings for Obama, with the United States trailing at number five.

McCain, on the other hand, has most of his searches coming from the United States, while Iraq places second. This might point to his popularity among U.S. servicemen, because many Iraqis do not use the Latin alphabet.