Utah ranks No. 1 in the nation and sometimes the world for using Google to search the Web for such terms as "Jesus," "family history," "Harry Potter," "Mormon," "Lord of the Rings," "NBA," "snowboarding," "home storage" and "Mitt Romney."
But other terms where Utah also ranks No. 1 show a seedier side to local culture.
Utah and/or Salt Lake City also rank tops in the nation in searches for "pornography," "naked girls," "striptease," "topless," "nude," "strip poker," "lingerie," "blonde" and "brunette."
While that may be an eye-opener for residents, it does not surprise theologians, psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, or even sex addicts and their counselors. They all see it as part of the age-old struggle between light and dark that goes on everywhere but which Google searches suggest may reach extremes in Utah.
"When you have extreme light, or people trying to do good things, you often also find the opposite in extreme," says Steve Pumphrey, a clinical director of LifeSTAR, a company founded in Utah that works with sex addicts."The forbidden is really tempting," says Theresa A. Martinez, a sociology professor at the University of Utah who has studied deviant behavior. "Where you have a culture that is known for family values, morality and apple pie, you will also have curiosity and interest in the forbidden."
How we know
Rankings of communities or regions that search for certain terms more often than other places is made possible by a service called Google Trends (trends.google.com).
It analyzes a portion of Google Web searches made over time to estimate their popularity, making best guesses about where queries originate by evaluating the address of Internet servers used by searchers.
Google spokeswoman Heather Laird Spain says Google "normalizes" data by essentially dividing all Web searches for a term in an area by all the overall searches made there essentially showing how popular a term is among all local searches.
If Google simply counted raw numbers of searches for terms instead, New York City or Los Angeles would top most results because so many searches come from their large populations.
While Google provides data about where individual search terms are most popular, it does not show what the top searches overall are in given areas. Spain says top searches "are usually not very exciting," anyway, and tend to be "the same across the board, namely 'weather,' 'e-mail,' etc."
Of note, Google Trends is still in the early stages of development. "We hope you find this service interesting and entertaining, but you probably don't want to write your Ph.D. dissertation based on this information," its Web site warns.
As use of Google Trends has become more popular, the FBI, among others, noticed that Utah and Salt Lake City were often coming up as No. 1 for searches of sex-related terms. The FBI even discussed that last year at an annual child-abuse and family-violence conference, warning parents to keep a close eye on Net use by youths.The Deseret Morning News then decided to use Google Trends to see how Utah and/or its cities rank on a variety of terms that might be expected to be popular in the local culture and found dozens where it ranked in the top 10 or higher.
We're No. 1
So what are the categories of search terms where Utah or some of its local cities lead the nation or world for all years searched by Google Trends? They include:
RECREATION: Salt Lake City is No. 1 in the world and in the nation among cities in Google searches for: "snowboarding" (world); "snowmobiling" (world); "Utah Jazz" (world); "movies" (nation); and "Wendover" (world).
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