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Google crystal ball

How did Google get on with its predictions?

Google crystal ball

How did Google get on with its predictions?

Last week, I wrote an article predicting three results of events set to happen at the weekend. Using Google Trends and a bit of my own interpretation of the data, I had come to a conclusion on the outcome of three competitions taking place from Friday to Sunday, November 11 to 13.

Now, it’s time to take a look at the predictions and see how much of what Google ‘predicted’ actually came true.

1. England to beat Scotland

Google got off to a solid start on Friday night as England, not entirely convincingly, scored some well-taken goals to beat old rivals Scotland 3-0 at Wembley Stadium.

Google traffic had shown that there were many more searches for ‘England win’ than ‘Scotland win’ in the run-up to the game. Of course, what happens online and what happens on the pitch are two very different things, but searches reflect what people are thinking and expecting, and by and large, betting patterns reflect the likelihood of something happenings. That’s why odds shorten when people start putting their money behind an outcome.

So, one down and two to go for Google, but it was a fairly conservative punt to start with. England may not be wowing anybody right now, but few expected a poor Scotland side to trouble them.

2. Max Verstappen to win the Brazilian Grand Prix

Now this was a much more speculative suggestion. On worldwide searches among the favourites, the most Googled competitor of the Brazilian Grand Prix was 19-year-old Max Verstappen, but was this an indication that the Belgian-Dutch 14-1 shot was about to upset the applecart and race to victory in São Paulo?

Well, not quite, as Lewis Hamilton triumphed in the race, but Verstappen was not a bad ‘dark horse’ tip. Lying in 15th place with only 10 laps to go, He recovered to finish third and take Sunday’s ‘Driver of the Day’ award.

If Google was to come unstuck on one of its guesses, it was always likely to be this one, but with Verstappen’s ride hailed as “one of the best drives I’ve seen in Formula 1” by Red Bull boss Christian Horner, this was actually a pretty impressive suggestion.

3. Sam Lavery to be eliminated from the X Factor

Lastly, no weekend in the latter half of the year would be complete without the power ballads, drawn out blubbering and elongated voting process of the X Factor.

This was a little different to the other two in that its outcome is directly decided by the public, at least in part. Making the assumption that the competitor not being Googled was likely to be the competitor not voted for by the public, Google Trends indicated that it might be time for teenager Sam Lavery to be on her way back to County Durham.

Sure enough, she found herself in a sing-off with Ryan Lawrie and, with the judges deadlocked on who to send home, it came down to the public vote where it was revealed that Sam had indeed polled the lowest number of votes. This was another good call from Google given that the bookies’ favourite to go had been Saara Aalto.

So, a respectable two out of three for Google Trends data over the weekend, and the one it got wrong was a creditable long shot. Bear in mind here as well that I’m only analysing the data very basically by typing in names and seeing what’s getting the highest and lowest search volumes. I’m not considering any variables. If someone with more time and resources than me were to do this, I wonder if things could be made a little more accurate?

Google is not psychic, but it is an indicator of hype levels, and hype can be seen as an indicator of potential success. Remember, Google Trends hinted at the outcomes of the UK’s EU referendum and the US election too, even though both went against widespread expectations.

A 21st-Century Nostradamus Google is not, but a correlation between search users’ behaviour and real world events seems very apparent based on what I’m seeing so far.

John Murray
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