When a shopkeeper uploads an image to CafePress to place on a t-shirt, a bumper sticker or a button, she or he is encouraged to add “tags” that describe an item. To assist in tagging decisions, CafePress will indicate how many people searched a particular tag the day before in their website’s “Marketplace” search.
I’ve spent years mostly ignoring tag statistics, but just last week I realized they provided a pretty good guide to Americans’ recent concerns. CafePress is the largest print-on-demand retailer on the Internet, and when someone comes to CafePress, their searches express a commitment to some sentiment so strong that they’re willing to spend money so they can express their sentiment publicly. CafePress search statistics raise the threshold on intensity of feeling enough that they filter out the ficklest of feelings, giving a reasonable glimpse at the Zeitgeist within a pretty recent frame of Zeit.
The following is a graph of the frequency of CafePress marketplace searches for various terms — “AIG,” “bailout,” “constitution,” “environment,” “FISA,” and “tea party” — from March 18-23, 2009:
Searches related to “AIG” and “bailout” were relatively high but in moderate decline over the week, competing with searches for items having to do with the “environment” and, surprisingly to me, the “constitution.” Hardly anybody searched the catalog of CafePress items for messages having to do with “FISA” — the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, amended last year to allow warrantless search and seizure by the U.S. Government; on average there were just 8 searches a day in which someone entered the term “fisa.”
Going lower still, there was on average only 1 search a day in which someone entered the term “tea party.” I was surprised by this, being peppered on a fairly regular basis by news reports indicating the rise of a “tea party movement” of people mad about the Obama administration’s spending choices, and having personally met a handful of such people earlier this month myself. Is the slogan, the meme of a new Boston Tea Party really so unknown or unpopular? Are the “tea party” groups really that small?
I’m going to keep following these terms over time. What other terms should I keep track of?