Google, Bankruptcy & Bieber – Credit Slips

GoogleWordTrends

Using Google Insights, I constructed the graphs to the right. Each graph represents the pattern of usage for each of the search terms at the top of each graph. The data go back 90 days and are limited to searches from the United States. The vertical lines represent the weekends, having been placed halfway between the data points for each Saturday and Sunday. Each data series represent an index provided by Google Insights.

“Bankruptcy” has a strong, weekly rhythm. The popularity of the search term during the week is about twice as high as it is during the weekend. The pattern shows much stronger peaks and valleys than other search terms.

The explanation that leapt immediately to my mind is that “bankruptcy” is just one of those words that gets used more often at work. For example, a journalist writing a story on a company in chapter 11 or an accountant looking for the GAAP rules for insolvent companies is simply much more likely to search on the word “bankruptcy” during the work week rather than the weekend. Hence, the pattern is not especially surprising. My student, David Henken, pointed out to me that persons who search just for the word “bankruptcy” probably are persons looking just for general knowledge and are less likely to be persons with a professional connection to bankruptcy. That is a good point. Also, a similar pattern exists for “bankruptcy attorney,” which is more likely to be a search by someone thinking about filing for bankruptcy rather than a person doing a search for work-related purposes.

The next thought that occurred to me — yeah, I know, two thoughts in one day! — is that perhaps most Internet searches would have the heaviest usage during the week. Now it is time to release the Bieber. His search trends show exactly the opposite patterns, with more popularity on the weekend. Searches for “banana” and “baseball” also were more popular on the weekend, although the data on the latter term got fairly noisy with the start of the Major League Baseball playoffs. Even for words like “automobile”, where the term is more popular during the work week, the difference between weekend and work week is not nearly as pronounced as it is for searches on “bankruptcy.”

Undoubtedly, part of what is happening is that people who search for “bankruptcy” or “bankruptcy attorney” want to contact a lawyer, and lawyer’s offices tend to be open only Monday to Friday. The search is contemporaneous with the call to the lawyer’s office. Even that dynamic would be some new information because it would tend to suggest that people move quickly from gathering information–or at least from using Google to gather information–about bankruptcy to sitting down with a bankruptcy attorney. Previous work, including my own, suggests that people suffer through financial distress for a long time before filing bankruptcy. Maybe once a debtor decides to look at his or her bankruptcy alternatives, the personal decision-making process begins to move quickly toward a bankruptcy filing.

I also would hypothesize that something deeper is at work. The patterns suggest that people might see bankruptcy as belonging to the outside world rather than the home and the family. I would bet the data reflect the fact that many people use Google during the workday for purposes that are not exactly connected to work. Do people Google “bankruptcy” at work because they do not want their family to know? Is there something deeper happening emotionally where people want to leave their financial woes with that part of their person who lives outside their home? Searches on the word “cancer” display a similar but not as strong of a pattern as to that for “bankruptcy,” suggesting that perhaps there is something about bad news that people just do want to confront on the weekend. While I was writing this up, my colleague, Rob Kar, stuck his head in my office, and I showed him this graph. (As a complete aside and off-topic to the post and this blog, check out this very interesting working paper from Rob which will change a lot of what you think about legal origins.) Rob wondered whether my results from Google Insights did not track data from “happiness studies” where a similar trend shows that people perceive themselves to be happier on the weekends rather than during the week, but neither of us could quickly lay our hands on the data.

The speculation on the relationship to happiness studies really means that I need to draw this post to a close. My intention here was to suggest hypotheses rather than conclusions. Someone with more time and expertise may be able to make more use of the Google Insights data than I can do in a blog post. We sometimes can make the mistake of thinking about bankruptcy just as a legal process rather than a real event that affects real people. The trends from the graph suggest that we might want to give a little more emphasis to the latter idea.

Interesting information on Google Insights results and analysis. “Is there something deeper happening emotionally where people want to leave their financial woes with that part of their person who lives outside their home? Searches on the word ‘cancer’ display a similar but not as strong of a pattern as to that for ‘bankruptcy,’ suggesting that perhaps there is something about bad news that people just do not want to confront on the weekend.”

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