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From: Grant Callaghan (grantc4@hotmail.com)
Date: Mon 23 Dec 2002 - 16:11:35 GMT

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    Web Searches Take Cultural Pulse 

    02:00 AM Dec. 18, 2002 PT

    Lycos and Google have released their annual roundups of the year's most popular Internet search terms, and between them, they offer some interesting -- and sometimes surprising -- insight into popular culture.

    Lycos' Web's Most Wanted lists the top 100 search terms for 2002. The top item is "Dragonball," a Japanese anime that first appeared in 1984 and has since spawned videos, games and all kinds of toys.

    Although unknown to many adults, Dragonball is the first subject to top the list two years in a row, thanks to its popularity with kids and teens, according to Lycos. (Lycos' Web's Most Wanted is published by Terra Lycos, Wired News' parent company.)

    In fact, most of Lycos' popular search terms are geared toward a younger demographic. Names of file-sharing applications, pop music and sports stars, video games, movies and TV shows dominate the 2002 list.

    "There really is so much to learn because all of popular culture is displayed in search terms: music, movies, books, what kids like, what adults like," said Aaron Schatz, who writes the Lycos 50 Daily Report. "It really is a good way to tell what people are interested in."

    On the other hand, Google breaks its Zeitgeist 2002 into categories: the most popular queries, top bands, celebrities, women, men and so on.

    The list is also categorized by country -- United Kingdom, Germany and Japan -- as well as a month-by-month time line. Google includes a list of search terms gaining in popularity and those in decline.

    The Zeitgeist is an aggregate of 55 billion searches, or about 150 million searches a day, according to Google. "The 2002 Year-End Zeitgeist enables you to look at the past year through the collective eyes of the world on the Internet," the company says.

    As with Lycos' list, the most popular terms on Google related to mass media: "Spiderman," "Shakira" and "Eminem," to name a few of the most popular searches.

    Meanwhile, searches for "Napster" and "Taliban" showed up lower on this year's list compared to 2001, according to Google's list of terms in decline. A time line for the year reflects current events: A lot of people searched for soccer stars in June during the World Cup and the term "sniper" in October.

    Another Google time line shows how the popularity of Las Ketchup, a Spanish pop group with a catchy Macarena-like song, spread across Europe as the song caught on in different countries.

    Although Google categorizes searches, the company offers no explanation for the reasons behind surges and declines in certain terms' popularity. In Japan, for example, one of the most popular searches last year was for "remote-control boat" (in Japanese, of course). Why? Who knows? The page offers no explanation, and the Google spokesman couldn't offer one, either.

    For industry watchers like Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Watch, it's a disappointing omission. "I think (the Zeitgeist) is interesting," he said, "but it doesn't tell you why something is happening." On the other hand, Lycos does an "outstanding" job of trying to explain why certain terms are gaining or losing popularity, Sullivan said.

    Likewise, Yahoo's Buzz makes a brave attempt to do the same thing, while sites like Word Tracker allow subscribers to mine popular search terms.

    According to Sullivan, Google closely guards its search and weighting algorithms, and for that reason doesn't make public some of the most interesting information about top searches.

    Like Sullivan, Lycos' Schatz says raw lists of the most popular terms aren't particularly useful. They tell you little beyond the obvious, he said. For Schatz, it's more interesting to look at the trends or phenomenon just below the surface, or to try to make predictions based on what people are searching for, which he often does in his columns.

    For example, the top movies next year will be: Matrix Reloaded, Terminator 3, the X-Men sequel, Hulk and Daredevil, in more or less that order, Schatz said. Jennifer Garner (star of TV's Alias and the movie Daredevil) will become a megastar, as will 17-year-old college basketball player LeBron James.

    In May 2001, he predicted that a relatively obscure movie about illegal drag racing, The Fast and the Furious, would be a blockbuster.

    Last year, Schatz watched the term "Napster" slowly sink in the rankings, while "Morpheus" and then "Kazaa" grew in popularity. "Just looking at Napster doesn't tell you the whole story of its decline," Schatz said.

    Likewise, boy bands are down this year, while female singer/songwriters are up. Schatz said he knew the once-obscure singer Avril Lavigne would rise to stardom because people started searching for her name.

    Neither Lycos nor Google include the Net's most popular search terms. The word "sex" is still the most researched term on the Internet, but both search engines filter out adult content.

    For Google, it's to keep the list family-friendly, a spokesman explained. So no peek in new fetishes or changes in sexual habits. (No one directly involved with tabulating the Zeitgeist was immediately available to comment for this story.)

    Schatz said Lycos filters dirty words because, like the seasons, they're unchanging. "Sex is missing because it's dull," said Lycos' Schatz. "We take out all the generic searches -- music, chat, lyrics -- because they really don't change. Sex terms tend not to change."


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    Thursday, November 28, 2002
    Women power keeps delta boomtowns moving

    DOUG YOUNG of Reuters in Shenzhen

    Behind a long panel of glass windows, row on row of young Chinese women sit at the Nam Tai Electronics factory, their bodies and faces covered by blue smocks, matching gauze caps and surgical masks.

    The building hums with the whir of machinery, the women's eyes lit up by a flood of fluorescent light.

    The soft but steady noise lies at the heart of an industry powering China into the 21st century, as the Asian nation supplies much of the world with billions of dollars' worth of electronics, from toys to televisions to cellular phones.

    But the buzz also hides serious social problems, ranging from sexual harassment to stress, as thousands of often poor, young girls move from the countryside to Pearl River Delta boomtowns like Shenzhen to seek their fortunes.

    Called ''dagong mei'', or little-sister labourers, the new generation of young women powering China's factories often stay for about three years in the city before returning to faraway places like Sichuan and Hunan to marry in their home villages.

    The trend is typical of developing societies in Asia, and mirrors Taiwan and Hong Kong in the 1960s and 1970s, said Pun Ngai, a social sciences professor at Hong Kong's University of Science and Technology.

    ''They imagine young Chinese girls are more hard-working, more obedient and easier to control,'' said Ms Pun, who spent six months at one such factory as part of her research.

    Factory managers say women are more patient and attentive to detail than many men.

    The women, meanwhile, say they are just looking for a chance to make some money and have a little fun.

    ''The character of women is to do things very carefully, from assembly to checking monitors,'' said Bonnie Yu, a spokeswoman at a Nokia joint venture factory making mobile phones in the town of Dongguan.

    At a factory run by VTech Holdings, the largest supplier of cordless phones to the United States, about 80 per cent of the production line workers are women, said Simon Lau, manager of operations.

    The average worker earns about 700 yuan (US$84.50) per month, and the number of workers at the factory ranges from 11,000 at low season to 20,000 at the peak, Mr Lau said.

    ''We provide them with free dorms, free meals as well as entertainment, karaoke and a disco in the factory,'' said Mr Lau, leading a group of reporters on a recent tour of the factory.

    On a Friday afternoon at the VTech plant, rows of women in yellow smocks stood before chest-high work stations, each taking printed circuit boards as they passed by on a conveyor belt, soldering a few points and then putting them back.

    One slight woman, Xu Jin, was from the town of Wudanshan in distant Hubei province. She said she would earn about 500 yuan a month in her hometown, or about half of what she makes in the Dongguan plant.

    ''I came here with friends,'' she said, adding that she planned to stay three to four years. ''The pace of life here is much faster than in Hubei.

    City life stresses

    But factory work in the big city also creates a number of physical and social problems for young women not used to the fast pace of urban life and rigorous working conditions, said Ms Pun from the University of Science and Technology.

    Long working hours and absence from home can produce a lot of stress.

    ''I like working here, but I sometimes miss my family,'' said 21-year-old Wei Weiyan.

    She said she had come to the factory with some friends three years ago, and would like to stay on if possible.

    ''There are huge differences between city life and rural life,'' Ms Pun said. ''There's a lot of hardship for them, especially when they have to work long hours and learn work skills by themselves.''

    Apart from the physical stresses, women from the countryside must also cope with social problems like sexual harassment, in a world where about 70 per cent of supervisors are male, Ms Pun said.

    ''The kind of harassment is quite subtle, but is almost everywhere,'' she said.

    ''There's a lot of verbal abuse, as well as behavioural abuse. For example, when the supervisors do interviews, they will touch the women's hands. They will also give lots of comments on their bodies.''

    In such cases, Ms Pun said, hometown bonds that many of the women share also function as support networks.

    ''Most of these women will form some sort of ethnic or kinship enclave to cope with the industrialised network,'' Ms Pun said. ''This kind of kinship network helps them to cope with life in the workplace.''


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