After last weeks big front page story on Winnersh being top for searches for ‘pornography’ on Google, on this weeks Wokingham Times the story again makes the front page, abeit in a small part of one column, with what is as close to an admission that they got it wrong as I think the paper is going to get.
Alongside my posting on the subject last week, I also e-mailed a similar explanation of how Google Trends works to the editorial e-mail address of the newspaper. I was careful to not explicitly criticise the paper, however I expect that even the most hardened newspaper editor would probably be a little embarassed having spent a lot of time getting interviews with locals on something that was effectively misleading data from Google.
The latest article does mention the Google ‘best guess’ location algorithm – the source of the high marks, without actually expanding on how it works, nor mentioning the ‘normalisation’ of the figures that occurs to take account of location size. It does mention that the cluster of high-tech companies – including a couple of big data-centres – as a possible cause the high figure. However for residents of Winnersh it is still written from the point of view of there being an above average number of people searching for pornography, primarily because it is written as a report on online discussion on the subject triggered by their article, and the associated details of the discussion, rather than being a correction of a previously incorrect story.
Having said that, the paper this week isn’t all bad. St James has a nice little article talking about the new guide to the Churchyard we’ve just produced, including pictures of some of the significant graves, the author of the guide with Rev Richard, and a nice shot of the Church too.
Don’t you just love local newspapers. It has obviously been a slow news week this week, as the main headline on the front of the Wokingham News this week is ‘Village’s Posh Porn Surfers Top UK Table‘.
Essentially, the whole basis of the article is that someone at the paper has been playing around with Google Trends that relates search terms to the apparent location of the person performing the search – the paper has put the word ‘pornography’ into the engine, and found that Winnersh, a village between Wokingham and Reading has come out top. You can see the results on Google Trends here. Interestingly, the BBC have a similar article giving Birmingham the top place for the word ‘porn’.
The paper really went to town on the whole thing, even interviewing a local sex therapist about this apparent proportionally higher level of people interested in pornography in Winnersh.
However all is not as it seems. The BBC article highlights the flaw in the data:
Google uses IP address information to make a â€œbest guessâ€? about where the queries originated.
Unlike a phone number, the IP address someone uses on the internet is not closely tied to a particular place. For example looking at my phone number, you can establish that someone lives in and around Arborfield, as their number begins 0118 976. Equally you know that someone lives in Finchampstead or Eversley because their numbers begin 0118 973. However if you look at my IP address, it is registered to a company in Rochdale in Lancashire – there is nothing associated with the address that would indicate that I’m actually near Reading. This is the source of the problem – there are lots of high technology companies clustered around the Thames Valley, indeed there is a large technology park at Winnersh Triangle so therefore there are a lot of companies whose internet access goes through Winnersh. Indeed, stick a few different search terms into Google Trends and see how frequently the same cities come up, not because their internet use is higher, but because they have major internet companies in the area. Take a look at this list which includes the NTL datacentres, and note how frequently all the places that they have datacentres turn up on the Google Trends list.
So in effect, the story is total rubbish. Having said that, it did give the local paper a good story, and us a good deal of laughter at work at the reactions of people who actually live in Winnersh.