The Guardian × Kaiasm: Analysis of Covid search terms reveals Britons' hopes and fears in 2020

A host of coronavirus searches tell the story of 2020

By Liam McGee, Chief Scientist, Kaiasm. January 2021.

Did you know that in April 2020 more people were worrying about Kate Garraway's husband getting coronavirus than were worrying about Boris Johnson getting coronavirus? And, while we started "all in it together", as the rules splintered, and Dominic Cummings's "rules for you but not for me" approach became apparent, our geographic areas of interest got ever more local?

Linda Geddes, science correspondent at The Guardian, wrote a *lot* about coronavirus in December 2020, unsurprisingly. So we were rather pleased when she asked us what light we could shed on the subject, and even more pleased when that turned into a very extensive article on the subject.

Kaiasm had been working on mapping coronavirus-related search demand, using as a starting point data from Bing that used a reverse random walk method -- essentially using the pages which were receiving lots of coronavirus search to see what *other* search terms delivered them to those same pages, in order to generate a rather noisy related-to-coronavirus expressions set, which we were busily cleaning up. For fun. Great raw data, publicly available (kudos to Bing), but all based on proportion of searches per day, and sadly with no way of seeing how that was changing day by day, nor the absolute numbers of searches. Luckily, we are able to provide absolute numbers from our own proprietary data (based on years of massive sampling of real users), and were able to blend this with data from Google Trends to check how they had varies across the weeks of the year. All together, that allowed us to see who wanted to know what about Coronavirus, and where they were going to get answers.

Linda delved into the knowledge we had uncovered with us, and determined that there were some very interesting news stories in there. She then introduced us to the very brilliant Cath Levett, Head of Graphics at Guardian News & Media, and developed a simple visualisation to show what the largest absolute movements of searches were, month to month. After some deep though around how best to show this graphically, both the absolute movement and the context it was moveing in, we agreed a circles-within-circles concept. The powers that be at The Guardian commissioned a pretty hefty word count, and a review of the years or coronavirus worries got most of a page in the print edition, and a great article online too. You can read the full article here: Analysis of Covid search terms reveals Britons' hopes and fears in 2020.