Every person, place, thing, and idea whose name can be found on the Internet has an existence that can be detected and measured by search engines. The relentless spiders of Google will find you and rank you (and let’s leave for another day the techno-philosophical question of whether web pages that have no incoming or outgoing links can be said to exist at all). This measurement is, to me, a kind of “pulse”, telling us how strong — how healthy — any given idea is in our collective digital mind.
So whenever we Google our own names (and you know you’ve done it!), we are in effect checking this “Googlepulse” to see how healthy we are in terms of our visibility and connectedness on the Internet. We are, in a sense, measuring our very digital existence.
This measurement will fluctuate over time as the number and freshness of the links to a particular topic varies, much as a person’s pulse will vary during their life as they grow, get in and out of shape, and undergo the natural effects of aging. In January of 2006, if you Googled “iPhone” you probably wouldn’t see much, but in January of 2007 you’d find a hell of a lot. In a sense, this measurement is like what doctors do when they take your vital signs — pulse, blood pressure, etc — and take note of how they change over time. Google is our digital doctor.
(Of course, Google isn’t the only way to do this. You can also gain insight into a concept’s digital pulse via overall site rankings at Alexa, blog tracking at Technorati (especially Technorati Mini), del.icio.us, blog trackbacks, any news web site’s internal alert systems, Neilsen’s Blogpulse metrics, news and blog aggregators, and of course any other search engine. Even Twitter now allows you to essentially measure your Twitterpulse through an alert system. I’m focusing on Google simply because it pretty much encompasses all of the above.)
Being the health nut that I am (and being highly narcissistic), I am no longer satisfied to simply Google myself every so often. I need a constant blinking light telling me my pulse. Which is why I love Google Alerts. Google Alerts is a new (?) feature that allows you to set up persistent search queries and then receive notifications in daily emails about any new activity with that keyword.
So I’ve set up some of my own Google Alerts for several variations on “Christopher Fahey” and “graphpaper.com”, and it’s fun to see them roll in every morning telling me who is talking about me and where I am showing up. My awareness of my “footprint” on the Internet (to introduce another metaphor) has gone up a bit, I think.
The ironic thing about this is that most of us probably have a better idea of our own Googlepulse than we do the pulse of our own living beating hearts.
UPDATE: I’ve set up a Google Alert for “Googlepulse” to measure the Googlepulse of “Googlepulse”. My haste to move this post from draft to live was inspired by an offhand remark I made on Twitter, and the response I got from David Armano urging me to move quickly. This meta-experiment should be fun. So far, even my original Tweet doesn’t show up on Google. Now that I’ve linked to it, I’m sure it will.