A new tool shows the geography of Internet distraction.
As if watching YouTube weren't enough of a distraction, you can now track exactly what everyone else is watching on YouTube. Earlier this week the video site launched the YouTube Trends Maps — a geographic display of who's watching what in cities across the United States:
The Trends Map displays viewing and sharing behavior among registered users on the YouTube Dashboard within the past 12-to-24 hours. YouTube says it surveyed only those U.S. metropolitan regions large enough to return reliable results during this period. A quick count of the map shows roughly 150 cities in all.
The data can be filtered in several ways: by gender, by seven different age groups, or by type. (The latter divides video activity into "views" and "shares," though presumably anything shared was first viewed.) These demographic breakdowns can be sorted manually, but many of them are also depicted in bar graphs below the map:
Hovering over a city shows the three most popular videos in that region, how many times it's been viewed, and how many other cities across the country have the same top ranking. A quick glance last night, for instance, showed that there was no Red America or Blue America but rather a Charles Ramsey America. The songified version of Ramsey's interview about the Cleveland, Ohio, kidnappings was the top viewed video in 86 of the tracked regions (58 percent).
The demographic filters offer some behavioral insight — among 13-to-17 year old females, a singing tribute to cancer patient Zach Sobiech topped Ramsey yesterday — but the really fascinating breakdowns occur at the geographic level. While the eastern half of the country was stuck on Ramsey last night, for instance, people west of the Mississippi were getting their kicks elsewhere. Instead, a teenage Japanese track racer had caught the attention of Californians and Texans and Dust Bowl residents, while a Star Trek compilation had carried the Pacific Northwest.
A few areas had even asserted their viewing independence. The top clip in Miami-Ft. Lauderdale yesterday showed a player ejection from Game 2 of the N.B.A. playoff series between the local Heat and the Chicago Bulls. (Back in Chicago, meanwhile, Ramsey still ruled.) The leading clip in Madison, Wisconsin, was a video about the nation's "best college town": Madison, Wisconsin. (That was still the case this morning.)
Of course all those preferences will no doubt change very quickly — an angry student captured Texas in the time it took to compile this post — and it will be the job of social scientists to keep up. YouTube says it will reveal additional features in the future, and a few obvious ones come to mind. It would be great to filter the country by population or political preference, for instance, and also to have an expanded trends map showing global interests. The better to remind us that, despite our differences, we're all united in the pursuit of distraction.