Where Do You Click and What Does it Mean?

Author Bill Tancer says Americans are clicking on a lot of adult Web sites.


Aug. 28, 2008— -- For centuries we have traveled the earth seeking knowledge. But today, if you want or need to know anything, from the meaning of life to the location of the nearest Starbucks, those answers are just a click away.

But are there other mysteries hidden in that unassuming Internet search box? In his new book, "Click," Bill Tancer, who has spent years analyzing how 10 million Americans use the Internet, said he has learned a lot about who we are by examining what we search. (To read an excerpt of the book, CLICK HERE).

"It's an insight into ourselves that we haven't really had before," Tancer said.

So what are we thinking about in these dog days of summer? Mom? Baseball? Apple pie? Not exactly.

"On any given week about 10 or 11 percent of all Internet visits are going to porn sites," Tancer said.

Considering the massive amount of traffic on the Web, 10 percent is a lot of pornography. Adult entertainment endures as the number one destination on the Internet.

But who is logging on to these sites? As you might guess it is mostly male-dominated, but women do search for adult sites as well. The types of materials searched for within these sites changes when it is a man versus a woman.

"It is mostly male -- about 75, 78 percent on any given month or week," Tancer said. "When we look at the female component, we find that it's a much different usage pattern than males. They're looking at sites where people are creating -- creating texts, creating stories, erotic stories."

The men look at the pictures while women are reading the erotic literature.

There are also differences between who is searching on these sites and how they are searching these sites between the so-called red and blue states, Democrat versus Republican.

"Some of the blue states, the interest was more about directories of adult entertainers," Tancer said. "Like sites that listed directories of, of call girls or escorts."

Tancer said that in Republican-heavy red states, porn visitors shun paid escorts in favor of wife-swapping and X-rated matchmaking Web sites. But since access to these sites is expensive, where are people getting the money during these troubling economic times?

We don't know for certain how people are paying for these sites, but one theory that Tancer has come up with is that people used their economic stimulus checks in other ways than what they were intended for. Tancer found that the one group that has increased, of all the demographics, is the $30,000 to $60,000 per year household income group.

"That probably is the group that's got the most to gain from the tax stimulus package," he said. "And we've actually seen an increase in visits to adult entertainment sites just over the last two or three months."

So what does this all say about us as a nation? There are some simple things we can learn about us by looking at the consistent number one "how to" search -- how to tie a tie.

"It spikes during the summer months. We think that's because of weddings. A lot of people who don't usually wear ties are searching on how to tie a tie during June, for example," Tancer said.

And while Americans seem to have a year-long love affair with gambling, it changes based on the season.

"When it's not a peak sporting season, rather than somebody just laying off gambling and doing something else we see an increase on poker gambling," he said. "We're spending it on whatever gambling activity fits that time of year."

Tancer said the reason we can learn so much about people from how they search is because our relationship with computers is changing. It is becoming more intimate.

"When you look into the very early days of search engines, we used it mostly as a utility just to get us that piece of information we were looking for," he said. "But what our data is telling us is that people are using search engines as things like a confidant, a place to get information where you don't want to be judged about asking the question."

Like when you have questions, especially embarrassing ones about things that scare you, you are more likely to search the Internet than asking someone.

"We found there are 1,300 unique fears that people were searching on," Tancer said. "So we could actually tell you what's the most searched-on fear."

That answer might surprise you. It changes depending on the year, but the fear of intimacy and the fear of being alone are almost tied, which is ironic. And if you start to really search, people have interesting fears, such as fears of belly button lint, or fear of elbows.

"For whatever reason when we sit down in front of a computer, we feel very open to typing in perhaps a question we might be too embarrassed to ask even our own doctors or our spouses, or anyone else," he said.

But there is a dark side to some of these searches and the willingness we have to sit down and ask the computer just about anything. Nearly 10 percent of all searches involve answers to illegal activities.

"You go down to the bottom of the list, and you find things like how to make a bomb or how to commit suicide, a lot of very scary queries," Tancer said.

Celebrity searches are one of the most popular categories of sites.

"When celebrities do wrong is, is one of the common categories that really causes a massive amount of searches," he said. "When there's a scandal celebrity deaths are popular. One of the most popular search terms of all times was when Anna Nicole Smith died."

Tancer found that people wanted more information about Anna Nicole Smith's death than how she actually lived.

"And if you look across celebrities that have died, we have a very macabre interest in our society around death," he said. "And while it's very sad if there is a death that's particularly gruesome, you'll find searches for videos of that."

And a celebrity sex tape can send millions running to their computers to try and find it. Tancer says that it doesn't really matter who the celebrity is who created the tape, that search term is almost guaranteed to be number one.

"Again, it kind of appeals to the prurient interest, just like the macabre interest that we have with celebrities. If there is even a rumor of a tape existing, even if it doesn't exist, we'll see a massive spike in searches," he said.

So is it true that we are what we search? "We really are," Tancer said. "It really tells us about what we're thinking about, what we're concerned about and how things in the world really affect what we do and what we think."

"Click" is published by Hyperion Books, which is owned by The Walt Disney Company, the parent company of ABC News.

For more from Bill Tancer read his blog.

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