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Date: 07 September 2006 

Business rolls sex as hottest web search topic

Sex and pornography have been ousted from their position as the most commonly searched topics on the internet by searches on business and e-commerce, Queensland University of Technology IT researchers have found.

In their mid-90s heyday, sex-related topics were the most commonly searched category, accounting for 17 per cent of web searches but that figure has now fallen to less than 4 per cent of web inquiries, information scientist Professor Amanda Spink said.

She said business topics had outstripped sex and entertainment to become the leading search category with a whopping 30 per cent of web searches.

"Buying and selling on the net and other commerce-related topics are the most frequently occurring search category, people and travel are next, followed by computer and medical information," Professor Spink said.

She could only speculate on why sex-related sites were no longer in such hot demand.

"It could be the favourites are bookmarked," she said, "or it could be an overwhelming increase in people looking for information on other topics".

Her studies, in collaboration with Dr Jim Jansen at The Pennsylvania State University, have analysed 20 to 30 million search sessions from popular search engines including Alta Vista, AlltheWeb.com, Ask.com, Excite and Dogpile.

They showed sex-related web searching in the US and Europe had fallen from the top spot of 17 per cent in 1997 to below 3.8 per cent in 2005.

Her latest study on this topic, with QUT's Dr Helen Partridge, appears in the internet journal First Monday (http://www.firstmonday.org/) this month. It is part of a large-scale, ongoing research project conducted by Professor Spink since 1997 to better understand web search behaviour.

Professor Spink will present more new findings on web searching and gratification at the international conference of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) in Brisbane from September 28 to 30. It is the first time the conference has been held in southern hemisphere.

Web search engines were "a very competitive business" because of their capacity to attract advertising and new web search engines were always being developed with new tools such as multi-media to improve their processes, she said.

"Web companies want us to be more exploratory and interactive but generally people are not good at web searching.

"It's because we are not trained to use web search engines well. There are many specialised web search engines in certain fields but we don't tend to use them. Instead we stick to those that have been successfully branded and marketed."

Professor Spink's research aims to understand people's information behavior, including how they use web search engines and order their tasks to improve the design of search systems.

"The current aim of the web search engines is to personalise and enhance individual web searching by mapping the differences in search behaviour. Different types of searching styles are emerging in the user population."

Her latest studies showed the average Australian search session consisted of two or three words per query and two or three queries each session.

"While the average time spent searching is creeping up, a lot of people search for less than a minute. There is, however, a group which has much longer interaction and more complex searching behaviour."

Media contact: Niki Widdowson, QUT media, 07 3864 1841 or n.widdowson@qut.edu.au.
** High res pic of Professor Spink available for media use.

 

Professor Amanda Spink