Measuring Occupy Steam

by Sebastian Benthall

The Economist recently blogged that the Occupy movement may be losing steam, based on the number of posts per day on the We Are the 99% Tumblr blog.

The author explains the appeal of this metric here, arguing that since updating a site is more effortful than using a Twitter hashtag, it is a better indicator of involvement.

While it’s definitely worth making the distinction of between on-line buzz and meat activity, using just one web site as an indicator seemed shady to me. Who knows what could be influencing that Tumblr? Maybe it’s just the site that’s lost steam, since by now anybody who is likely to look at it probably (a) has already and (b) gets the point.

What about using a more aggregate measure of how much people care about the Occupy movement? Here’s an easy one to grab: the number of Google searches for ‘occupy’.

You can see spikes corresponding to some major Occupy events:

  • October 15th, the peak, was Occupy’s Global Day of Action
  • October 27th, another high, came right after an Oakland occupier got brained by a police tear gas canister.
  • November 3rd was Oakland’s Occupy-induced general strike
  • The last little bump on November 10th corresponds to the Colbert coverage of the police brutality on Berkeley’s campus

Yes, searches are in decline. But the numbers suggest that as long as protesters can keep things eventful–by causing an economic ruckus or getting beat up–they will stay on the public radar.