Monday, March 15, 2010

The Decline of Bowling

If you have never explored the site Google Insights for Search, I would highly recommend you do so. You will find that Google has opened their search database to the world. If you enter a term, you can see how the frequency of searches for that term has changed over time and how they pattern geographically. It gives you glimpse into the minds of the internet browsing world. This can give you "insight" into the rising or fading popularity of anything, and how the popularity of that thing varies geographically.

In that light, I decided to check out how searches for bowling have changed through time. If you simply enter "bowling", you get results that are confounded by other search terms, like "bowling green". So, I decided to use the phrase "bowling ball". I am assuming that people who search using the term "bowling ball" are almost always interested in the sport, and as such, these data can tell us about how many people in the world are thinking about tenpins. If you do this, here is what you will find:

There are two important features of this graph. First, it oscillates with peaks in the northern hemisphere winter and troughs in the summer. This part is easily explainable. When people are cold, they think about bowling balls. Yeah, I know. Bowling is a winter sport. In the summer, people are concerned with other things. The more troubling aspect of this graph is its decline. Since early 2004, searches for "bowling ball" have decreased at an average rate of 9% per year. The popularity of bowling is waning.

For the moment, I don't really have an explanation for what is causing this, but I strongly feel that it is a cultural phenomenon. Explaining such cultural changes is not an easy thing to do. I will note that if this were a stock, I would consider buying it. Bowling cannot decline forever. At some point that trend will reverse, and the sport will have its day. Who knows what will spark that change, but I am confident it will happen in due time.

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