Google took a big step toward making the database of intentions visible to the world — by creating a product called Google Trends. It allows you to check the relative popularity of any search term, to look at how it has changed over the last couple years and to see the cities where the term is most popular. And it's totally addictive.

You can see, for example, that the volume of Google searches would have done an excellent job predicting this year's "American Idol," with Taylor Hicks (the champion) being searched more often than Katharine McPhee (second place), who in turn was searched more often than Elliot Yamin (third place). Then you can compare Hillary Clinton and Al Gore and discover that she was more popular than he for almost all of the last two years, until he surged past her in April and stayed there.

Thanks to Google Trends, the mayor of Elmhurst, Ill., a Chicago suburb, has had to explain why his city devotes more of its Web searches to "sex" than any other in the United States (because it doesn't have strip clubs or pornography shops, he gamely told The Chicago Sun-Times). On Mr. Battelle's blog, somebody claiming to own an apparel store posted a message saying that it was stocking less Von Dutch clothing and more Ed Hardy because of recent search trends.(A disclosure: The New York Times Company owns a stake in Mr. Battelle's latest Internet company, Federated Media Publishing.)

It's the connection to marketing that turns the database of intentions from a curiosity into a real economic phenomenon. For now, Google Trends is still a blunt tool. It shows only graphs, not actual numbers, and its data is always about a month out of date. The company will never fully pull back the curtain, I'm sure, because the data is a valuable competitive tool that helps Google decide which online ads should appear at the top of your computer screen, among other things.

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