If the World Cup isn’t about triumph or tragedy as eleven countrymen fight for national pride with illustrious skill, then dammit, it’s about data. And where there is data, there is Google. Every match a team of analysts, writers, and artists are standing by holding their finger to the social pulse of the world, and when something big happens, Google’s World Cup War Room responds.
The War Room sits on a tranquil circle in the shadow of the San Francisco’s Giants AT&T Park. Outside, I watch techies with lattes mill about in a small park, but it’s not long before my attention is drawn back inside, where the Google Trends team’s broadband is set directly on Brazil. Google is poised for a coverage attack on the World Cup, with their daily Doodles, the search result One Box (integrated with ESPN), and Street View team’s coverage of Brazil’s painted streets and stadiums. And then they have data.
As part of the Google Trends movement, Google’s amalgamating info from 1.5+ billion searches about the Cup and putting it into visually cathartic displays. Every match has a trend page, and each match sees at least one cartoon (the team calls the illustrations, straightforwardly, “Trends”). Some Trends are profound (“Even with the NBA Finals still in progress, USA searches are 10x higher for the World Cup”); some are trivial (“There are 3x more USA searches for its World Cup team, experts at kicking, than there are for Chuck Norris, expert at life”). Regardless of its implication, each trend is like a bite-sized bar fact, something that you wouldn’t have known otherwise. Google making you clever.
As part of the Google Trends movement, Google’s amalgamating info from 1.5+ billion searches about the Cup and putting it into visually cathartic displays.
The Google Trends team — when there’s not a World Cup at stake — takes search interests and puts them into mildly evocative charts (like plotting the timeline of when searches for the “Syrian Civil War” trumped searches for the “Syrian revolution”). They look for symmetry between facts. They look for spikes in interest and the world events that caused them. They look for the incredible and the data that supports it. Like Ángel di María and his divine goal.
When I show up the design team is putting the finishing touches on Ángel’s wings. Soon after, the Trend goes live (“Thanks to his divine goal against Switzerland, Argentina’s Ángel Di María netted 4x more global searches than countryman Pope Francis.”). This is one way Google’s responding to the World Cup, putting instantly digestible data bits out for the world to consume. There are twelve writers on the team, and Trends go out in as many languages as possible. It’s a global affair.
Shortly after I arrive, the U.S. versus Belgium game begins. Most of the Googlers roll Herman Miller chairs over to double-wide flat screens for the first half. A few huddle by a TV in the corner. Jerseys of red white and blue match with rolled denim jeans. The employees sip on sparkling water.
By the second half, typing slows and eyes turn TV-ward. The vibe overall fits with a casual office full of distracted people, but copies of finished products spread around the room give evidence that this is a serious space of productivity — that, and laptops are still on laps. Howard makes a big save in the 76th minute, and everyone pulls fingers from their keys and claps.
Howard makes a big save in the 76th minute, and everyone pulls fingers from their keys and claps.
End of regulation, and the War Room is feeling anxiously optimistic. A Googler walks by with a sheet in hand. “I’m adding that to the CMS now, while I’m freaking out”, she says. Two Googler pass a ball back and forth for stress relief. Fourteen people are huddled around one TV.
In the 93rd minute, Kevin De Bruyne buries the ball in the back of the net. Romelu Lukaku follows in the 105th. Exasperation sets in. Talk turns to how America may perceive soccer going forward, if this World Cup is yet another example of the ineptitude of our program. In rebuttal, Julian Green volleys the ball past Belgium’s keeper. The office explodes in hugs and high fives. Laptops are now closed. Data streams in on a set of eight screens adjacent to the TV. No one monitors the numbers. In Brazil, time winds away…and then, the whistle blows. Groans ensue, and the Googlers scatter back to their desks, getting to work making sense of the data and social movements of the last 121 minutes of play.
I wander over to Lachlan Williams, part of the creative team. Since June 12 he’s worked the World Cup straight through, seven days a week, with only two days off. I wonder what the comedown can be when you leave the peaks and valleys of rush, adrenaline and drop that happen every match on the War Room floor. I ask Lachlan his plans once it’s all over. His answer is streamlined and bite sized, just like the data he’s been poring over for the past three weeks: “Sleep.”