If you've never heard of Google Trends don't worry, its not all that important. Basically its a tool that measures the search volume of a given word or phrase over time. So you can see when news events affect a phrases search volume as you can see in the following graph - which just for the fun of it and as a good example of news pushing search - shows search volume for Michael Jackson. The recent news of his passing caused Google search volumes to increase by over 40 times the normal search volume average.
Michael Jackson Search
We can then use this tool to analyze trends in search, which is really a measure of how a concept spreads through our society; the more people are thinking about a particular issue, the more Google searches are performed around a given concept. Below you can see the results for "carfree" in Google search and notice that carfree is a concept that for sometime wasn't showing up in Google's radar. One also notices that events such as carfree days and conferences are major drivers of search traffic.
Another useful feature is a display of the regions, cities, and languages that are searching the most for the term. In the case of "carfree" Hungary is the region generating the most searches while Phoenix, AZ (WTF) Portland, OR and Budapest Hungary are the three most prolific searchers.
Again, we can see that the concept of alternative transportation, while not new, has in the last several years gained social awareness. And after reading through the information about Google Trends I've concluded that the dead space in the graphs for both "carfree" and "alternative transportation" isn't form Google not tracking the terms or people not searching for these concepts. Rather, its the result of such low search volumes to begin with that the current search volumes make the old data from years 04 and 05 not show up on the graph because of the graphs scale, which just goes to illustrating how much these two ideas have seeped into our social consciousness.
Alternative Transportation Search
The next graph for "cycling" was interesting. First, the fact that it is trending down doesn't mean less people are searching for the term, just that the average search volume is slowly increasing, making the peaks less out of range with the average. Secondly, the peaks are associated with the Tour de France.
Of course using a seemingly related search term such as "bicycle" can change the trend significantly even though it would seem that they are closely related. Gone are the big peaks produced by the Tour de France and instead we see more gentle increases during the summer months as people no doubt search for bike shops, parts, new bikes, and places to ride while the weather is nice.
Finally, we can see a true trend with "fixie" the term given to fixed-gear bicycles by urban hipsters. The Europeans have us beat when it comes to Fixies, with Denmark topping the search list for regions while the US is only sixth.
Week 13 Carfree Stats
Miles Biked: 54.99
Gallons Saved: 3.44
CO2 Not Emitted: 21.58 Ibs