As the U.S. came close to tying the match with Germany in the final minute of stoppage time at the World Cup, shouts were heard in bars, living rooms and workplaces across the United States.
But at one nondescript loft office of a San Francisco design studio in the quaint South Park neighborhood, everyone watching the game was doing so for work.
Google has set up a war room of sorts, with a team of data analysts, writers and designers collaborating on various infographics and factoids based on the more than 1.1 billion World Cup queries being typed into its search engine.
Such number crunching revealed that following the match between Uruguay and Italy, more than 20 times as many people were searching for “Suarez bite” than for all the other typical kinds of bites combined (tick, flea, dog, mosquito, etc.).
Producing this information on the fly is a shift for Google. The search team often releases data after the fact, but it’s the first time it has endeavored to do so in near-real-time and at this scale. The couple dozen people in the room are gathered for the duration of the month-long tournament, weekends included. Indeed, Friday is the first day off in weeks, with no games being played as the tournament moves from the round-robin to the 16-team elimination stage.
As the U.S. struggled to score in the final minutes of the match against Germany, the teams in the war room raced to find a key trend. In one corner, Google data scientists monitored trends at a long conference table. Across the room, designers, writers and editors (mostly contractors) worked on the final product — a brightly colored infographic tied to each game.
Everyone enjoyed watching the game, particularly with the U.S. playing well enough to advance beyond the initial round, but work came first. Even at some of the most critical moments of the match, a team of people huddled over a computer screen to review possible stats to pull out once the game had ended.
Minutes after the final whistle, a bell rang in the room, indicating another infographic was done. The team working on the Ghana-Portugal game had finished its image — one noting that globally, searches for Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan increased by 18 times as he became the top African goal scorer in World Cup history.
A short while later, designer Brian Hurewitz completed his image on the U.S.-Germany game, noting that “U.S. vs. Germany” (and similar queries) were outpacing all other topics in the U.S., generating even more volume than searches for the weather or navigational queries for Facebook and, oddly enough, Google itself, which usually top the chart.
Those will be printed out and pasted on a wall, joining the hundred or so that the team has already produced.
For Carlos Monzon, who oversaw the effort to translate the search trends into a dozen languages, it was a dream job. If he weren’t helping Google with this project, he’d probably be sneaking away from work to watch the games.
“When they told me about it, it was like: ‘I am in,’” he said. “You get to watch something you love.”
Just before the game it was Monzon, a trained opera singer, who was whistling the U.S. national anthem. Monzon was born in Mexico, but his wife is American and his two children were born here. “It’s kind of divided,” he said of his loyalties.
There was no such division for Nils Thorson, whose job it was to monitor World Cup-related social media. Ahead of the game Nils handed out cookies — American chocolate chip cookies, he emphasized.
The U.S. may struggle to keep up with the global elite on the soccer pitch, but when it comes to social media there is no competition, he said. Within minutes of the game ending, the hashtags “IBelieved,” “BringonBelgium,” “BeatBelgium” and “RoundOf16″ all started trending on Twitter.
“The U.S. dominated social media during that game,” Thorson said.
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