Talk to Marissa Mayer, Google's 20th employee and the company's first female engineer and she'll tell you "Zeitgeist," by definition, is "the spirit of the times. And it really tries to capture the moral, ethical and the popular cultures of the day."
As Google's vice president of search and user experience, she ought to know. She presides over what might be described as the ultimate popularity contest, the Google Zeitgeist, a comprehensive, cultural cross-section of what's hot, and what's not, based on what people search for through the course of 2007.
This year's list, released today, details some surprising results. Quick, name the most popular presidential candidate based on who users were searching for: Hillary Clinton? Rudy Guiliani? Nope. The outspoken, quirky Ron Paul beat out all other candidates.
Mayer tells me, in our exclusive interview, that, "Ron Paul had a huge up-swell in terms of online interest. He had the largest fundraising day online ever. I think people are wondering who he is and what he stands for and it gives them interest in searching for him." Of course, his results are probably helped by the fact that conventional media tends to dwell only on the front-runners, spurring voters to search for information on their own. And that's where Google comes in.