Peter VanRysdam / Digital Marketing / June 9th, 2008

Would Your Search History Make A Great Story?

So you might remember that AOL was nice enough to leak the search histories for hundreds of thousands of users last year.  Nice. 

According to the CNET article, in one search log, terms such as “how to tell your family you’re a victim of incest,” “casey middle school,” “surgical help for depression,” “can you adopt after a suicide attempt,” “Fishman David Dr – 2.6 miles NE – 160 E 34th St, New York, 10016 – (212) 731-5345,” “gynecology oncologists in new york city,” and “how long will the swelling last after my tummy tuck” appeared in the set of data. (To see a more extensive account of search phrases surfaced in the AOL data, click here.)

So now in a case of art imitating life or something like that, there’s a new play based on the search terms of user 927.  Here’s an excerpt from the AP article:

They are an unquestionably bizarre set of Internet search terms: Mange. Human mold. White camellia. Dying Elmo. Director Michael Alltop is seen during a rehearsal of Brat Productions’ “User 927” in Philadelphia.

Could those words also be clues to finding a missing person?

That’s the premise behind “User 927,” a new production in Philadelphia that blends fact and fiction in the tale of a disappearance from a small Midwestern town.

“It’s the world’s first play based on a search log,” director Michael Alltop said.

The story’s central clue is the real-life online search log of an AOL subscriber — identified only as User 927 — that was released to the public two years ago in a well-publicized privacy gaffe.

Alltop said he was astonished when AOL intentionally released some 19 million search requests made over three months by more than 650,000 subscribers.

The logs were meant to help academic researchers, but they were posted on a public site and quickly circulated once a blogger discovered them.

Although AOL had substituted numeric IDs for the subscribers’ real user names, there were enough clues for The New York Times and The Washington Post to track down two of the users and identify them by name.

The identity of User 927 is still unknown. But Alltop was fascinated enough by that subscriber’s freakish queries, including some disturbing sexual imagery, to commission a 90-minute play around the search log.

This got me thinking about my own search history, and if it’s entertaining.  Or just sad.  So I opened up google, and put my cursor in the search box.  Here is just a sampling of the autofill options that came up based on my past browsing:

“352 media” – I’m so vain.

“sony hdr-sr11” webcam – Do you know how hard it is to make a camcorder work as a Webcam?  Hard!

.m2ts codec – Also hard: playing the videos off the camcorder

.m2ts codec Windows Media Player – see?  Took two whole searches!

12 degrees celsius to fahrenheit – Don’t remember this one, but it sounds cold.

1Z896A2R0307456326 – Package finally got here, safe and sound.

adobe ai viewer – Did you realize there is no other program out there to view an ai file?  For shame, Adobe!

Abruzzo – Lovely region…also my new desktop wallpaper for a day.

BLT89781 flipper training base – OK, seriously, who sells a desk without the legs?  Someone trying to rip you off, that’s who!

Cornelius kegs dimensions – I’m selling my old kegerator.  No, I’m not getting old…I’m upgrading!

cost of living new zealand – Gotta keep your options open, ya know?

Not a compelling story there, though I only got to the letter “C”.  Regardless, I’m going to delete my cache now.  I suggest you do too.

delete your cache!