At its more basic level, tracking trends is a two-pronged pursuit. You track “trendy” topics that are usually short-lived or you track long-term trends. Both can be useful, depending on the nature of your job, but I gravitate to the longer-term trends that move in interesting ways over the course of months, years, decades or centuries.
To track trendy trends, there are a number of tools to use:
- Google News: This is my favorite. I’ve personalized it to get a customized feed. If you’re interested in using it, go there and hit the “Personalize” button on the upper right side of the page. Here’s a quick tutorial.
- Feedly: This is another news aggregator I sometimes use. I consider it more robust than Google News.
- Flipbook: A social magazine I find helpful, especially as a reader on my phone.
- Twitter: Not only does your normal Twitter page contain a Trends feed, there are various sources that leverage Twitter trends, such as trends24.in and trendsmap.com.
- Cyfe: An all-in-one business dashboard.
- Signal: Journalists use this to locate trends, photos, videos and posts from Facebook and Instagram for use in their storytelling and reporting.
- Tumblr, Reddit and other microblogging platforms. Like Twitter, these are can be useful for spotting trends, though it often feels like drinking from a firehose to me.
- Socialmention: This is a real-time social media search and analysis engine.
- LinkedIn Interest Groups: These can be a bit iffy because they’re often overrun by marketers and consultants, but they can sometimes be a good way of getting a deep look into specific topics.
- Twitter lists: These are a badly underused resource, in my opinion. They are often the best way of finding out what experts in specific fields are thinking at any given time. For example, see Ross Dawson’s list of Futurists or my own list of Analytics.
Longer term trends are often of particular interest to futurists, academics, demographers, policy planners, marketers and more. Below are ten useful sources for those seeking information on social, demographic, technology and market trends.
Interest In Machine Learning Since 2004, According to Google Trends
- Google Trends: Based on Google searches, this web facility shows how people search for a specific terms relative to the total number of searches. What shows up on the homepage is useful if you’re just looking for stories du jour. If you’re seeking long-term trends, however, it’s more interesting to add terms to it’s “explore topics” search field. This will give you an idea of how certain trends have fared. For example, the term “machine learning” has become more popular in recent years. And, it’s not a short-lived, flash-in-the-pan trend but a longer-term one that hasn’t yet plateaued (see graph above).
- Pew Research Center: As a nonpartisan “fact tank,” Pew conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, content analysis and other data-driven social science research. Although such research sometimes provides little more than a “snapshot” of issues, Pew also conducts longitudinal research and tracks longitudinal data from other resources. For example, its piece “Smaller Share of Women Ages 65 and Older Are Living Alone” tracks Census Bureau data dating back to 1900.
- Internet Live Stats: Some sites focus on trends in a particular area. This site tracks data on a variety of trends related to Internet users, total websites, active Facebook users, and more. By clicking into any one of these areas, you’ll find sources of data that will help you spot and invesigate these tech trends at a deeper level. For example, there’s a link to The World Factbook, which ia excellent source of internaitonal information.
- U.S. Government Agencies: There are far too many of these to cover here, but there are a few that trendwatchers consistently rely to glean trend data:
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Houses long-term data on many key issues, such as payroll employment, productivity, Consumer Price Index and more.
- Bureau of Economic Analysis: Houses data on GPD, corporate profits, consumer spending and more.
- Bureau of Justice Statistics: Contains data on crime rates, recidivism, court caseloads and more.
- National Center for Education Statistics: Part of the U.S. Department of Education, this center produces a weath of data One key report is the Condition of Education report, which is published annually.
- European Union: The EU Open Data Portal has an immense amount of data about European nations and the EU site houses hundreds, if not thousands, of reports, studies and booklets. It also has a section on statistics and opinion polls.
- United Nations: Yes, the UN is a huge bureaucracy with a global agenda, but it also houses a deep pool of information. There is the UNSD Statistical Databases, The Monthly Bulletin of Statistics, and The United Nations Development Programs, among other resources.
- World Bank: With the stated goal of ending exteme poverty within a generation, the World Bank produces a range of publications and contains the World Databank.
- TrendWatching.com: They have a Free Trends section that contains “Trend Briefings” on a variety of topics. They tie trends back to branding opportunities for companies. For example, they argue that amid today’s rash of social conflicts, people are seeking ways of reaching the kind of reconciliation that brings people together. The company Bagley created special buscuits for the International Anti-Bullying Day in order to attach their brand to efforts at reconciliation.
- Trend Hunter: A large trend community, this source features “a daily dose of innovation ideas, virtual news and pop culture.” The organization sells plans that give members access to a variety of advisory services.
- Other trendwatching and consultancy sites, including:
BY MARK VICKERS