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2017 - the year of asking 'how'

Google trends report shows the top searches; new Facebook button gives more user control

If there's a word to describe 2017, it would be the year of the "hows", according to Google.

Searches beginning with "how" hit an all-time high this year, said Google, which released its annual Year in Search report last week. It capped a growing trend over the last decade, which has seen "how" queries increase by 150 per cent.

The top "how" searches this year ranged from the serious to the trivial . The top three "how" queries were:

•How to make slime: A Google search on how to make the gooey stuff - some say the DIY process is therapeutic - yielded more than 11 million results.

•How to make solar eclipse glasses: The historic total solar eclipse on Aug 21 wowed millions in the United States.

•How to buy Bitcoin: Enough said about the cryptocurrency craze.

There was also a surge in "how" searches linked to key news events, such as "how far can North Korea missiles go", "how to help refugees" and even "how to run for office".

“How to make slime” was the top search in Google’s annual Year in Search report released last week. PHOTO: THESLIMEYSHOP/INSTAGRAM

What does this trend say about 2017?

"People aren't only using Google Search to find information about the topics that matter to them. They're increasingly searching for ways to take action and find out how to do things - including how to donate or volunteer in moments of crisis," Google Search trends expert Hannah Glenny told BBC News.

Google's annual round-up - there is a global ranking as well as country-specific lists - also included categories such as specific search terms and trending news events. Globally, the top search terms were:

•Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic storm in a decade;

•iPhone 8

•iPhone X

•Matt Lauer, the Today show host who was fired by NBC News over sexual harassment claims

•Meghan Markle, Prince Harry's bride-to-be

The Singapore list, meanwhile, depicts a nation of techies who love movies and monster-hunting.

Sgpokemap - a real-time map for augmented-reality game Pokemon Go - was the No. 1 search term, followed by iPhone 8, iPhone X, Wonder Woman, and Beauty and the Beast.

Sgpokemap – a real-time map for augmented-reality game Pokemon Go – was the No. 1 search term in the Google Singapore list. ST FILE PHOTO

The top news events here were the SEA Games; 38 Oxley Road; F1 2017 Singapore; Halimah Yacob and GST Voucher.


Seeing one too many cute dog/cat/baby/look-I-am-on-holiday pictures clogging up your Facebook news feed?

You will soon have a more polite way of blocking out such content.

Facebook announced on Friday that it will be launching over the coming week a "Snooze" button. The option - which can be found in the top-right drop-down menu of a post - will allow Facebook users to temporarily "mute" content from a person, Page or group for 30 days. The party being "snoozed" will not know it.

Facebook said the option - like existing features such as "unfollow" and "hide" - is aimed at giving users "more control" over their news feed.

The move came as Facebook stepped up its defence against growing criticism that social media is in fact making people anti-social.

A study released in March by US researchers found that using online services such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube at least two hours daily was correlated with reporting feelings of social isolation.

Facebook, in a blog post on Friday, argued that it "really comes down to how you use the technology".

Citing research, it said social media can be good for people's well-being if they use it to actively interact with others - such as sharing posts and comments with close friends - instead of passively scrolling through a feed of other people's posts.

It cited the new Snooze option as an example aimed at making the user experience "more positive".

Had enough of Christmas selfies invading your news feed? You know what you can do.

A "BORING" HAT TO CAP 2017? 35,000.

Billionaire Elon Musk tweeted that mysterious number last week, leaving some of his 16.6 million Twitter followers guessing about its significance.


    STAR WARS: The Force was with Star Wars: The Last Jedi which brought in US$45 million (S$61 million) in the US and Canada on its opening night, second only to the US$57 million from Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015.

    BITCOIN: The value of the cryptocurrency raced to new highs of more than US$19,000 this week, triggering concerns that the bubble might burst.

    ROY MOORE: The Republican lost the Alabama senate race to Democrat Doug Jones, amid allegations that he sexually assaulted or pursued teenage girls during his younger days.

"Model 3 price," one of them tweeted, referring to the price of the Tesla Model 3 electric car which Mr Musk launched this year.

"Bitcoin target?" wrote another follower who was quick to link it to a recent rumour - which Mr Musk has denied - that he is the mysterious bitcoin creator who used the alias Satoshi Nakamoto.

As it turned out, the Tesla and SpaceX boss was referring to the number of baseball caps he has sold.

Why is the man with a net worth of some US$20 billion (S$27 billion) selling US$20 caps?

Mr Musk started the project in March to promote his new tunnelling business, The Boring Company. The latter was born out of his frustration with Los Angeles' notorious traffic jams.

"Traffic is driving me nuts," he tweeted last December. "Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging."

He proved he wasn't joking when he tweeted in October a picture of a tunnel built beneath his SpaceX's LA headquarters, which he said would "work like a fast freeway" when completed.

Meanwhile, Mr Musk - who has changed his Twitter bio to Hat Salesman - has been promoting what he called the "super boring hats". A Dec 3 tweet that said he would be "capping cap orders at 50,000 caps" sent sales soaring to 35,000. That worked out to be US$700,000.

Small change for the billionaire but good money for some "super boring" hats.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 17, 2017, with the headline '2017 - the year of asking 'how''. Print Edition | Subscribe