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Digging into data What Google doesn't tell you about its Doodles

The giant supports neutrality but conveys at times controversial values in its Doodles. We analyzed all of them to understand which ideas the company really stands for.

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How do you see Google? A disturbing Big Brother, a hip company that spoils its employees, an advertisement agency, a search engine? Or maybe an LGBT rights defender, after the Doodle published on the opening day of the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 7th?

Only very rarely does google get involved with politics. Champion of the web's neutrality, the giant takes good care of its neutral reputation and has to avoid censorship in order to stay a credible search engine. In order to do so, it chose a slogan both open and vague: ‘Don’t Be Evil’. This code of conduct allows the company to apply to its services morals that usually blend in with those of the American society.

What Google really likes

When reading Youtube's terms of service, we understand what Google does not like. Namely, needless violence and sex. On the other hand, Google does not say anywhere what it does like, and which values it stands for. Except in its Doodles, where the giant can express its love for innovation and, more than anything, its «personality».

Are these illustrated logos enough to know who Google really is? 1895 of them were published between August 28th 1998 and December 31st 2013. To give you an overview, we analyzed all of them. What are Google’s preferences and obsessions? The result is a nuanced and rather surprising portrait.

First observation: Google loves National Holidays, to which close to half of the Doodles are dedicated (43%, 818 Doodles). Among these, 557 were local logos, visible in just one country. This identity aspect can also be seen on the 3rd most popular tag: Flags (206 of them)

Is Google a big player in online nationalism, as the tag cloud based on the top 100 Doodle's tags suggests?

It is safe to say that Google does promote the celebration of positive aspects of different identities, both national (flags, countries themselves) and cultural (holidays and important events). This position is rather ironic for this ultimate global brand, but is not paradoxical. As an advertisement agency, Google has to show national and local traits in order to seduce advertisers.

This strategy can be observed in the distribution of Doodles. While the number of «global» logos, online all over the world at the same time, is relatively stable over the years, the local Doodles, visible in only one country, have been exploding over the last 8 years.

Google's second favorite tag is «Birthday». Nothing surprising here. The alternative logos are meant to be a way to commemorate important events, artists, writers, pioneers and scientists, among others.

Those who pictured Google as a geek with glasses or a developer in a hoodie are plain wrong. The 4th most celebrated tag is: Sports, with 203 Doodles - and a clear preference for soccer (74 instances).

After Sports comes the «Current events» tag (191 Doodles). In over half of the cases, Google focuses on current events related to sports, such as the Olympics or the World Cup. The rest of them have to do with elections throughout the world, a few scientific discoveries, and, more rarely, cultural events.

Art before Science

Art-related Doodles rank 6th among the top 10 tags (178 instances), with a predilection for architecture (32) and pop culture (21). Just before... flowers, the 7th most frequent tag, with 146 Doodles. Literature comes to a close 8th rank, with 145 Doodles. This simply shows that Google does not want to neglect its educated and refined image, even though this has been highlighted with extremely conventional choices.

That said, the giant doesn't forget where it is coming from. After Sports and Arts, Science ranks 9th on the top 10 tags, with 126 Doodles. In that category, its logos honor mostly astronomy and mathematics. That top 10 ends on a positive note with the tag «Children», with some 123 Doodles.

Browse our Doodle App to discover Googles favourite Logos.

Civic Spirit 2.0 and Workers' rights

The rare tags dealing with elections («Vote», 51 Doodle, «Ballot» 13, «Democracy» 2), are not sending any political message. They basically remind the citizens to go and vote. But behind this consensual image, Google isn't as neutral as it claims. Politics can be found between the lines.

Google, the model employer, is slightly more engaged when it comes to the workers' rights. Three Doodles are devoted to Labor Day, on May 1st, a holiday traditionally associated with the left political wing around the world, but relatively depoliticized nowadays. But the theme comes with its pitfalls. On Easter day 2013, a Doodle dedicated to the syndicalist Cesar Chavez had shocked and upset conservative and Christian groups.

Chavez, along with the South-African singer Miriam Makeba, are the only two personalities associated with the «Activist» tag.

The Silence strategy

On more sensitive topics, Google is carefully putting political elements under a historic banner. A good example is the Doodle commemorating Rosa Parks, icon of the fight against racial segregation in the US. The same idea applies to Harriet Tubman, the African-American abolitionist figure, whose Doodle was published on February 1st, 2014. The few Doodles dedicated to women's rights and to the International Women's Day on March 8th do not bear any political tags either.

As it happens on a few Doodles (44 of them), sometimes Google does not add any tag. Hard to believe that the indexing champion should just be forgetful. That is what happened when a Doodle celebrated Ukraine National Day, in 2013, at a point where the country's relations with Russia were very tense. The Doodle commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's speech «I Have a Dream» did not receive any tag either.

An image is worth more than a word

The rainbow Doodle on the day of the Olympics Opening Ceremony wasn't the first sign of support Google sent to the LGBT community. No specific tag highlights which values Google stands for, but the position promoted in their Doodles on the matter does not leave any room for doubt.

In 2012, the Valentine’s day Doodle showed both a straight and a gay couple in the video animated doodle clip. On this years' Valentine’s day, the characters on the Doodle were genderless outlines... smart.

In the end, Google does not really put itself at risk through its Doodles. The company cultivates a smooth and consensual image, a smart mix of national identities, sports, events, art and science. Putting less emphasis on its computer science DNA, allows google to build a personality clearly less geeky and globalized than one would expected. Which is more reassuring.

Between the lines, it really is progressive values that Google promotes. A modern form of humanism, but without claiming it too loudly.

>>Does Google's position bother you? Is it this company's calling to go into politics? Does it have any legitimacy to commit itself to our society's debates? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment.

Créé: 22.02.2014, 08h32

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