Social Engines and Social Science: A Revolution in the Making

13 Pages Posted: 16 May 2013 Last revised: 21 Dec 2018

See all articles by Filippo Trevisan

Filippo Trevisan

American University - School of Communication

Date Written: May 15, 2013


Scholars are starting to use tools such as Google Trends much more frequently in their work. Yet, a central ‘search-engine’ field of inquiry has yet to emerge. Rather, academics using search-engine data to address social issues are spread across many disciplines, which makes search valuable across fields but not critical to any one particular area in social science. In an effort to promote a comprehensive debate on these issues, this paper provides a review of pioneering work that included data generated through search engine accessory applications, making the point that the greater value of search-engine research lies in using such tools for broader inquiry rather than examining search engines themselves as the central object of research. The challenges and opportunities involved in this methodological transition are addressed, with a view to benefiting both social researchers and technology developers. This paper was written as a reflection and further research on the nature of search in social, political and economic aspects of society that was part of a series of meetings between British academics and Google UK. This project was funded by a Knowledge Exchange Grant from the UK Economic and Social Research Council.

Keywords: search engines, Google, digital methods, online research, internet, innovation

Suggested Citation

Trevisan, Filippo, Social Engines and Social Science: A Revolution in the Making (May 15, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Filippo Trevisan (Contact Author)

American University - School of Communication ( email )

Mary Graydon Center
4400 Massachusetts Av. NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

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