Cyburkey Thursday: the Wired Thanksgiving

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Owaki - Kulla / Corbis

On Thanksgiving, the internet is often used for looking up recipes.

From games of touch football with my older brother on the front lawn to the aroma of roasted turkey, fresh-baked rolls and sweet potato casserole that filled our home, my fondest memories of childhood revolve around Thanksgiving Day, my favorite holiday. Kids today may have similar memories to cherish as they get older, but they'll probably also have a few others that didn't exist in the pre-Internet era, when I was coming up: "Thanksgiving Screensavers," for example, or "Thanksgiving Day Excel Templates" and "Thanksgiving MySpace profile themes." (People really search for these things online. I can't make this stuff up.)

There are lots of surprises, actually, when you look at Thanksgiving Day Internet activity. Contrary to industry buzz, the busiest day for online shopping, in terms of market-share of site visits, isn't Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) or even Cyber Monday (the following Monday). For the past four years, it's been Thanksgiving Day itself — I need a catchy phrase, like Brown Thursday or perhaps Cyburkey Day — when we rush to our computers to surf the retail sites, perhaps to kill time while the bird is roasting or to start our holiday buying research. Hitwise data reveals that a good portion of Internet traffic on Thanksgiving is research related — many people are searching for information on the biggest offline shopping day of the year, Black Friday.

The week of Thanksgiving also marks the year's lowest volume of searches on the term "diet." And it marks the peak of online searches for the term "depression," perhaps related to the failure to stick with our diets or, more likely, because we're stuck with — or without — our families. The good news, however, is that searches for "depression" and popular antidepressant medications have declined overall since Thanksgiving 2006.

Another search that hits a peak around Thanksgiving is "engagement rings" — that term logs the most searches during the week before Thanksgiving and during the week of Valentine's Day. Offline, most jewelers report that the busiest weeks for engagement ring shopping are those between Chrismas and New Year's (probably because most proposals occur on either Christmas Day or New Year's Eve). So, why does the online shopping spike take place a week earlier? My analyst team offers the "ultimatum theory" — to which I don't subscribe — as an answer. They think the online spike is likely caused by the potential bride's ultimatum: If she's going to bring her boyfriend home to meet the parents, she had better not be going empty handed. But as the only man in this particular debate, I subscribe to a research-mission theory that I call: "I don't want to get ripped-off at the jewelry store." I think the name is pretty self-explanatory.

Beyond retail and rings, Cyburkey Day is a day spent searching on terms related to my favorite thing: food. Recipe searches reveal that most of us don't start menu planning until Thanksgiving week. And if last year is any indication, they also reveal that our favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner is the holy trinity of desserts: "pumpkin pie," "pecan pie" and "apple pie." After desserts, people search mostly for the old standbys — "sweet potato casserole" and "green bean casserole." Turkey-themed MySpace profile's excepted, its nice to see that some things never change.

Bill Tancer is general manager of global research at Hitwise