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2012: the year in review, according to your Google searches

“A blend of guilty pleasures and higher pursuits”
December 17, 2012

Google jazzed up its twelfth end-of-year list, released last Thursday, with an interactive map that showed the global distribution of trending searches on the popular engine throughout the year. Google Zeitgeist is the most global list yet, according to the company, which used data from 838 lists across 55 countries to produce lists of trending people, events and news sites, among others.

The data shows that Whitney Houston topped three lists for trending searches, people, and performing artists after her unexpected death in February. Kate Middleton followed closely behind on the trending people list, after topless photos of her were published by a French magazine in September. The release of those photos became the second most trending event, after Hurricane Sandy in October. Meanwhile One Direction, the British boy band, was the top trending image search.

Writing on the Google blog, Amit Singhal, SVP and Google fellow said: “It’s quite a snapshot of what makes us human: a blend of guilty pleasures and higher pursuits.”

As well as 11 lists, all of which are available to download, Google used the data to create a video tour of the trending items, and an Android app. An iOS version of the app is promised soon.

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The interactive map invites users to compare trending items with comparable terms. A search for the London Olympics, for example, shows red balls of increasing size depending on search probability, displayed on a world map. The map lists the Queen’s Jubilee and the Oscars as comparable terms to the Olympics, and shows that all three events trended most highly in the US and the UK, just like most other items that made the Zeitgeist. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t provide the actual number of search queries for each item as context. Those numbers are important because, as the site’s developers note at the bottom of the site, “a term can appear high on the “trending” list and still have lower search volume than the other queries.”

Hazel Sheffield is a journalist and filmmaker based in London. She is a former CJR fellow and business editor of the Independent.