Year-End Search Lists: Data Porn Based on Flimsy Science

It’s good that Bing, Yahoo and Google can agree on at least one thing for their closely timed year-end search-term roundups: Michael Jackson was tops in 2009. But as we’ve been griping for years now, these lists are mostly useless and misinterpreted; Google doesn’t even give out the top search terms of the year, just a cleaned-up and condensed list of “fastest rising” global terms; Microsoft published a list of U.S.-centric “trending topics”; Yahoo’s description of its methodology is only that it centers on “crunching lists based on search data.” Cue the morning talk show hosts hyping up the fact that millions of people want to know about Twitter and swine flu. Why yes, Regis, that’s just so fascinating.

But then again, I’m a data junkie, so I still find myself poring through the pages of Google’s annual Zeitgeist package, finding that the top search term in my home city of San Francisco is apparently “fox theater oakland,” the most-searched U.S. song lyrics of the year are for Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” and of all the things Americans want to learn how to do, it’s “how to kiss.”

It’s also neat — though a little perplexing, given their extreme regional specificity — to see that four non-English terms made Google’s overall fastest-rising list: Spanish social network Tuenti, Turkish web game Sanalika, Vietnamese news site dantri.com.vn and the Brazilian term for free SMS, “torpedo gratis.” Oh, and Regis, the world apparently cared less about “Beijing 2008,” “Amy Winehouse” and “Bebo” in 2009 than it did the year before. You don’t say!

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