How to Review a Year: Methodology and Credits

What does it take to put together a Yahoo! Year in Review? Algorithms and brainpower. Our look back is an old newsroom tradition with a new-media twist: We combine editorial instincts with audience behavior metrics. That’s not as easy as it sounds — it takes quite a team to come up with the big picture. Here’s how we do it:

What’s the math? To come up with the top searches, our editors analyze search queries based upon a number of factors, including absolute volume and growth versus previous periods, to see which themes and trends bubble to the surface. Of course, individual users and their searches remain anonymous.

Is this really the top 10? Many people use the search box like a shorthand address bar, typing in navigational searches like “www.youtube.com” (or just plain “YouTube”). This type of search rarely changes from  year to year. Our top 10 counts only non-navigational searches.

What’s the difference between Top 10 Searches and Top News Stories? Searches are discrete keywords — terms users are actively searching for. Top News Stories include directly related concepts, such as “Japan earthquake,” “Japan tsunami” and “Fukushima radiation.”

Do people really love Kim Kardashian and the Jennifers that much? Yes and no. Search measures curiosity and interest, not popularity. As we’ve said in the past, a search for information is neutral. It may be motivated by curiosity, fear, lust, anger, boredom, love, or any number of other triggers. But combine those billion (or so) individual motivations to search, and you can build a sketch portrait of a culture in motion.

Why are there categories like End of an Era? A list will never give you all the underlying themes that resonated in any one year. Digging into online patterns and news topics reveals larger storylines.

Does our pop culture obsession mean we’re a shallow society? Far from it. People go online for updates about things that aren’t covered extensively in the news. That includes anything from guilty pleasures, favorite celebrities, or burgeoning movements (Occupy Wall Street searches popped up quite early, before the movement occupied local and national headlines). Barack Obama, for instance, is constantly in the news, so his odds of reappearing in the top 10 searches (as he did back in 2008) are low.

Is this the global list?: The Year in Review covers yahoo.com searches. According to the latest Comscore data, Americans perform more than 3 billion searches on Yahoo! every month. Sixteen other countries have their own Yahoo! Year in Review — take a gander to see the fascinating overlap and differences.

Who puts this all together? Glad you asked. Let’s roll the credits:

  • Overall deciders: Jeff Boissier, Vera H-C Chan, Carolyn Clark, Rohit Dharne, Katherine Ho, Kwala Mandel
  • Data wranglers: Vera H-C Chan, Becky Uline, Taylor Magenheim, Meghna Surve
  • Site gurus: Steve Enders, Sylvia Borowski (global leads), Kit Chan, Chiru Jaladi (engineering), Jeff Boissier (design), Ernest Aguayo (photos)
  • Scribes: Vera H-C Chan (U.S. lead), Torrey AndersonSchoepe, Laura Barcella, Mike Benzie, Jennifer Carinci, Nicholas Cotsonika, Laura Davis, Peter Gorenstein, Daniel Gross, Lisa Hix, Caroline Kim, Tiffany Lee, Kwala Mandel, Matthew McDaniel, Matt Nesto, Christopher Nichols, Lyndsey Parker, David Pennock, Caroline Que, Ron Recinto, Martin Rogers, David Rothschild, Lisa Scherzer, Lizbeth Scordo, Jeff Stacklin, Rebecca Stropoli, Elizabeth Trotta, Becky Uline, Pueng Vongs, Duncan Watts, Dan Wetzel, Christopher Wilson, Erin Wright, Claudine Zap
  • Editors: Vera H-C Chan and Julie Wildhaber (leads), Laura Barcella, Jennifer Worrell, Oie Lian Yeh
  • Video mavens: Anna Robertson and Russ Torres (executive producers), Jennie Josephson, Jonathan Light, Allison Louie-Garcia, Howard Kim, Ricky Montalvo, Rob Page, Brad Williams
  • Spreading the word: Rohit Dharne (global project and marketing lead), Carolyn Clark (global public relations lead), Heather Cabot (media), Francine Kizner (social), Victoria Lim (social)
  • A shout-out to: 16 other Year in Review teams across the globe
  • And thanks to: Yahoo! readers who always go the extra step to understand why

The Yahoo! Year in Review editorial lead for five years running, Vera H-C Chan dissects news events, pop-culture idiosyncrasies, and online behavior to probe the “why” behind what’s hot online. On Yahoo!, her articles can be found in News, TV, Movies, and her Shine blog Fast-Talking Dame. Across the Net, there are remnants of contributions to a cultural travel guide, martial arts encyclopedia, movie criticism, business profiles, and A&E/features reporting.

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