11 Years of 10: Comparing the Top 10s

Britney Spears in concert (Clasos/CON)

Eleven years of top 10s. It’s a little sad that Britney can’t join our anniversary roundup.

Strictly speaking, this is the 11th year that Yahoo! has dug in to its Search stream to come up with an annual list of lists, but it’s been 10 years (since 2002) that we’ve devoted a special page (or many pages) to celebrating those lists. If you look back to 2001, 513 million people — less than 10% of the population — were privileged enough to have online access. At that time, Yahoo! served on average 218 million visitors per month.

These days, Yahoo! has about 702 million unique visitors per month. Overall, 2.1 billion people are online — that’s still only 30% of the population. In a decade plus, the Web has become indispensable. It’s how we plan our trips, communicate with friends and family, showcase our multiple identities, find and redefine the news, and start revolutions.

Beyond lists
The first five years of Yahoo!’s Year in Review focused on lists of all sorts: the classic top 10 searches, diets, celebrities, movies, tech, rumors. We also picked up on the difference between a navigational search and a “real” search — rather than memorize a whole bunch of addresses, people used the search box as shorthand to get to frequently visited sites such as banks, weather pages, news and retail outlets, sports destinations, other search and social networking engines, and government services. There were times when “NBA” really meant people wanted to know what was up with the NBA (and that lockout); but more often than not, it was a shortcut to league updates. All intriguing, but all of us had become more sophisticated in knowing our evolving online behavior — we really wanted to get to the juicy stuff.

That’s another thing — it’s rare that we can agree on one search term that captures our interest in a complex topic. Celebrities, games, and gadgets have the advantage of being one- or two-word brands. The Top 10 Searches were often about our guilty pleasures, celebrity fascinations, and sporting habits, but there were also hard news stories and social concerns that people followed online.

In 2007, Year in Review went beyond lists.  On occasion, a term came to symbolize a major news story and make the top 10. In 2001, that term was “World Trade Center,” with “Osama bin Laden” coming in at No. 15. In 2011, “Osama bin Laden” is No. 7.

Britney, Britney, Britney… and Britney
There is one person who should be recognized: Britney Spears, the girl next door who became the trainwreck down the street and then the comeback celebrity. She has been in the Top 10 Searches since 2001, claiming the top spot in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. For the first time since Yahoo! has kept these lists, Spears has dropped out of the top 10, falling to No. 13. Considering her recent engagement and all-around rebound in her personal and public life, sometimes a break can be good for all of us.

Highlights from 11 years of our online lives:

  • 2001: Napster, World Trade Center, and Harry Potter make the list.
  • 2002: Remember Morpheus?
  • 2003: Christina Aguilera makes the 10th spot.
  • 2004: First year that Britney Spears isn’t the most-searched person.
  • 2005: Six out of the 10 are musicians, including 50 Cent and Green Day.
  • 2006: An interactive review looks at spikes month by month, in a year in which naturalist Steve Irwin died, Saddam Hussein went on trial, and celebrity babies became headline entertainment news.
  • 2007. The environment, celebrity downslides, and the death of Saddam Hussein are the focus.
  • 2008: Barack Obama becomes the first politico to make the cut.
  • 2009: The death of Michael Jackson puts the King of Pop at No. 1.
  • 2010: The live cam on the BP oil spill became must-watch viewing.


Years 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
1. PlayStation 2 PlayStation 2 KaZaA American Idol Britney Spears Britney Spears
2. Britney Spears Britney Spears Harry Potter 50 Cent WWE WWE
3. WWF Dragon Ball Z American Idol Jessica Simpson Cartoon Network Shakira
4. Dragon Ball Z KaZaA Britney Spears Britney Spears Mariah Carey Jessica Simpson
5. Napster Eminem 50 Cent Harry Potter Green Day Paris Hilton
6. World Trade Center WWE Eminem WWE Jessica Simpson American Idol
7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Morpheus WWE Usher Paris Hilton Beyonce
8. Dale Earnhardt Internal Revenue Service Paris Hilton NASCAR Eminem Chris Brown
9. NASCAR Jennifer Lopez NASCAR NBA Ciara Pamela Anderson
10. Internal Revenue Service Harry Potter Christina Aguilera NFL Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan
Years 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
1. Britney Spears Britney Spears Michael Jackson BP oil spill iPhone
2. WWE WWE Twilight Saga World Cup Casey Anthony
3. Paris Hilton Barack Obama WWE Miley Cyrus Kim Kardashian
4. Naruto Miley Cyrus Megan Fox Kim Kardashian Katy Perry
5. Beyonce RuneScape Britney Spears Lady Gaga Jennifer Lopez
6. RuneScape Jessica Alba Naruto iPhone Lindsay Lohan
7. RuneScape Naruto American Idol Megan Fox American Idol
8. Fantasy Football Lindsay Lohan Kim Kardashian Justin Bieber Jennifer Aniston
9. Fergie Angelina Jolie NASCAR American Idol Japan earthquake
10. Jessica Alba American Idol RuneScape Britney Spears Osama bin Laden

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.