A Searching Look

Welcome to Yahoo! Year in Review 2008, in which a bunch of editors and engineers sift through what made the news and stimulated people’s curiosity. OK, enough with that: Here’s the real scoop.

The “How We Measure Searches” box gives the more prosaic explanation about the making of these top 10 lists and themes, but usually a few more questions pop up in this annual round-up:

  • Are these the real top 10? Yes and no. People tend to use the search box like a shorthand address bar, so they type in navigational searches like www.youtube.com (or just plain youtube), and those rarely change year after year. The top 10 reflect the top non-navigational searches.

  • Does Britney Spears rule the world? Yours maybe. As we mentioned last year, search isn’t a gauge of popularity. But looking at a bazillion searches helps to gauge patterns in what society finds important or compelling: hence, the top trends like politicians or Olympians.

  • Why aren’t the American elections the top news? Remember, searches are discrete keywords rather than concepts. The presidential election is a huge storyline that involves people (e.g., Mike Huckabee), events (Super Tuesday), concepts (electoral college), and so on. Complex events can get boiled down to shorthand, such as “iraq” or “china.” But even that, of course, doesn’t cover every related search (“iraqi jobs,” “beijing olympics.”)

  • Why does pop culture dominate online? Think of it this way: Britney or Runescape is not in the news everyday, so people go online for updates. George W. Bush, on the other hand, is in the news quite often, so people need fewer updates. Also, as a past spokesperson once explained, after you get to a level of fame, you don’t even have to do anything to maintain it.

Incidentally, another way to look back at 2008 is through our monthly reviews of top movers—keywords that accelerated the fastest. We skipped January (hangover, sorry), but click through to see what buzzed in February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, and November.

Check back here this month for more top 10 lists, from music artists to the paranormal.