Top 10 Searches

The top search term of 2011 wasn’t a person or a news event. It was a technological marvel.

In the 11 years that Yahoo! has compiled its annual list of top searches, PlayStation 2 (2001 and 2002) is the only other device to have captured the top slot. This year, the iPhone led the queries, bypassing a reality TV divorcee and America’s most wanted terrorist.

The iPhone has been around for four years, but this year marked the first time service was available through providers other than AT&T. The iPhone 4S was released in black and white versions and offered a talking personal assistant called Siri, boosting consumer anticipation.

But the iPhone transcends gadget status. It helped facilitate political movements around the world, and it embodied the vision of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who stepped down as the company’s CEO in August and died on October 5.

News stories
Breaking news stories don’t always crack the Top 10: People don’t have to search for details they can get in the news, and it’s rare that a single term can stand for a complex news story. Yet this year, Casey Anthony, Osama bin Laden, and Japan’s earthquake and tsunami all figured in the top rankings.

Anthony has the dubious honor of being the most searched person in 2011. Many people were outraged by the not-guilty verdict that was returned in the case of this Florida woman, who was accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter. Others thought the incessant coverage was media-manufactured hysteria.

Navy SEALs took down Osama bin Laden four months shy of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. President Obama announced the terrorist’s death late on May 1, and many Americans woke up to the news. Searches surged about the circumstances. In 2001, Osama bin Laden ranked No. 15 in the Yahoo! tally of top searches; in 2011, he was No. 10.

Disasters, natural and otherwise, often figure into the Top 10, and in 2010, the BP oil spill ranked at the top. This year, Japan’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami, resulting in a nuclear disaster that threatened the ocean and the food supply.

Celebrity comebacks and slips
Women in pop culture dominated the list. Kim Kardashian jumped to No. 3, but not for the best reasons. Her reputation took a hit when she filed for divorce just 72 days after a very expensive wedding. And Lindsay Lohan returned to the Top 10, thanks to her frequent court appearances.

Jennifer Lopez cracked the top ranks after a long absence, thanks to her “American Idol”-fueled comeback. Her return seemed inevitable, given that the show has made the Top 10 six times. Jennifer Aniston challenged her good-girl image with a comedic turn in “Horrible Bosses,” but her girl-next-door appeal and the public’s curiosity about her love life kept fans coming back. Singer Katy Perry reaped musical nominations and either tied or broke sales records. She also took her voice to the movies, first as Smurfette in “The Smurfs” and later in “The Muppets.”

What’s notable is who didn’t make the cut. For nine years, Britney Spears was a constant presence on the list, often in the top slot. This year, she didn’t make the cut. In the past, she’s been popular as the musical girl next door, the trainwreck down the street, and the comeback pop princess. Other starlets have since stepped in to play those roles, taking the heat off Spears.

Read on to learn more about these newsmakers, events, and pop-culture phenomenons, starting with the iPhone.

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.