Upheavals, Uprisings, and the Upside: A Look Back at 2011

The Arab spring, a Tiger Mom, and Charlie Sheen. That was just January.

Welcome to the 2011 edition of the Yahoo! Year in Review, a look back at the year’s stories, passing fancies, and outsized newsmakers, as determined through online searches, article views, and other signals. (Curious about our methodology? Read the blog.)

In the beginning, 2011 didn’t have much going for it. The year 2012 promised the sexy stuff: the summer Olympics, the presidential elections, and the end times that certain Mayans and Hollywood kept jabbering about. At th start of 2011, America remained mired in V-, W- or L-shaped recession, and Europe was going to join us in this alphabet soup of a fiscal mess. We were fighting on two fronts; presidential campaigning promised that politicians would be as cantankerous as ever; and we faced the sad specter of the 9/11 anniversary — while Osama bin Laden was still out there.

The sheer force of what hit us this year might’ve been predicted. A bad world economy meant unemployment lines in the U.S. and stifling inequities under corrupt dictatorships in the Middle East. We knew the power of technology — thanks to smart phones like the iPhone; social networking through Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube; and blogging platforms aplenty — and how these banded people together beyond government scrutiny. We knew that La Nina was here and that she planned havoc on an ecosystem already altered by climate change. We knew that Simon Cowell had left “American Idol,” but that Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler packed some live-wire celebrity charm. We knew that Charlie Sheen had a long history with drugs, yet managed to stay a funny, manic guy.

But there was so much to surprise us. Who anticipated the seeds of Occupy Wall Street? Who knew that an Asian American woman’s memoir would touch off our fears about parenting and China’s encroaching superpower status? Or that planking — really, planking? — would have the shelf life that it has had? Or that politicians would continue to get caught up in sex scandals, over and over? Or that amid all the global uprisings and threats of domestic government shutdowns, we’d have 22 days to be utterly absorbed by the United States battling Japan on a soccer field in Frankfurt? And that we’d be happy for the Japanese women players, representing a nation recovering from a record earthquake and tsunami, triumphing in their maiden win.

Enthralling, dizzying, heartrending — the year 2011. Throughout December, Yahoo! Year in Review will look back on highlights and lowlights in upcoming top 10 galleries, blogs, and video slideshows. Here’s a quick primer on what’s in this feature:

  • Top 10 Searches. A classic since 2001. What were the top terms that people entered in that search box over and over? Here’s one clue: It wasn’t Britney Spears.
  • Top 10 News Stories. What’s the difference between Top 10 Searches and Top 10 News? The searches focus on related keywords. News topics involve a wider range of searches, and include an analysis on the most-read news stories on Yahoo!.
  • Heroic Acts. Some heroes were sought out by name; others were nameless, working under calamitous circumstances. By combing searches and new stories, we narrowed the heroes to the 10 who stood out most.
  • Extreme Weather. Sweltering heat. Back-to-back blizzards. Biblical floods. This section walks through a year of record-breaking weather disasters in the United States.
  • End of an Era: Once mighty institutions and celebrated figures closed shop. This gallery looks at the top departures from space and technology to reality and daytime TV.
  • Caught?: Yes, there were enough erring politicians caught up in scandals to make up a top 10.
  • Obsessions: Bringing back a favorite category from 2010, we examine the fads and outsized antics that grabbed our online attention. Where else will you find tiger blood and tiger moms in one place?

Coming up:

  • Futurecasting: Be prepared: Experts from Yahoo! and beyond weigh in on 10 things to watch out for in 2012.
  • Where Are They Now?: A follow-up to 10 of the year’s most popular stories that didn’t involve breaking news or celebrities. And hold on to your tinfoil hats: That Nessie sighting in February might’ve been a fake. (Don’t worry: She has been spotted elsewhere.)
  • Worst Trends of 2011: Come on, velour tracksuits? Oh wait, that’s not among the worst trends. Well, there are others.
  • Strangest Bankruptcies of the Year: Despite predictions, bankruptcies actually declined. Tell that to Hooters, the L.A. Dodgers, and Alabama.
  • Inspiring Videos. The year’s most moving moments.
  • Lesser Protests. Sure, there was Occupy Wall Street. But what about the Netflix revolt and the Hershey student strike? And Michele Bachmann’s husband is still getting that glitter out of his hair. These are the year’s lesser — but nevertheless great — protests.

There’s more to come. But you knew that.

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.