The Year of Chatroulette: How the World Used Google Search in 2010


While Google has been challenged this year by Yahoo, Bing, WolframAlpha and other engines, it remains the dominant platform for search. Through the site, a browser toolbar and other applications and programs, we use Google to search the web for pages, images, news and more about 400 million times (PPT) every day. How we use the search giant can tell us a lot about who we are and the times we live in. With that in mind, Google released its annual Zeitgeist report last week, illuminating search trends over the past year. After analyzing billions of queries -- and filtering out both spam and repeat queries -- the Zeitgeist team put together the package, which "reflect[s] the spirit of the times," according to the report's site.

We've gone through the report and these are some of the most interesting data we could pull out. The gallery below shows Google's ten "fastest rising queries" for the year, "which means we found the most popular searches conducted in 2010 and then ranked them based on how much their popularity increased compared to 2009," the Zeitgeist team explained. We've accompanied each query with a list of the countries or regions where it was most popular -- in order -- over the past year and a list of the related search terms.

For comparison, here are the fastest rising global search terms from previous years' Zeitgeist reports. 2009: michael jackson, facebook, tuenti, twitter, sanalika; 2008: sarah palin, beijing 2008, facebook login, tuenti, heath ledger; 2007: iphone, badoo, facebook, dailymotion, webkinz.

Chatroulette overshadowed all other trends on Google search -- even Bieber. Looking back, though, it is seen as a flash-in-the-pan. The site, which has suffered a considerable drop in users, made headlines for a month before interest tapered off. The list of fastest rising queries for the United States is similar to the global list, but the positions of the iPad and Chatroulette are reversed. In the U.S., it was the year of the tablet computer. (The rest of the list, in order: iPhone 4, World Cup, Justin Bieber, Myxer, Facebook, Grooveshark, Glee, Mocospace.)

Google Zeitgeist also tracks those search terms that fell out of favor faster than any others. Among them, the swine flu, Stephanie Meyer's teen sensation New Moon, Britain's Got Talent sensation Susan Boyle, Circuit City, MySpace layouts and National City bank.

The top global events of the year included the World Cup, hosted by South Africa; the Olympics; the earthquake in Haiti; the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; and the ash cloud that stopped air traffic over Iceland. There's some overlap here with the top searches of the year on Yahoo! There, users in 2010 were most interested in, in order: BP oil spill, World Cup, Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian and Lady Gaga.

There are a lot of ways to parse the data that Google put out. (Visit the Zeitgeist project and see for yourself.) You can check top search terms and trends by date or region, sort your results by categories and view interest over time. If that sounds too complicated, Google's team put together a three-minute video that summarizes the year in search:

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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