Google's Year-End Zeitgeist

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Twitter has its trends, but Google remains responsible for billions of search queries every year, a treasure trove of data that is still the best window into what people are investigating on the Web. As the year winds down, Google combs through those searches, identifying the top trends and consolidating them into an annual list meant to capture the U.S. zeitgest.

The 2009 edition was released Dec. 1, and this year Twitter was the big winner. The social-networking site was the fastest-rising search query, beating out Web rivals Facebook (No. 3) and Hulu (No. 4) for the top spot. But absent the cybertrifecta, the 2009 list is predictably grim. In a year that saw the "Summer of Death," Michael Jackson was the second fastest–rising term, and Natasha Richardson (No. 8) and Farrah Fawcett (No. 9) made the top 10. The only celebrity who's still among us that managed to crack the list? Lady Gaga, who catapulted to fame this year and landed at No. 10.

Google provides the fastest-rising search queries for its news site as well. In this category, hard news topped celebrity gossip. Swine flu was the most-searched story of the year, drawing more reader interest than breakout singer Susan Boyle, reality show mainstays Jon and Kate, crooner Adam Lambert and the troubled Rihanna/Chris Brown pairing. Unsurprisingly, after a historic election in 2008 dominated the trends, it was a bad year to be a politician in 2009, particularly a losing one. In terms of search interest, John McCain fell the fastest, with Barack Obama (No. 4) and Sarah Palin (No. 5) not far behind.

In sports, the New York Yankees won not only the World Series but Google's crown as well. They were the most searched Major League Baseball team, joining the Los Angeles Lakers for basketball and the Pittsburgh Steelers for football. Brett Favre's return to football was the biggest unretirement story of the year, dominating Lance Armstrong's return to the Tour De France as well as similar comebacks by boxer Floyd Mayweather and tennis star Kim Clijsters.

But the most engrossing of all the data might be the stats released on "how-to" Google searches. America's top-searched tutorial? How to kiss. Awwww. Love was on the brain in general; instructions on how to flirt charted at No. 5. And when those relationships turned sour, Google was again your guide. The 10th highest "how-to" search for 2009? How to fight.