The tragic death of Whitney Houston last February did more than just shock the world: It apparently sent more people typing her name into Google's search engine than any other topic. And it was an election year.
The "Saving All My Love For You" crooner set the high mark early in the year for Googling, according to the search giant's Zeitgeist lists released this week, followed later by the viral "Gangnam Style" dance craze imported to the U.S. by Korean pop star Psy.
Hurricane Sandy, which wrought havoc on the East Coast at the end of October, was the most searched event. But the names Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, who faced off in November leading to a second Obama presidency, didn't make the top 10, illustrating how pop culture and entertainment drives Internet use far more than current events or issues.
Par for the Course
"This is absolutely congruent with every other year since the search engines have been publishing these lists," said digital media analyst Rebecca Lieb of the Altimeter Group. "[This is] precisely why 'pop' is a derivative of 'popular.' A premature celebrity death is also a sure-fire way to get to the top of the list. This year it was Whitney Houston, earlier it was Michael Jackson."
The Democrat resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and his wealthy Republican challenger didn't even make Google's separate top 10 searched-for people list. Houston topped that list, too, followed by Duchess Kate Middleton, the late actor Michael Clarke Duncan and daredevil Felix Baumgartner.
The presidential election, however, did rank high in trending searches within the U.S. -- No. 3 among overall searches and No. 2 in the list of events.
After Houston and Gangnam Style, the top search topics were Hurricane Sandy, iPad 3, Diablo 3 (a Blizzard Entertainment game for theXbox), Middleton, the Olympics, Amanda Todd (a Canadian bullying victim who committed suicide), Duncan (the "Green Mile" star who died Sept. 3) and BBB 12 (Big Brother Brazil, a reality show).
Sandy topped the events list, followed by the British tabloid release of topless photos of Middleton, the Olympics, the debate over the Stop Online Privacy Act in Congress, the deadly Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster and others.
"2012 was a year of big moments, from global games to historical elections and everything in between," said Google on the Zeitgeist site. "With this site, we've analyzed over one trillion queries to showcase what the world searched for." Google compiles the lists from an aggregation of searches, using Google Trends, internal data tools and other sources. Spam and repeat queries were filtered out.
The iPad 3 topped the list of consumer devices that sent the masses Googling, followed by Samsung's Galaxy S III smartphone, the Nexus 7 tablet, Galaxy Note 2 "phablet," Sony's PlayStation, the iPad 4, Microsoft's Surface, Amazon's Kindle Fire and the Nokia Lumia 920.
Topping the images list were the pop group One Direction, actress-singer Selena Gomez and the iPhone 5. The notorious Middleton photos didn't make that list, nor did other less wholesome but imaginable queries, which makes one wonder how selectively Google releases the results in order to keep its clean corporate image.
"Porn is absolutely in top searches when you look at the 'real' figures," said Lieb. "For fairly obvious reasons, it doesn't make these lists."