Boy bands 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys fell from favor this year, while female singers Shakira and Avril Lavigne created a global stir. Spider-Man climbed the Internet's curiosity charts, as Osama bin Laden took a tumble -- all according to top query lists released by Web search engines.
Internet-query popularity isn't a scientific indicator, but the year-end statistics released by Google, Lycos, Yahoo and others offer intriguing snapshots of what's on our minds (or most of what's on our minds, since these lists excluded sexual queries, consistently among the top topics people search for online).
Las Ketchup's Trajectory
A selective peek at people's curiosity awaits at the Web's most heavily used search engine, Google. Its year-end "Zeitgeist" page breaks out frequently entered search terms in more than a dozen categories, without revealing the most popular ones overall. For example, Ferrari was the most hunted commercial brand, Jennifer Lopez the most researched woman and bad-boy rapper Eminem the most looked-up man. And the World Cup edged out Iraq as the top news query of 2002.
Google also lists the 20 top-gaining searches and the 20 that fell furthest from favor: Spider-Man and Shakira topped the gaining list, while Nostradamus and Napster topped the declining list. Finally, its year-end page displays top search terms in selected countries and features a timeline showing how searches on Las Ketchup -- a Spanish musical group -- spiked and fell worldwide.
Bush Tops Yahoo's List
Yahoo's more traditional "Year in Review" section includes material picked by editors along with people, programs and events that Yahoo users searched for and clicked on most during the year. Its annual "Buzz Index" ranked the PlayStation 2, Britney Spears and Dragon Ball as the top items of interest to users. Yahoo awarded President Bush its inaugural "Person of the Year" honor, after a hybrid selection process involving both Web surfers and editors. Yahoo's retrospective also features the photos viewed most often, plus an online poll in which people voted the D.C. area sniper murders the biggest news story of the year.
Lycos's Pop-Culture Picks
Lycos was the only service to publish an annual top 100 query list that also featured last year's rankings for comparison, making it easy to spot cultural flashes. Breaking into the Lycos top 100 for the first time were searches for the Japanese cartoon craze Yu-Gi-Oh, musical acts Linkin Park and Nelly, anorexia, the Atkins diet, and cloning.
On Ask Jeeves's Mind
Ask Jeeves includes generic questions in its 2002 hot-searches list. The top requests people made at this site concerned, in order, song lyrics, the dictionary, Halloween costumes, free online games and maps. The top product search was for Harry Potter, while the top news search was about the West Nile virus.
The AOL Short List
America Online published a limited "best of AOL" list, which named Britney Spears and Eminem as the "most searched" individuals among the service's 35 million members this year. The war on terror was the biggest topic on its message boards.
E-mail Leslie Walker at email@example.com.