Whitney Houston was the "top trending" search of 2012. (Joel Ryan/AP)

The world’s attention wavered between the tragic and the silly in 2012, and along the way, millions of people searched the Web to find out about a royal duchess, the latest iPad and a record-breaking skydiver.

Whitney Houston was the “top trending” search of the year, according to Google’s year-end “zeitgeist” report.

People around the globe searched en masse for news about Houston’s accidental drowning in a bathtub just before she was to perform at a pre-Grammy Awards party in February.

Google defines topics as “trending” when they garner a high amount of traffic over a sustained period.

Korean rapper PSY’s “Gangnam Style” music video trotted into second spot, a testament to his self-deprecating giddy-up dance move. The video is approaching a billion views on YouTube.

Hurricane Sandy, the deadly storm that knocked out power and flooded parts of the East Coast in the middle of the U.S. presidential campaign, was third.

The next-biggest-trending searches globally were a pair of threes: the iPad 3 tablet from Apple and “Diablo III,” a video game.

Rounding out the Top 10 were Kate Middleton, who made news with topless photos and a royal pregnancy; the 2012 Olympics in London; Amanda Todd, a Canadian teen who apparently committed suicide in October after being bullied online; Michael Clarke Duncan, the “Green Mile” actor who died of a heart attack in September at age 54; and “BBB12,” the 12th edition of “Big Brother Brasil,” a reality show featuring scantily clad men and women living together.

Some trending people, according to Google, were:

●Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian skydiver who became the first person to break the sound barrier without a vehicle with a 24-mile plummet from Earth’s stratosphere.

●Jeremy Lin, the undrafted NBA star who exploded off the New York Knicks bench and sparked a wave of “Linsanity”.

●Morgan Freeman, the actor whose untimely death turned out not to be true.

The Internet also continued its rise as a popular tool for spreading addictive ideas and phrases known as “memes.” Remember LOL? If you don’t know what it means by now, someone may “Laugh Out Loud” at you.

This year, Facebook said its top memes included “TBH” (To Be Honest), “YOLO” (You Only Live Once) and “SMH” (Shaking My Head). Thanks to an endlessly fascinating U.S. presidential campaign, “Big Bird” made the list after Republican nominee Mitt Romney said he might consider cutting some funds for public broadcasting.

Yahoo said its top-searched memes for the year included “Kony 2012,” a reference to the short film and campaign against Ugandan militia leader Joseph Kony; “stingray photobomb” for an unusual vacation snapshot that went viral; and “binders full of women,” another nod to Romney for his awkward description of his search for female Cabinet members as governor of Massachusetts.

Ask.com said the top-trending news question was related to the 2012 Olympics: “How many medals did the U.S. gymnastics team win?” Other top queries on Ask.com included “When is the Facebook IPO?” and “Why was Trayvon Martin shot?”

And people were happy to pass on popular Twitter posts by retweeting them. According to Twitter, the year’s most popular retweets were President Obama’s “Four more years” and Justin Bieber’s farewell to 6-year-old fan Avalanna Routh, who died of a rare form of brain cancer: “RIP Avalanna. i love you.”

— Associated Press