Google publishes its annual Zeitgeist – the list of the year's most popular UK search terms – and it reveals that a fascination with Americana is in rude health, with gossip and news about "celebutante" Kim Kardashian and YouTube darling and teeny-bopper Justin Bieber in high demand.
Both made the Zeitgeist list of the UK's fastest-rising search terms for 2010 along with Nicki Minaj, a Trinidadian-born hip-hop artist who grew up in New York, California-born pop star Katy Perry and others whose names may well draw a blank with anyone aged over 35. For the Brits, musician Ellie Goulding makes the list, with fashion designer Alexander McQueen and presenter Kristian Digby, who both died this year.
High-profile divorces earned their own category this year. British web users very actively sought gossip about Cheryl Cole, Tiger Woods and Eva Longoria. Even Hulk Hogan's three-year-old divorce from Linda Bollea was the subject of intense interest, assisted by photographs of Bollea partying on a new yacht, which she named Alimoney.
Dr Mark Graham, research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, said: "Zeitgeist is reflecting popular culture, but that's not to say Google doesn't have a hand in deciding what we consume online ... Through its elaborate ranking systems, Google is actively shaping what we have access to and what we know about the world."
Zeitgeist also reveals some of the melancholy underbelly of the internet. Some of the most common searches were for "I feel lonely," "I want love" and "I hate love". "A lot of people trust their search engines to find other people going through the same thing," said "Chewy" Trewhella, Google's new business development manager, adding that the US search engine giant recently added the Samaritans' phone number to the results page for "suicide".
"The internet is seen as a companion, something we speak to and expect answers from," said Graham. "Ultimately, artificial intelligence and the internet may be able to perform some of those functions. 'I feel hungry' may be possible, but 'I feel lonely' will be a bit harder."
Google's list reveals surprising confusion about basic web search. Google, Facebook and YouTube are among the 10 most popular search terms in the UK, revealing that users are searching for those sites rather than typing their names into the address bar.
Nearly 35 million people – 87% of the UK's web population – used Google in October, according to research firm Nielsen. But Zeitgeist omits the 27% of UK web traffic that Nielsen claims goes to pornographic sites.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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