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Howard Stern once proclaimed himself the "King of All Media." When it comes to the Internet though, the radio shock jock can't compete with Britney Spears. In recently released reports on the top Internet searches of 2008, the former pop princess and now comeback queen is at the top of many lists.
Her name was the top search in the United States on Yahoo, ranking ahead of the WWE and president-elect Barack Obama. It is the fourth year in a row and the seventh time in the last eight years Spears has topped the list. She was the most searched for celebrity on AOL in the U.S. and headed the Yahoo list in the United Kingdom and Australia. She was also the top celebrity searched for on Google in Canada.
On Yahoo Canada, Spears was knocked out of the spot by teen queen Miley Cyrus who was at the top of the lists about entertainment searches, music artists and celeb scandals. Spears was second in all of those categories. However, on Google in the U.S., Obama was the most searched for term.
So, what does this all mean? Beth Agnew, a professor at Seneca College of Applied Arts & Technology in Toronto, told the ParetoLogic newsletter that the lists are a snapshot of pop culture.
"They show what topics are 'hot', or in the forefront of everyone's consciousness at the moment," said Agnew, an observer of pop culture who is the co-ordinator of Seneca College's technical communications program. "If there is a significant news event, it will bob to the top of these lists for a short time, soon to be replaced by the latest celebrity or another attention-grabbing item."
While these lists can be interesting and offer insight into what people are into at the moment, Agnew and Trinity Western University professor Dr. Kevin Schut warn that not too much stock should be put in them. Schut said the lists, as reported in the media, focus on what grabs headlines and a full analysis of the data might show, for example, "health searches, when combined, account for more searching than celebrity searches - it's hard to tell how representative a top 10 list is until you see the whole data set."
As for the apparent obsession with celebrities as shown by the searches, Schut said that it is nothing new. In days gone by people were fascinated by the dukes and countesses of the Middles Ages, cowboys of the Old West and generals of Napoleonic Age. Today's entertainers are "the Greek gods and goddesses of our day, acting out mythological roles of passion and power. They're a utopian fantasy for a lot of people," the Media Studies professor told the ParetoLogic newsletter.
Other than the celebrities, an interesting aspect of the lists is that people are using search engines to find simple addresses that they could just type in. For example, just behind Obama on Google's U.S. list is Facebook with YouTube at No. 5 and video sharing site SurfTheChannel at No. 10. In Canada, Facebook was the most searched term on Google with YouTube at No. 2, email site Hotmail at No. 7 and competitor Yahoo at No. 8. Interestingly enough, Google was the No. 6 most searched for term, meaning people are using Google to find Google.
"It's a little redundant, obviously," Google Canada spokesman Andrew Swartz said in a Dec. 10 Globe and Mail story. "But clearly it happens a lot."
On Yahoo Canada's list, the most searched for term was RuneScape. The multi-player online role-playing game beat out the National Hockey League, which had held down top spot since 2006.
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