- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What says 2009 to you? Well, if you’re anything like your millions of fellow Google users, you’ll probably say Michael Jackson, swine flu and the freshman Fox television series “Glee.”

Oh, and of course, you went gaga over Lady Gaga.

In fact, glam-pop singer-songwriter Lady Gaga made it into the top 10 list in several categories for this year’s most popular and fastest-rising searches on Google - the so-called Google Zeitgeist roundup. The site at the end of the year aggregates the millions of search queries it receives every day to determine which searches are the most popular and the fastest-rising.

“It gives you an idea of what’s on people’s minds,” says Google spokeswoman Anne Espiritu. “The pulse, the spirit of the times.”

For example, we know Lady Gaga was in the epicenter of the “spirit of the times” with her songs “Poker Face” and “Just Dance,” which both were on the top-10 list of most-searched lyrics.

Pop megastar Jackson, who died June 25, was another top search in several categories.

But, you might say, what about Tiger Woods? Brittany Murphy? Well, the two haven’t broken into the top searches for the year, but they are the No. 1 one and No. 2, respectively, fastest-rising searches in the past month, according to Ms. Espiritu.

But, though we’re a celebrity-obsessed culture, the rich and famous are not the only things we search on the Internet. We also — according Google Zeitgeist — search and connect with friends and acquaintances via Twitter, Facebook and hi5, three of the fastest-rising Google searches.

Facebook, in fact, has been on the top 10 list for fastest-growing searches three years in a row, Ms. Espiritu says.

“That’s really unusual and shows a significant, continuous growth for Facebook,” she says.

Losers this year, meaning searches that fell the fastest, include John McCain, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin and Wii Fit. Politics, health care reform, Afghanistan and other top political issues are conspicuously absent from the Google lists. Not bizarre or juicy enough, perhaps?

According to Ms. Espiritu, bizarreness helps create a buzz, but it’s not a necessity for driving search popularity. If you look, for example, at the most popular searches by region, you’ll see that pretty mundane searches, including weather, schools and public transportation, are among the most common.

Take the D.C. area. The most popular search was for Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools blackboard, an online tool that enables the county’s students to access homework, view calendars and link to enriching activities. The second-most-popular search was for National Harbor in Prince George’s County, Md., and the third-most-popular search was for the E Street Cinema, a small, independent film house downtown.

Other top searches locally include Northern Virginia Community College, WTOP News, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Nationals Baseball, DC Restaurant Week, Washington Sports Club and Leesburg, Va., outlets.

The top searches in the Big Apple were similarly pedestrian and included the City University of New York and locations for Duane Reade drugstores.

So, what does all this tell us about us? We’re pragmatic in our day-to-day life.

“We look at the weather every morning to help decide what we’re going to wear,” Ms. Espiritu says.

We also check homework assignments, bus schedules, and store locations and hours. We spend even more time connecting with people through social media and looking for the latest and juiciest details about our favorite celebrities.

Mr. Woods needn’t fret, though. Our attention span is very short. In fact, searches on the golfer are nowhere near the top 20 searches in the past 24 hours (www.google.com/trends/ hottrends).

If anything, Google Zeitgeist tells us what we already know: We’re all like children - short attention spans, celebrity and peer focused, with little interest in politics or anything else too complicated.

• Gabriella Boston can be reached at gboston@washingtontimes.com.

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