Top online searches show political and social attitude of 2011

Notorious trials, political scandals and social uprisings drew people online, but the death of Osama bin Laden and the dominance of the iPhone – fueled by the passing of Apple founder Steve Jobs – topped online searches and news in 2011.

For 10 years, Yahoo! has analyzed its aggregate search data to gauge the top stories, compelling newsmakers, and viral fads. The Internet giant, visited every month by some 700 million people worldwide, debuted on Dec. 1 its “Top 10 News” topics, based on searches and top stories.

Top 10s include the Arab uprising, political sex scandals led by former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, heroic acts, a chronological review of extreme weather, notable endings that range from the space shuttle program to Oprah Winfrey’s daytime program, and a review of “obsessions” like planking, Charlie Sheen and the Tiger Mom meme.

This year, a technological marvel came in at No. 1 – and even that had played a role in protests.

“This year the iPhone became available through other providers,” says Vera Chan, senior editor and a Web trend analyst at Yahoo!, of the Apple product. “It now comes with a talking personal assistant. It comes in white, which for some people was like the elusive unicorn. And don’t forget, even though pundits were disappointed it wasn’t a major upgrade, the iPhone 4s helped Apple become, for a brief moment, the most valuable company in the world.

“As if that weren’t enough, the phone facilitated political movements around the world. And of course, the iPhone – as well as all the other technological marvels to come from Apple – is the embodiment of the vision of Steve Jobs.” Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, died on Oct. 5. The iPhone 4S debuted nine days later, to record sales.

By its nature, breaking news doesn’t always crack the Top 10: People don’t have to search for details they get in the news, and it’s rare that a single term can stand for a complex news story. Yet this year, Casey Anthony, Osama bin Laden, and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami all figured into the top ranking.

Other 2011 developments, identified in the Yahoo! Year in Review:

* Casey Anthony, most searched person. “The Casey Anthony trial touched off a lot of classic controversies, and people drew parallels to the 1995 O.J. Simpson murder trial,” Chan says. “Was it a media-manufactured frenzy? Did the coverage encourage a rush to judgment? Why is the horrible death of Caylee Anthony, out of many tragedies, the focus?”

* Osama bin Laden. A Navy SEALs force took down Osama bin Laden four months shy of the Sept. 11 anniversary. President Obama made the announcement late May 1, so most Americans woke up to the astonishing news of his death. Searches surged about the circumstances, others wanted proof of death through video and images, and many had questions about his last moments and his Pakistani compound.

* Political sex scandals. The No. 1 slot went to Hollywood star and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger; revelations about a 13-year-old son born out of wedlock ended his 25-year marriage to Maria Shriver. “Arnold committed the most classic sin,” Chan says. Other scandals had a more updated spin, such as “sexting” pictures that former New York congressman Anthony Weiner accidentally tweeted to his followers.

Other top themes of the year:

* Heroic acts. Some heroes were sought out by names. Others are nameless, working under calamitous circumstances. By combing searches and new stories, this gallery in the year-end report focuses on just 10 who stood out among many.
* Extreme weather. This gallery walks through a year that leads in record-breaking weather disasters in the United States.
* End of an era: Once mighty institutions and celebrated figures closed shop. This gallery looks at the top departures from space and technology to reality and daytime TV.
* Caught? Yes, there were enough erring politicians caught up in scandals – some by their own doing, others still under investigation – to make up a top 10.
* Obsessions: Bringing back a favorite from 2010, 10 fads and outsized antics especially grabbed online attention.

For the entire report, visit

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