There's often a chasm between what people say they want, and what they really want. TV viewers may tell researchers they want more educational, PBS-style programming, but they'll tune into lightweight reality shows when no one's watching.
That's what's so fascinating about Top 10 lists from major search engines. Simply put, the lists don't lie. They reveal what we really want, what we're thinking about, what fascinates us. The major search sites--Google, Yahoo, Bing, and AOL--have just released their Top Search lists for 2009. What do the results say about us? My Top 8 first impressions:
Want search engine fame? Try dying: Michael Jackson has been famous for decades, of course, but his untimely death catapulted him to the top of Yahoo's Celebrity Farewell Search list. He also topped Bing's list of Top Trending Topics, which included Farrah Fawcett, Patrick Swayze, and Billy Mays. Ironically, death is often a great career move.
We love fantasy: AOL's top-searched movies for 2009 included these first five: Twilight; Star Trek; Terminator Salvation; Transformers 2; and Harry Potter. Spot a theme here? All are fantasy tales featuring vampires, robots, extraterrestrials, or wizards. Check out IMDB's list of the top-grossing films of all time. You'll find a similar penchant for the fantastic.
Money matters -- a lot: The economy was awful this year, but you already knew that. Internet users were fixated on finances. "Stock Market" and "Cash for Clunkers" made Bing's Top Trending list, and "Coupons" topped Yahoo's list of top economy-related searches.
We like smash-'em-up sports: What sports do Americans love best? Ones with plenty of collisions and potential for bodily harm, real or otherwise. "WWE" and "NASCAR" made Yahoo's Top 10 Overall list, and "NFL" was number 8 on Yahoo's Top 10 Mobile Searches. Baseball? Nowhere to be found. So much for America's Pastime.
Pandemics are scary: The swine flu epidemic was heavily queried around the globe, according to Google. No surprise there.
The dark side of fame fascinates us: Take the disturbing tale of Jasmine Fiore, a quasi-celebrity model/actress murdered in particularly grisly fashion by her estranged husband, a former reality show contestant. Fiore was number 5 on AOL's list of top searched news stories. "Rihanna" was very popular on Google. Why? Chris Brown's assault played a major role.
As expected, the presidential honeymoon is over: Yes, it happens to every U.S. president, but Google's data drives the point home. "Barack Obama" is number 4 on Google's list of fastest falling global searches. Amy Winehouse made the list too. Good for her.
Fame is fleeting: Twilight heartthrob Robert Patterson and pop singer/fashion victim Lady Gaga are popular search topics this year. Where will they rank in 2010? Maybe Gary Coleman knows.