NEW YORK (AP) - The world's attention wavered between the tragic and the silly in 2012, and along the way, Web surfers searched in huge numbers to find out about a royal princess, the latest iPad, and a reality TV star.
Whitney Houston was the "top trending" search of the year, according to Google Inc.'s year-end "zeitgeist" report.
Daniel Sieberg follows trends at Google and says its 12th annual roundup looks at hot topics as seen through the billions of searches on Google over the past year.
"When we talk about zeitgeist it translates into spirit of the times so for us we want to see those unique moments that pop out or those trending moments so what we look at is when those search spikes around a person or an event and it's sustained over a period of time and for us that translates into a trend that's happening as compared to most searched about something which is the sheer volume of searches. That happens with a lot of people or events that don't necessarily show up on our lists because consistently compared to last year they've always got that search volume. There wasn't a moment in time where people really turned to search to find what they wanted," says Sieberg.
People around the globe searched en masse for news about Houston's accidental drowning in a bathtub just before she was to perform at a pre-Grammy Awards party in February.
Google defines topics as "trending" when they garner a high amount of traffic over a sustained period of time.
Korean rapper PSY's "Gangnam Style" music video trotted into the second spot, a testament to his self-deprecating giddy-up dance move. The video was streamed more than a billion times on YouTube.
Superstorm Sandy, the damaging storm that knocked out power and flooded parts of the East Coast in the midst of a U.S. presidential campaign, was third.
The next biggest trending searches globally were a pair of threes: the iPad 3 tablet from Apple Inc. and Diablo 3, a popular video game.
Rounding out the top 10 were Kate Middleton, who made news with scandalous photos and a royal pregnancy; the 2012 Olympics in London; Amanda Todd, a Canadian teen who was found dead of an apparent suicide in October after being bullied online; Michael Clarke Duncan, the "Green Mile" actor who died of a heart attack in September at age 54; and "BBB12," the 12th edition of "Big Brother Brazil," a reality show featuring scantily clad men and women living together.
Yahoo! says the word "election" was the most-searched item of 2012.
"It's only the third time in 12 years that a news story has taken the top spot and that was the election. One of the things that we saw related to the election this year is that people were truly following it in real time and fact-checking on the fly," says Heather Cabot, Yahoo! Life Editor. "In the debates for example we saw people searching while the debates were going on looking up specific search terms related to what the candidates were saying and the other thing that's really interesting is something that also made the top 10 is political polls. The actual search term political polls. And again this search reflects the daily search habits of Yahoo! Users and so for political polls to make it into the top 10 it really shows you that people were tracking the polls, tracking the numbers daily and that is what we saw throughout the election particularly at the end when it really became such a horse race. People were checking in day-to-day looking to see if their candidate was up or down."
Cabot says the U.S. presidential election was an example of how many people are now using social media and the internet while they watch television.
"You know when you go to a movie theater and you hear the crowd around you laughing and reacting to the film that you're watching you can actually have that same experience when you're watching something like the debate because maybe you're on twitter, maybe you're on Facebook and so maybe you're having that same reaction with people that you know or maybe people that you don't know as you're all watching that same event unfold and I think that's really unique to where we are in history today. There's no other time that I can think of where we've had that kind of experience and it really is thanks to technology and the internet and the way the internet has really become so integrated into our lives. That social experience really heightens and enriches those opportunities when we're all watching something together."
Kim Kardashian ranked as the most-searched person on Yahoo! while Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model Kate Upton debuted in the top 10 at No. 4.
"One of the biggest surprises in terms of what made the overall list for the year is Kate Upton. She's never made the top 10 before in the past and she really just burst onto the scene this year as the cover model of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and to come in at number 4 in the top 10 means that she has a huge and I mean huge following. This is out of billions and billions of searches that she comes in as the fourth most searched term on Yahoo for 2012."