Dot.life - where technology meets life, every Monday
By Mark Ward
Technology Correspondent, BBC News website
Big Brother 5 was a hit on TV and with web users
2004 was a big year for search engines.
Google remained everyone's favourite but it faced more competition than ever as sites such as Ask Jeeves, MSN, Yahoo and a host of small start-ups tried to grab a share of the searching audience.
That is not surprising given that 80% of all excursions online start at a search site of one sort or another.
This means that taking a look at the top queries of a few search sites will be a good guide to the topics that net users were most curious about.
According to statistics gathered by MSN UK, the top query among British users was for the Big Brother TV show on Channel 4.
Although the viewing audience for Big Brother was down from its peak, the fifth series of the show was the second most popular of the series. Part of its renewed appeal was down to winner of the show, Portuguese transsexual Nadia Almada.
TOP MSN UK SEARCHES
1) Big Brother
2) Inland Revenue
6) Alton Towers
10) Harry Potter
The show was at number 2 in top UK queries on Google and was pipped to the top slot by the BBC News website.
By contrast MSN's second place query was a different type of big brother, namely the Inland Revenue.
The increasing numbers of people who file tax returns online was thought to be behind this placing.
Taking a more global view from Google's zeitgeist, the top query around the world was for fading pop singer Britney Spears.
Ms Spear's multiple marriages and split with her long time manager have helped to keep her in the headlines, despite her desire to take a career break in late 2004.
Following Ms Spears in Google's list of top queries were four other high-profile blonde women: Paris Hilton, Christina Aquilera and Pamela Anderson.
Glamour model Jordan (aka Katie Price) who was the most-queried woman on the MSN site, did not even make it in to Google's top female query list.
Ms Price came in at number 7 in the top 100 MSN queries of 2004.
MSN also reported that David Beckham, who was hard to escape in 2004 for personal and professional reasons, did not feature very highly in its list of top searches.
Beckham was the 70th most popular query among British searchers, down a whopping 56 places from his position at number 14 in 2003.
GOOGLE GLOBAL TOP TEN
1) Britney Spears
2) Paris Hilton
3) Christina Aguilera
4) Pamela Anderson
7) Carmen Electra
8) Orlando Bloom
9) Harry Potter
Unkind commentators might say that there was perhaps no need to search for him because he was so ubiquitous.
Google's results were kinder to Mr Beckham which put him at number 6 in global queries and number 3 in UK-only searches.
On Google the most popular man around the world was former elf Orlando Bloom.
He was not popular all over the world though. Google's regional breakdown of popular searches showed that though he was the most popular man among Norwegian searchers, Germans preferred pop star Usher and Canadians Johnny Depp.
For the first time, Google also supplied data from Froogle its shopping comparison site.
The swift growth of online music services has led to the iPod music player being the most searched for item. The popularity of the iPod led to shortages of the player in shops which perhaps helped to boost the ranking of the sleek gadget.
When it came to news stories, it was perhaps no surprise that Iraq was the most searched for term among UK Google users.
But for the BBC, the most popular story of the year, in terms of readers, was the school siege in Beslan, Russia that took place in September.
The BBC News website coverage of the siege as it unfolded was the most read story among both UK and international visitors to the site.
The victory of George Bush in the US presidential election was the second most popular story of the year.
The statistics were gathered before the tsunami disaster struck in Asia which has resulted in a significant seasonal increase in visitors to the BBC News website.