Page last updated at 23:06 GMT, Monday, 1 December 2008

Britney more popular than Obama

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

Britney Spears
Spears has been the top search term for seven of the past eight years

Barack Obama will make history by becoming the first black US president, but in the world of internet search he trails the singer, Britney Spears.

Of the billions of searches carried out on the portal,, over the last year, Mr Obama was third behind Spears and World Wrestling Entertainment.

Mr Obama was, however, the most searched-for politician during 2008.

The subjects of the most sought-after news stories were hurricanes, Caylee and Casey Anthony, and election 2008.

"Every day, people turn to the web to learn more about the world around them," said Yahoo's Web Life editor, Heather Cabot.

"Their searches reveal which news events, personalities and issues made an impact in 2008. This year people were captivated by the historic US presidential election and Olympic triumphs."

[Britney Spears] was number one last year for all the wrong reasons, and this year for all the right reasons
Vera Chan
Senior Editor of Yahoo Buzz

"They also closely followed every facet of the economic downturn and enjoyed a little escapism by devouring celebrity gossip and delving into online video games" she added.

Yahoo has not revealed the exact number of searches made, but said it had waded through "billions" of terms.

"2008 was a crazy, volatile, whipsaw year and looking back, when I was doing the research for this, there were so many things I had forgotten, and I remember thinking: 'Wow, all this happened in one year'," said Vera Chan, senior editor of Yahoo Buzz.

'Redemption tales'

For the last seven out of eight years, Britney Spears has been the most popular search term.

Paparazzi mobbing Britney Spears
Britney Spears is followed wherever she goes by the paparazzi

The singer's troubled private life, which has been played out in full public view, has involved a child custody battle with her ex-husband, Kevin Federline, several stays in rehabilitation centres, trouble with the law, confrontations with the paparazzi, and a new album.

"She was number one last year for all the wrong reasons, and this year for all the right reasons," Ms Chan told the BBC.

"People like redemption tales. You can't have a public meltdown that big and not have people follow you."

"This was the kind of life it would have taken someone 50 years to live and she did it in 27. Welcome to the 21st Century," she added.

Despite Spears's place in search history, Yahoo said 2008 was also President-elect Obama's year. He was the second most searched-for person and the third most searched-for term overall.

Britney Spears
World Wrestling Entertainment
Barack Obama
Miley Cyrus
Jessica Alba
Lindsay Lohan
Angelina Jolie
American Idol

Ms Chan said he had soared up the rankings as more and more Americans became interested in the election and turned to the web for information.

"Barack Obama was the man to know in 2008. Despite the information overload about him, people couldn't get enough," she said.

"The big surprise was to see the intensity of interest over the election. The web provided an online civics education for people trying to find out the difference between a primary and a caucus and what a super-delegate was."

"Another great thing that was heartening to witness was all the searches by people wanting to contribute to political campaigns, and find out how to register to vote and get involved," Ms Chan added.


Yahoo said it had also created seven other categories to give a better picture of what the nation had been interested in during 2008.

Barack Obama
Barack Obama was the second most searched-for person in 2008

These include searches on topics like economics, politicians, news stories, the Olympics, rising celebrities, influential women, and those who have died in the last year.

"There is an evolution going on in how people use the internet and search on it," Ms Chan said.

"Every year it changes slightly and broadens slightly. We still have our guilty pleasures like following celebrities, and our homework like looking at how much is in our bank account, researching holiday sales and shopping online.

"The internet is becoming this nice gateway that reaches into so many aspects of our lives," she added.

But Ms Chan said that while internet traffic was on the rise, people still relied on traditional media as their first port-of-call for news and information.

"People want real information that they can trust from the papers, radio and TV. But they will also go to the internet to find other sources and make comparisons and find other points of view," she explained.

"The web is a great source and this is where information comes together."

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