LOS ANGELES, Calif. - The world's attention wavered between the tragic and the silly in 2012, and along the way, millions of people searched the Web to find out about a royal princess, the latest iPad, and a record-breaking skydiver.
Whitney Houston was the "top trending" search of the year, according to Google Inc.'s year-end "zeitgeist" report. Google's 12th annual roundup is "an in-depth look at the spirit of the times as seen through the billions of searches on Google over the past year," the company said in a blog post Wednesday.
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 second spot, a testament to his self-deprecating giddy-up dance move. The video is approaching a billion views 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 Brasil," a reality show featuring scantily clad men and women living together.
Some trending people, according to Google, were:
— Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian skydiver who became the first to break the sound barrier without a vehicle with a 24-mile plummet from Earth's stratosphere;
— Jeremy Lin, the undrafted NBA star who exploded off the New York Knicks bench and sparked a wave of "Linsanity";
— Morgan Freeman, the actor whose untimely death turned out not to be true.
The Internet also continued its rise as a popular tool for spreading addictive ideas and phrases known as "memes." Remember LOL? If you don't know what it means by now, someone may "Laugh Out Loud" at you.
This year, Facebook said its top memes included "TBH (To Be Honest)," ''YOLO (You Only Live Once)," and "SMH (Shake My Head)." Thanks to an endlessly fascinating U.S. presidential campaign, "Big Bird" made the list after Republican candidate Mitt Romney said he might consider cutting some funds for public broadcasting.
Yahoo said its own top-searched memes for the year included "Kony 2012," a reference to the short film and campaign against Ugandan militia leader Joseph Kony; "stingray photobomb" for an unusual vacation snapshot that went viral; and "binders full of women," another nod to Romney for his awkward description of his search for women cabinet members as Massachusetts' governor.
Ask.com said the top trending news question was related the 2012 Olympics: "How many medals did the U.S. gymnastics team win?" Other top queries on Ask.com included "When is the Facebook IPO?" and "Why was Trayvon Martin shot?"
And people were happy to pass on popular Twitter posts by retweeting them. According to Twitter, the year's most popular retweets were President Barack Obama's "Four more years," and Justin Bieber's farewell to six-year-old fan Avalanna Routh, who died of a rare form of brain cancer: "RIP Avalanna. i love you".