'Sarah Palin' Was '08 Fastest-Rising Search Term

Google serves up several billion search queries every single day, giving it incredible insight into what people are thinking and talking about. On Wednesday, the Internet giant released its year-end Zeitgeist report, which lists the most popular search terms of 2008 by country and topic. It also calculates the fastest risers and queries that have catapulted in popularity within the last year. Here's a rundown of the most interesting insights from this year's report.

The revenge of Sarah: "Sarah Palin" was the world's fastest-rising search term in 2008; "Obama" came in sixth, below "Heath Ledger" and even "Tuenti," a Madrid-based social networking site for Spanish speakers. In absolute terms, however, "Obama" was the most popular search term on Google for this year.

Campaign buzzwords: Palin's intrigue extended beyond her own name. She coined or was somehow related to four of the election season's top 10 most popular buzzwords: "maverick," "bridge to nowhere," "lipstick [on a] pig," and "hockey mom." The most sought-after catchphrase, however, was "Joe the Plumber." Perhaps Joe should capitalize on his popularity and heed the calls for him to run for the House of Representatives in 2010.

The funny side of news: For the most part, the list of most popular political news sources is predictable. Fox, CNN and ABC lead the way, with Web-only sites like The Drudge Report and The Huffington Post also making an appearance on the top 10 list. But the ninth most popular news site is a surprise: "Saturday Night Live." Tina Fey's spot-on Palin impression certainly deserves credit for giving the 33-year-old franchise renewed relevance. (Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, strangely, are nowhere to be found.)

China's moment: The U.S. elections weren't the only thing dominating the world's attention in 2008. "Beijing 2008," a reference to this year's Olympic Games, was the second fastest-rising search term. Gymnastics, swimming and soccer proved to be the most popular Olympic sports on the Web. And though the International Olympic Committee took heat for its decision to drop baseball and softball from the 2012 Games, Google clickers seem to agree with the decision: "baseball" fell at the bottom of the top 10 list, behind "equestrian," "BMX" and "boxing."

The most egotistical countries: Americans have earned a reputation for being the globe's navel-gazers, but they're not the worst offenders—at least not on the Internet. The idea of "Googling yourself" took on national dimensions in Chile, for instance, where the most popular search term in 2008 was … "Chile." The self-absorption was even more extreme in the United Arab Emirates, where an unprecedented building boom (including construction of the world's tallest tower, the Burj Dubai) has led to unprecedented interest in the Middle Eastern country—especially from within its own borders. There, "UAE" was the second most popular search, and "Dubai," one of the nation's seven emirates and center of the building bonanza, occupied two spots on the top 10, once in English and once in Arabic. Similarly, the Italians searched for their capital, "Roma," more than anything else save "YouTube."

The year of Internet video: The Italians weren't alone in their fascination for online video. Clearly, people love putting themselves on camera—or maybe they just love videos of dogs on skateboards. In almost one third of the 35 countries charted by Google, "YouTube" ranked as the most popular search.

Facebook slips: Mark Zuckerberg's brainchild, Facebook.com, was the most popular search term in four countries, including the United Kingdom and South Africa. But there are plenty of attractive alternatives, including MySpace, LinkedIn and a smorgasbord of regional competitors, like Poland's popular Nasza Klasa site. In fact, nearly half of the world's top 10 social networks came from outside the United States.

It's the end of the world as we know it: As if failing banks and a rising jobless rate weren't enough to worry about, the Large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator lying under the Franco-Swiss border, has inspired bigger fears. Doomsday-inclined scientists say the apparatus, 17 miles in circumference, could accidentally produce black holes or hypothetical particles known as strangelets, either of which would destroy the earth. (It was switched on in early September, to no disastrous effect.) Such science-fiction outcomes helped make "particle accelerator" or "Large Hadron Collider" one of the fastest-rising search terms in New Zealand, Austria and other countries. The French and Swiss, despite sitting on top of the device, were strangely unworried.