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12/5/2006
04:19 PM
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Yahoo's Porn-Free List Of Top 10 Searches For 2006

But the question remains: Just how are these lists put together?

Yahoo today released its Top 10 Searches for 2006, and once again pop singer Britney Spears reigns supreme. "Britney Spears" has been the leading query for the past five years, having only been dethroned briefly in 2004 by Paris Hilton.

Editors, it turns out, have a hand in supporting the Spears regime. Yahoo's list, like certain celebrities best left unnamed, has gone under the knife for the sake of appearance. Unseemly search terms have been unceremoniously excised.

"There is some filtering done," says Yahoo Buzz editor Heather Moylan. "The adult terms are filtered out."

How manipulated are the results by bots—or publicists? Moylan says she'll have to check on that. "These results are pretty pure," she insists. "They're pretty true to user interest. But there are filters, and we're aware of those efforts."

Moylan says she'll check with Yahoo's engineers about the extent of those efforts. In fairness, it's not clear that any such efforts are being made. But given the prevalence of online fraud, it would be surprising to find an untouched Eden of pure statistics.

Whether to swallow something that's "pretty pure" depends on one's tolerance for contaminants. This is not to say that Yahoo's Top 10 Searches doesn't have some value as a cultural yardstick, but as such it should be measured against other such lists.

Consider Yahoo's Top 10 Searches: Britney Spears, WWE, Shakira, Jessica Simpson, Paris Hilton, American Idol, Beyonce Knowles, Chris Brown, Pamela Anderson, and Lindsay Lohan.

Now compare that to the most popular search terms according to AOL, which mistakenly released millions of search queries earlier this year. The AOL Breach Top 10 queries are Google, eBay, Yahoo, Yahoo.com, Mapquest, Google.com, myspace.com, myspace, www.yahoo.com, and www.google.com.

Aside from revealing that many users can't tell a search dialogue box from a URL entry box, the AOL list shows a markedly different picture of what users are interested in. As a search query, "Britney Spears" isn't even in the top 200 terms in the AOL data sample.

That's not to say Spears isn't popular; she tops Google's list of popular search queries for the week of Dec. 2nd. But it does suggest that Yahoo and all the other search engines that compile such lists owe the Internet community a far more detailed explanation of how such lists get compiled and verified.

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