Visualizing What The World Googled In 2016

Google’s interactive explores the topics that dominated the internet, from Donald Trump to three-toed sloths.

Visualizing What The World Googled In 2016
[Photos: Oli Scarff/Getty Images, Theo Wargo/WireImage/Getty Images, SivelstreSelva/iStock, VladimirDavydov/iStock, Fotoplanner/iStock, andykatz/iStock]

Every year, Google takes millions of search terms and distills them into an interactive that sums up the year. Usually the company’s Year In Search takes the form of a big list–mostly consisting of celebrities, politicians, and viral search terms. But this year, the company broke things down a little further. Its 2016 graphic shows each search topic color-coded by category that lets you highlight people, places, things, and ideas. Then, you can get a sense of more detailed trends by toggling between metrics like month, max search interest, and region, along with a new map.

The graphic gives fascinating context about major search topics. For example, while Donald Trump might be the most-searched term of the year, users were searching for ideas and places related to his politics, too. Some of the hotly debated ideas surrounding the election–like the “Trans-Pacific Partnership,” “demagogue,” and “bias”–make the list. And after the U.K. voted to leave the European Union in June, “Boris Johnson” was a top search term, as well as “European Union,” “referendum,” and “petition.” In August, the Rio Olympics resulted in searches like “cupping therapy,” “badminton,” and “Simone Biles.” The design echoes another well-known graphic from this year–The New York Times‘s “The 289 People, Places, and Things Donald Trump Has Insulted on Twitter–which also used elegantly used color-coded sub-categories to break down a list of the president-elect’s Twitter barbs.

While some searches are contextually related, others seem entirely random. January yielded breakout searches for “three-toed sloth,” “microRNA,” and “superfood,” while in June “Hamilton,” “mosquito,” and “curry” were popular. And the top locations for other searches are seemingly random: Tanzania’s breakout search of the year was “Celine Dion” while Guyana’s was “juice.” “Virtual reality” peaked on October 16 in Volta Redonda, Brazil. Others made more sense: The architect Zaha Hadid, who passed away in March, was a breakout search term in several countries in the Middle East.

Beyond the celebs and politicians, the ideas on the list show an emphasis on inequality and corruption in society–a marker of uncertainty as populist leaders rise to power. But they also show the continued march of technology through data science and machine learning. Perhaps 2016 shall be known as the year that machines couldn’t save us from ourselves.

Check out the entire interactive here.

About the author

Katharine Schwab is a contributing writer at Co.Design based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture. Follow her on Twitter @kschwabable.