Among all the inevitable end-of-year lists that start filing newspaper pages around this time of year, the "top Google searches" and "top tweets" have become a regular fixture.
They may be interesting in an anthropological sense, but is the attention given to outbound search and social data symptomatic of a wider problem: the pursuit of short-term traffic through search and social media, by taking educated guesses at what everyone might click on.
Too many media companies are becoming obsessed with what these lists represent and forgeting that building an audience over time is an important as attracting eyeballs right now.
However, the loudest and most popular online topics are of course important. For large sections of the media world, as well as sports, music and politics, Twitter is the default method for pushing content out into the world. Google is still the primary way people find content they're interested in.
Beware though: a click-obsessed publication based entirely on search traffic and "trending" topics wouldn't be a captivating read.
Take for instance the top 10 Google News searches in the UK:
1. Euro 2012
3. Hurricane Sandy
4. Olympic torch route
5. Eurovision 2012
6. Whitney Houston
7. Felix Baumgartner
8. Costa Concordia
9. Lance Armstrong
10. Diamond Jubilee
These were all massive news events, naturally covered by mainstream news outlets. But do you think you could build a cohesive audience out of stories only based on that list?
(Significantly, the seventh most popular search term is the name of the man Red Bull sponsored to carry out the world's highest skydive. Brilliant marketing, and good TV, but while it will probably help sell caffinated drinks, it's not a topic that tells you much about what sort of people would be loyal readers.)
Or take a look at which events drove the highest peaks in Twitter conversation:
1. Olympics: David Cameron, Samantha Cameron and Boris Johnson dancing together at the Olympic closing ceremony (Sunday, August 12)
2. Euro 2012: England vs Italy, England lose on penalties (Sunday, June 24)
3. X Factor: James Arthur and Ella Henderson in bottom two, Ella voted off (Sunday, November 18)
4. Olympics: Bolt wins the Men’s 100 Metres Olympic final (Sunday August 5)
5. Olympics: Mr Bean’s Chariots of Fire sketch in the Opening Ceremony (Friday, July 27)
6. X Factor: Rylan and Kye deadlock (Sunday, November 4)
7. Euro 2012: England vs Sweden, Theo Walcott's goal to bring England level at 2-2
8. X Factor: Gary Barlow storms off X Factor as Carolynne Poole was voted off in favour of Rylan (Sunday October 7)
9. Euro 2012: England vs France, Joleon Lescott’s goal put England up 1-0 (Monday June 11)
10. Champions League: Man City vs Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal put Real 3-2ahead, ultimately resulting in a victory (Tuesday September 18)
What kind of audience profile does that suggest, and how many advertisers would want to target them?
Twitter also provides a list of "Top Trends" but as James Ball at the Guardian points out, these are those topics that accelerated in volume rapidly and not what dominates conversations on Twitter daily.
Frequency of conversation doesn't mean quality of conversation. There's not prize for being the most popular, shared or liked news brand - but there's a prize much further down the line in building successful business models based on engaged audiences.
@psmith was talking about this and gauging opinion on Twitter this morning - here's some of the conversation...
What's more important in content creation: editorial intuition and journalist knowledge of a sector - or user/search/social/trending data?— Patrick Smith (@psmith) December 13, 2012
@psmith Yes. (Seriously, this isn’t an either/or question.)— Mary Hamilton (@newsmary) December 13, 2012
@psmith compare the homepage of, say, mailonline and, say, googlenews and you have your answer loud and clear— Matt Kelly (@mk1969) December 13, 2012
@adders Exactly - that's obviously the answer, though I feel some people are veering too far towards either extreme...— Patrick Smith (@psmith) December 13, 2012
@adders i.e. 1) we know what our readers want, why bother with metrics/analysis/search? 2) SEO! Keywords! Justin Bieber iPhone Insurance!— Patrick Smith (@psmith) December 13, 2012
@psmith 1) If you’re so sure, why are you afraid of testing? 2) good luck chasing the meme tail… ;-)— Adam Tinworth (@adders) December 13, 2012
@psmith Being able to write knowledgeable - broadly & deeply about a sector is far more interesting than trending data any day!— Kathleen Flannery (@kathfla) December 13, 2012