Britney, Viagra Top Year-End Lists

Coincidence or conspiracy? Britney Spears tops Google’s list of popular queries for 2003, and Viagra ranks Number One on America Online’s 2003 “Top Ten Spam E-Mail Subject Lines,” the online giants reported in respective year-end lists.

Neither America Online, the online arm of Time Warner or major search engine Google had a comment on what effect the supply of one might have on demand for the other. As Google searches for Harry Potter ranked right behind those for Britney, apparently users have literary concerns on their minds — at least some of the time.

Google’s list mined over 55 billion searches made by its users worldwide last year. Not surprisingly, “Iraq” was what Google users most frequently typed into the search box when looking for news, with “Laci Peterson” second. Ferrari (No. 1) and Sony (No. 2) were the most-searched brands, scoring about the same as they did last year, according to Google.

Britney’s rise to the top was meteoric; according to a Google spokesman, she didn’t even make the top 10 popular queries last year, though she did come in second in the women’s category.

The phrase “online pharmacy” was second most common in AOL’s spam subject line list. Other top scorers seemed to focus on love or money. “Get out of debt” was third, “lowest insurance rates” seventh, “online degree” number five. “Get bigger,” number four, reinforced the Viagra theme.

Two days into 2004, there’s no difference in the amount of spam reported by AOL users, according to a company spokesman.

“We’re seeing about the same volume, but it’s early days yet,” commented Nicholas Graham. The ISP blocked a half-trillion spam emails in 2003. It saw an uptick in spam in 2003, and expects marketers to increase volume in 2004, Graham reported.

The Top 10 list came from spam subject lines reported by users via the “Report Spam” button the ISP provides subscribers.

The button was developed to help fight spam. Users can flag emails that have gotten through server-side anti-spam defenses, and have been doing so, to the tune of 4 million reports a day.

In its fight to protect its 27 million members from spam, AOL has sued spammers with varying degrees of success, most recently losing a case in Virginia, though other suits have been successful.

The report-spam button, improved filters and the CAN-SPAM act, which went into effect Jan 1, will all help fight spam in 2004, Graham predicts.

“As we come up with new ways to block spammers, they are going to find every mechanism and tool available to them to find ways to get spam to members. It’s a bit of a cat and mouse game and we just have to be smarter cats,” Graham avered.

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