Robin Williams, who tragically died earlier this year, was the most common Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) search of 2014 both in the US and around the world, followed by the World Cup at number two and Ebola at number three. The full lists are a smorgasbord of the sad, the silly, and the historically important, but aside from a nostalgic look back at the year what’s most interesting is how the top ten lists highlight the limit of search.

Robin Williams, World Cup Top Google's 2014 Global Searches

Top ‘global’ searches shows Google’s English-language bias

The first thing that jumps out at you from the two lists is that they are remarkably similar – the only difference in the top six entries is that flappy bird and the ALS ice bucket challenge switch places. The US list has Ferguson and Ukraine, while the global list has Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst and the Sochi Olympics toward the end of the list, and both have ISIS and Frozen toward the end of the list.

One conclusion could be that Americans care more about Ukraine than the rest of the world, or that the whole world was Googling Robin Williams after his death, but it’s more likely that we are just seeing the English language bias in Google Inc’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) user base, with America determining most of the top searches and Europe moving the exact positions around a bit.

Search terms don’t show what people care most about

Another assumption you have to watch out for is that the most searched for terms are somehow a stand-in for the most popular topics of the last year, but there’s no chance that Americans spent more time thinking and talking about Flappy Bird last year than they did about college football. It’s just that fans don’t have to search Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) to find out how their favorite teams are faring this year.

Google Inc’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) list of top US searches reads like a list of the biggest stories that Americans had a passing interest in. This is hardly the first sign, but it suggests that people are relying on other sources (Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) and Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) spring to mind) for the detailed discussion of topics they really care about. A list compiled by social media might not be as topical as Google’s search terms, but it would give a more accurate view of what people really spend their time thinking about.