The best of the internet in 2021
Image: OneShoot/The Noun Project

The best of the internet in 2021

Source Code

Good morning! December brings cold weather, holiday drinks at Starbucks and best-of lists. Source Code producer Sarah Roach went through them all to find some of the internet’s most important moments of 2021.

The best of the best-ofs

Despite the fact that the last 21 months have all somewhat blended together, 2021 is, somehow, coming to a close. This year managed to distinguish itself from last year at least in small ways, though: We started going back to the office (and stopped again); pushed for four-day workweeks; and felt a bit safer after vaccine and mask mandates were implemented throughout the country.

As we like to do about this time of year, we went through all the best-of lists that streaming services, social networks, app store makers and everyone else put out, to find the truly best stuff of 2021. We found ways the world grappled with disasters, united once again after being separated for so long, and came to terms with the so-called “new normal.” Even the summer Olympics, which was one of the most-talked-about sporting events on Twitter, proved that this year was not quite like the last.

2021 was optimistic. Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony was one of the top trending videos on YouTube, and search interest around COVID-19 vaccine booster shots jumped during the summer. People found joy in the little things, like learning from an old pug whether it would be a bones or no bones day, or turning a photo of Bernie Sanders wearing those mittens into a viral meme (yes, this did happen in 2021).

The year had its lows, too. People worldwide looked up the word “doomscrolling” more than ever before, and search interest around the U.S. Capitol surged after the Jan. 6 insurrection. Conversation around hate crimes soared on Google and Twitter amid news of violence against Asian Americans. Now, the year is ending with a new COVID-19 variant escalating in parts of the country. Maybe it’s time for us to revisit true quarantine in Bo Burnham’s “Inside.”

Looking for ways to help, people searched for relief efforts throughout the year. Search interest around “how to help Texas” soared after the state faced a major power outage in February, “how to help Afghanistan” was the No. 1 news search as the Taliban took control of the country, and people looked up “how to help Haiti” after an earthquake hit the country this summer. Vaccination volunteering was the most-searched volunteer opportunity.

TikTok had another banner year. The platform was unsurprisingly the most-downloaded app of 2021, and it now brings in 1 billion users each month. You may recall the hype around feta cheese pasta, or videos of a sophisticated Australian shepherd painting flowers and twirling around at sunset. Salmon rice bowls were extremely popular thanks to San Francisco creator Emily Mariko, and turning your face into a warped clown inspired people to make new content.

Communities and creators found their place on TikTok, too. Some of the most popular niche groups this year included Small Business TikTok, Olympic TikTok, BookTok, Astrology TikTok and Film TikTok, in that order. People like Oneya D’Amelio, known for his angry reactions, Starbucks lover Anna Sitar and Lissette Eduardo, a self-described motivational speaker, were among the most popular creators on the app in 2021.

Who could forget the buzz around crypto?Tech leaders and lawmakers alike took a strong interest in digital currency: In February, people searched “how to buy bitcoin” more than how to buy stocks, dogecoin was the fourth-most-Googled news item, and NFT was the No. 1 thing people wanting to make something searched for.

You couldn't not sing, “I got my driver’s license last week.” Even people in stable relationships were singing along to Olivia Rodrigo’s “Driver’s License.” It was one of the most-streamed songs on Spotify and Apple Music and the most-searched song on Google, too. Bad Bunny, Taylor Swift and BTS were some of the most-streamed artists worldwide, and Rodrigo’s “SOUR” was one of the top albums on Spotify worldwide.

The Great Resignation got going. Search interest spiked around how to get a job and why people were leaving work. People looked up how to start a business more than how to get a job, and everyone was wondering what’s up with the Great Resignation. And those who kept their jobs didn’t want to be shortchanged: “How to ask for a raise” was the top “how to ask” in the U.S. this year.

And there was self-care for everyone. Google Play’s best app of the year was Balance, which creates personalized daily meditations. Searches for words like “affirmations” and “body positivity” reached record highs, and world-renowned athlete Simone Biles reminded us that even the best need a break sometimes. People Googled how to maintain their mental health, and popular apps like Among Us and Bumble showed that people had a strong desire to stay connected.

As we leave 2021 and head into 2022, we hope that next year we carry on some traditions from this year — like fighting over Web3 and the metaverse — and leave some things behind, like Bean Dad and the Cinnamon Toast Crunch guy. Some predictions for next year? “Metaverse” will top the charts across platforms, search interest in NFTs and crypto will continue to soar, and maybe TikTok will be the most-downloaded app for a third year in a row.


According to a Nielsen Report, 94% of Chinese tourists said they would pay with their phones if the method becomes more widely adopted overseas; 93% said using that method would likely increase their spending. To meet them where they are, more and more U.S. companies — both here and in China — are embracing Alipay.

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People are talking

Bill Gates canceled his holiday plans after a surge of Omicron cases:

  • “Just when it seemed like life would return to normal, we could be entering the worst part of the pandemic.”
Google's freewheeling all-hands meetings may never come back the same way, Sundar Pichai said:
  • “People are always nervous to answer in this setting... I do think people realize that answers can be quoted anywhere, including outside the company."

Bob Iger started thinking about leaving Disney after realizing he’d become dismissive of people’s opinions:

  • “It wasn’t the reason I left, but it was a contributing factor.”

Getir’s Nazim Salur said the rapid-delivery app needs to have a U.S. presence:

  • “A good basketball player in the end wants to play in the NBA and the NBA is in the U.S.”

Making moves

Tim Stokely is stepping down as OnlyFans’ CEO. Ami Gan will take his place, and Stokely will serve as an adviser to the company.

Kimberly Bryant was ousted from Black Girls Code. Bryant said the board fired her, called it "illegal" and "without cause," and warned that negative stories about her may soon come out.

Norman Reed is Binance.US’s new general counsel. Reed has been doing the job on an interim basis since Christopher Robins left the company earlier this year.

Erica Brescia is a new Redpoint partner. She’s a former GitHub exec.

Via filed confidentially to IPO. The public transit tech company was last valued at $3.3 billion.

Microsoft bought Xandr, an ads platform, from AT&T. Microsoft and Taboola are also working together on an audience network for an ad service that works across the web.

The EU approved Microsoft’s Nuance purchase. (Big holiday week for Microsoft!) The acquisition cost $19.7 billion, making it Microsoft’s second-biggest purchase to date.

In other news

SpaceX is facing a COVID-19 outbreak. As of yesterday, 132 of the roughly 6,000 people who work at the company’s headquarters tested positive for the virus.

CES 2022 is starting to fall apart. Companies like T-Mobile, Twitter and Meta have all announced they won't have an in-person presence at the show, and lots of media organizations (including Protocol) have decided the same.

The White House is setting up a website to order COVID-19 tests. Officials are trying to send hundreds of millions of at-home tests as the omicron variant continues to spread. Remember how well this went last time the government built a COVID website?

TikTok has become a go-to for retail ads, according to The New York Times. Marketers like that TikTok ads just look like videos, and that TikTok claims Gen Z and Millennials alike are spending huge amounts of time on the platform.

Amazon has a buddy-buddy relationship with the DOJ and FBI. The company has tipped off government officials to look into its own workers and sellers, POLITICO reported, building an increasingly close relationship along the way.

Fractal's Discord server was hacked. A hacker posted a fake link in an announcement channel on the NFT marketplace's server, and made out with about $150,000.

Protocol's holiday cookbook

Behind every great tech worker is an even better chef who can whip up recipes ranging from a quick tomato salad to a hearty kerststol.

Protocol’s Anna Kramer asked the tech world to share their favorite holiday recipes, along with stories about each dish, culminating in a cookbook of everyone’s tried and true meals. You can read through about a dozen dishes that tech workers hold dear to their hearts, from sweet potato tarts made by Dell’s Vanice Hayes to Swedish meatballs made by Twitter’s Mark Gandara. Happy holiday cooking, from one tech worker to another.


In 2020, U.S. merchants sold over $54 billion worth of products to Chinese customers on Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms, which rely on Alipay to facilitate the transactions. The year prior to the pandemic, Chinese tourists in the U.S. engaged in 800,000 transactions using the Alipay App, for sales valued at $232 million.

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Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to, or our tips line, Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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