As inevitable at year’s end as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and leftover turkey are annual “best of” lists. We’re not immune to such things, so we’ve scoured our own archives, and the rest of the Internet, to take a look at the Internet itself. Our goal was to look back and see what was important, what we may have forgotten already, and generally take stock of our Internet experience entering 2015.

The State of American Connectivity in 2014

According to the latest figures available in Akamai’s “[state of the internet]” report for Q2 2014, the average connection speed in the United States is 11.4 Mbps. That number represents a 39 percent increase from the previous year, and the average peak speed of 45.3 Mbps represents a 30 percent increase from 2013.

Additional research from the Leichtmann Research Group shows that over the past year, the U.S. has seen a net gain of nearly 3,000,000 broadband subscribers. That brings the total number of U.S. broadband subscribers to nearly 87,000,000. To put that number in perspective, the Census Bureau reports the number of U.S. households as about 116,000,000.

Who were the biggest winners as speeds increased? Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Phoenix, Omaha, Las Vegas, Raleigh, Winston-Salem, and Provo are just some of the communities that got 1 Gbps Internet connections in 2014. In April, an article on this site called out Salt Lake City, Raleigh, San Jose, Charlotte, and Portland as next Google fiber cities, and now we look pretty smart: all are now on Google’s list for future fiber expansion. Meanwhile, in addition to fiber, there are companies actively working on high-speed online networks using wireless, satellite, and even laser technology.

And studies show that good things happen to those with faster Internet connections. Though correlation doesn’t imply causation, this year we looked at studies that showed correlation between faster Internet speeds and happiness, as well as a correlation between faster Internet speeds and ACT scores.

Internet-related Story of the Year: Net Neutrality

There are 12.2 million Google results for “net neutrality,” and 12. 1 million for “net neutrality 2014.” That relationship shows how much of the debate has played out over the past year alone. It’s been discussed so much that we’re not going to try to summarize it all here, but one important development was AT&T delaying fiber rollout until the debate is settled. Because there’s been no resolution, you can expect the story to be big in 2015 as well.

2014’s Biggest Online Winners

Online retailers were among the biggest winners of the year. Black Friday 2014 became the biggest online shopping day of all time, up over 20 percent from 2013. Then only days later, Cyber Monday 2014 broke the days-old record again, becoming the first single day to see more than $2 billion in online sales.

The Internet made another huge winner of the ALS Association, and more importantly, the families of all those suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, in 2014. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge became an online phenomenon and has raised more than $115 million for the charity since June 29.

2014’s Most Popular

Because this is the time of year when online organizations release their “best of 2014” lists, we’ve compiled some of the more interesting ones to see what we were all up to this past year:

Most Popular Online Search

Google released lists of its most popular searches within the U.S. and worldwide, but the top four on each list are identical: Robin Williams, World Cup, Ebola, and Malaysia Airlines. In fact, the only searches unique to each were “Ferguson” and “Ukraine” for the U.S. list, and “Conchita Wurst” and “Sochi Olympics” for the worldwide list.

Over at Yahoo!, the top search of 2014 was “Ebola.” The rest of Yahoo!’s top 10 was decidedly celebrity-oriented: Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lawrence, Jennifer Aniston, Kaley Cuoco, Ariana Grande, and Miley Cyrus were all among the most popular searches of the year. That’s six of the top 10.

Most Popular YouTube Video

As of this writing, it has over 114,000,000 views.

An honorable mention needs to go to Korean pop artist Psy’s “Gangnam Style” video. As Yahoo!’s Google Plus page explains, the video first posted in 2012 earned more views than the website’s counter could render because it never occurred to the programmers that one video would ever get so many hits. After 2,147,483,647 views, YouTube had to redesign the counter system to handle the video’s popularity.

Most Popular Netflix Content

Surprisingly, it’s not a Netflix exclusive. The site’s most-streamed content for 2014 was “Blacklist,” followed by another network drama, “Once Upon a Time.” So it looks as if even those who don’t like cable still like the programming that cable networks are creating.

Most Popular Music

Worldwide, Ed Sheeran was Spotify’s most-streamed artist, and Pharell’s “Happy” was the most-streamed song. Among U.S. listeners, Eminem was the most-streamed artist, and Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” the most-streamed song.

Most Popular in Social Media

How quickly we forget, but Ellen DeGeneres’ Oscar-night selfie was the most popular single tweet of 2014, with 3,367,680 retweets, and #WorldCup was the most popular hashtag, used 21.6 million times.

Ebola was the most popular topic on Facebook this year, followed by the Ice Bucket Challenge and Robin Williams. And Altmetric says the most popular academic paper of the year was Facebook’s “mood experiment” that manipulated the news feeds of almost 700,000 users to measure their emotional reactions. While the topic was popular, reaction unsurprisingly showed that the experiment itself was not among users.

That’s Almost All, Folks

Inevitably, any year-end list of the best and worst is going to cause some debate, and that’s where all of you come in. What did online 2014 look like for you? What did we miss?

We hope you had a good time online in 2014. If you didn’t, thanks to a slow connection, make sure 2015 is better by finding a new plan.

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Image by Bertalan Szürös/Flickr