In December 1990 there was a single web site on the Internet, and by the end of 1991 that figured had jumped to ten. Today there are millions of sites and billions of pages, and the web is a universe unto itself. It's impossible for any one person to keep track of even one percent of the interesting stuff happening on the web, but still we try until our favorites folders are overflowing, our social bookmark sites crash, and our inboxes choke on forwarded links. Occasionally, though, all of that collective interest organizes itself into something more orderly and, for a moment, it seems like everyone on the web is thinking about the same thing. Below are ten moments from the past year that the people who make the web found coolest, most interesting, funniest, and most throught-provoking.
10. Numa Numa Dance
What do you get when you combine a Romanian chart-topper, an American teenager, and a webcam? The Numa Numa Dance. New Jersey 19-year-old Gary Brolsma found Internet fame when he not only lip-synched, but did a slick choreographed routine—albeit without leaving his chair—to "Dragostea Din Tei," a dance track by Romanian pop trio O-Zone.
9. Samy is my hero
8. "Wizards in Winter" synchronized Christmas lights
When Mason, Ohio's Carson Williams set up a video camera to record his music-synchronized Christmas light display, I'm sure he knew it was cool, but did he realize it would enthrall web video junkies like it did? The video, which shows Williams' 25,000-light display dancing in perfect sync with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's bombastic "Wizards in Winter," seems so perfect that some people believed it was a series of stop-motion capture rather than real-time. In fact, the setup took the electrical engineer nearly two months and $10,000 to accomplish.
The Internet wasn't the only place Williams' work was noticed: Miller Brewing filmed his spectacle for a Miller Lite commercial ("Enjoy the Lites"), and the police eventually asked him to shut it down after local traffic escalated and at least one accident was caused.
7. Blogger sits out Hurricane Katrina in office building
On Saturday, August 27, Michael Barnett, a sysadmin for New Orleans web host Zipa, posted to his LiveJournal the words "Hmm. This could actually be a nasty storm." A few hours later, in the company's offices on the 10th and 11th floors of an office building in downtown New Orleans, Barnett was at what could be considered the epicenter of the Hurrican Katrina disaster.
With emergency generators and stockpiles of food and water, Barnett and a handful of coworkers remained in the office building throughout the crisis, constantly blogging, snapping photos, and providing a 24/7 live webcam feed of the streets below. Barnett's frank and personal account of the disaster is still riveting today, four months after it began.
6. The Flying Spaghetti Monster
Bobby Henderson wasn't always the prophet he is today. He started out his career as a proselytizer with a simple letter to Kansas School Board, in which he urged them to teach an alternate theory alongside evolution and Intelligent Design: that our universe was created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Henderson's satirical take on Intelligent Design, eventually dubbed Pastafarianism, captured the imaginations thousands of web surfers the world over, prompting art, bumper stickers, t-shirts, mugs, knitted spaghetti monsters, several competing religious sects, and even a video game. Eventually the mainstream media, including the New York Times, picked up on it, and though the Prophet Bobby Henderson's notoriety has faded a bit since Pastafarianism's peak, he's not done yet: with a reported $80,000 advance, he's writing The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, to be published in March by Random House.
5. Live 8
On the 20th anniversary of the historical Live Aid benefit concerts and on the eve of the 31st G8 Summit, ten concerts took place featuring dozens of top-tier performers, including U2, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Pink Floyd, Madonna, Green Day, P. Diddy, and many more. Live 8 was a momentous event and got heavy coverage from most major media outlets including continuous coverage by MTV, but nowhere was the coverage better than on the web. AOL Music featured constant, uncut, and free coverage of the entire event while dozens, if not hundreds, of music and politics bloggers covered the event without cease. Weblogs, Inc. got in on the act with its Live 8 Insider liveblog. MTV's coverage, meanwhile, was universally trashed for its commercial interruptions, bleeping, and lame veejays talking over landmark performances.
4. Google buys a 5% stake in AOL
Not two months after AOL's acquisition of Weblogs, Inc. the whole web was talking about AOL again. Word was, three companies were courting AOL, all three of them Big Deals: Microsoft, Yahoo!, and Google. The bloggers went 'round and 'round, but nobody seemed very convinced that Google's heart was really in it. Much to everyone's surprise, Google did come out on top, with a $1 billion deal for a 5% stake in AOL.
Brad Hill at the Unofficial Google Weblog speculated that it was a defensive move on Google's part, as allowing its competitors a deal of this magnitude would mean a signficant loss ad revenue and a challenge to its web dominance, but whatever the motive, Google fans and detractors alike blogged about the deal's possible implications on the neutrality of Google's search results, and Google's VP was compelled to make a post on the official Google blog in an attempt to allay netizens' concerns and clarify the two companies' new roles.
3. Lazy Sunday
There is nary a ten-second stretch of Chris Parnell and Andy Samberg's Lazy Sunday that isn't eminently quotable. The success of the "Narnia Rap," which first aired as an "SNL Digital Short" on December 17's episode of Saturday Night Live, was literally an overnight hit on the web, and the song's "Chronic—WHAT!—cles of Narnia" hook and irresistable lines like "Mr. Pibb and Red Vines equals Crazy Delicious" were immediately taken up as the hottest catchphrases since "all your base are belong to us." The music video, which follows in the footsteps of videos produced by Samberg and his friends Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone—now writers for Saturday Night Live—for their comedy web site The Lonely Island, is being hailed by some as some of the best work seen on SNL in years. NBC didn't waste much time in capitalizing on the song's success and quickly released the video as a free download on iTunes and the Saturday Night Live web site.
2. Sony BMG's XCP rootkit fiasco
Perhaps this year's biggest corporate blunder in the tech world was Sony BMG's inclusion of a DRM system on its music CDs which contained a rootkit that, among other things, compromised the security of any computer they were played in. Sony first tried to ignore, and then bury, the controversey, with president of Sony's digital business division Thomas Hesse's infamous "Most people don't even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?" earning a Foot-in-Mouth award from Wired News. The buzz kept growing, however, until the inevitable class action lawsuit was filed and Sony swung into full damage-control mode. This week Sony proposed a settlement that would have it recall all of its XCP-infected CDs and offer their owners a bunch of free downloads or $7.50 in cash. While this is surely not the end of invasive DRM, it undoubtedly proved a wake-up call for businesses who have yet to learn that there's a fine line between protecting their content and pissing off their customers.
1. Kanye West: "George Bush doesn't care about black people."
If there was an award for most awkward pause of the year, it would go to the one immediately after Kanye West uttered his now-immortal words. It all started out innocently: During a call for donations during September 2nd's Hurricane Katrina benefit concert, Mike Myers sticks to the teleprompter, but when it's West's turn to talk he deviates from the script. After a minute and four seconds of Kanye's raw opinion, Myers, visibly uncomfortable, tries to hop back on-script. That's when Kanye drops his bombshell: "George Bush doesn't care about black people."
The script departure was cut from the west coast rebroadcast of the concert, but the video was online within hours, followed hastily by a statement from NBC and a great flurry of blogger and water cooler activity. One of the most talked-about moments of the year, it even spawned a remix of Kanye's hit song "Gold Digger" called "George Bush Don't Like Black People." A month later, West and Myers commemorated the event with a surprise appearance by Myers on Saturday Night Live.
Okay, here's your chance to rip this list apart. What unforgettable moment did we omit? What did we include that doesn't deserve, in a million years, to be on a list like this? Chime in in the comments below.