Internet phenomena. Memes. Grist for the e-mail forwarding mill. Whatever you call them, Web fads are entertaining, unintended consequences of life on the World Wide Web. Once the masses could put anything online easily, they turned up weird fetishes, hilarious parody, jaw-dropping narcissism, and moments of brilliance.
Sometimes a fad is so popular it doesn’t have to be spelled right. Such is the case with Hampsterdance (sic), created in 1998 by Deidre LaCarte as an homage to her pet hamster, Hampton (and, rumor has it, a traffic-getting contest with a friend). The music? “Whistle Stop” by Roger Miller. The result? A CD-spawning, still-kicking Web fad that transcended geekiness–in fact, many of us at CNET can remember receiving “Have you seen this!!!???” e-mail from, like, our parents. Wow, dude.
Was there ever a friendlier Web site salutation than, “WELCOME TO MY HOME PAGE !!!!!!!!!I KISS YOU !!!!!”? That, ladies and gentlemen, is how Mahir Cagri became a part of history (including CNET history–he actually visited us in 2002). His personal Web site rocketed around the Internet in 1999 (and 2000, and 2001, and whenever someone stumbles across it anew), thanks to its hilariously enthusiastic greeting, endearingly broken English, Speedo snapshots, and sweet desperation (“I live alone !!!!!!!!!”).
All your Base are Belong to Us (1998 – 2001)
As many have said, every time you think AYBABTU is dead, it crops up again–whether as a clever quote from a hipster writer, a gamer’s war cry, or someone discovering it for the first time. The phrase comes from a poor translation in the European version of the Japanese video game Zero Wing. What followed were e-mail signatures, forum postings, still images, and finally, a flash animation set to music that showed the true takeover potential of the fad.
Dancing Baby (1997)
The Dancing Baby (trivia: it was originally known as “Baby Cha Cha”) may have been one of the earliest Web fads to suffer an antifad backlash. The hip-shaking baby was born in 1997 as an animation software demo set to “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede. Something about the baby struck a mass-media nerve. It hit the Internet like lightning–and then hit TV, with a guest appearance as a hallucination on Ally McBeal. Though true hipsters disavowed it when it got too popular, variations on the baby crawl the Net to this day.
Hot or Not (2000)
The year was 2000, and one question was burning in all our minds. “Am I hot? Or (horrors!) not?” This crisis of confidence was precipitated not by winter weight gain, but by the Web site everyone was talking about: amihotornot.com. The premise was brutally simple. Let people send in a photo, then let users vote on their hotness. Or, uh, notness. (The site later added personals features and changed its name to hotornot.com.) We wonder now what we wonder then: do they think they’re hot when they send in the pictures?
Speaking of making friends on the Internet, along came Friendster. Yes, it’s weird to call an existing service a Web fad, but Friendster qualifies. Within two years of launch, Friendster was logging 60 million page views per day–and in fact, got so slow it was nearly unusable. But the idea of being somehow connected to everyone else online proved irresistible, and social networking remains, arguably, still a fad (if an “unproven but wildly popular business model” counts as a fad).
Ellen Feiss (2002)
It’s possible that Apple’s “switcher” campaign would have become a cult hit (or at least, a target of parody) all on its own. But we like to think that Ellen Feiss pretty much made the whole thing. In a short-lived commercial (Apple yanked it after too much attention and speculation), 15-year-old Feiss told a sad tale of stoner-sounding woe about a PC eating her paper and having to rewrite it. “It was kind of,” she declared in red-eyed dismay, “a bummer.” Oh, how we laughed. Oh, how we still do.
Star Wars Kid (2002)
Think of the Star Wars Kid as a cautionary tale. Don’t make videotapes of yourself pretending to be Darth Maul using a golf ball retriever as your lightsaber–they’ll only end up on the Internet. Or, maybe, do make said videotapes, as they lead to the amusement of hundreds of thousands of delighted Web users. Thus goes the sad tale of Ghyslain Raza, the well-meaning geek who launched a thousand chuckles.
Maybe Blogger’s popularity (and cultlike adoration) came from the fact that it was one of the earliest and easiest blogging tools. But we like to think it was all about that cute logo. Either way, Blogger played a huge role in propelling personal publishing into the mainstream, pushed out a passel of hipster T-shirts, spawned endless imitators, and happily, paying off for creator Evan Williams when Google came along and swooped up the service.
It had been a long time since a genuine Internet phenomenon hit the e-waves, but the 2004 election was a fat target, and JibJab hit the bull’s-eye. The site actually started in 1999, but it didn’t reach phenom status until its parody of Woody Guthrie’s song, “This Land Is Your Land,” as performed by fantastically funny George W. Bush and John Kerry caricatures. One lawsuit (won by JibJab), millions of crosslinks, multiple news appearances, and at least two successful follow-ups later, and it’s clear that Web fads won’t be going away, as long as we still have the Web.
By Molly Wood