A wider Internet
This year, the Web grew further into its well-chosen name. The boundless net of sticky electronic threads is now ensnaring just about every other form of media. (When NBC chief Ben Silverman joked “Help me!” to Jay Leno, I thought of the line from 1958’s classic “The Fly” -- the scene’s on YouTube if you need a refresher.)
Some forms of media are indeed being sucked dry, but a few canny industries have stopped struggling and just allowed themselves to be cocooned, knowing that before long, they might indeed emerge with sleek digital appendages that will allow them to survive online.
The Webification of TV. This was the first year when finding free, high-quality episodes of your favorite show online made the jump from an illegal hassle to an attractive option. We saw the opening of Hulu.com, NBC Universal and News Corp.'s gleaming online candy store of free TV, a site that blogger skeptics branded a lame-o corporate YouTube, but that some people think may out-earn its bigger, scruffier competitor in 2009. Hu knew?
“Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”. I must have watched 100 new Web-only series this year, but only one of them has stayed with me. Joss Whedon’s three-part, 45-minute superhero musical -- starring Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day -- is inarguably the only great episodic work of Web TV yet.
Connected politics. Whether you agree with the bloviocracy that the Internet “got Obama elected” or not, there’s no doubt that the Web made its mark on this year’s election. If there wasn’t enough dirt on a candidate, the blogosphere was there with a shovel. New stories broke every 20 minutes; new polls came out every 10. And every word a politician spoke was disputed, dissected, spun, celebrated, mocked and posted on YouTube before she’d or he’d even finished uttering it.
Anonymous lives: In March, a video of Tom Cruise extolling the values of Scientology leaked onto YouTube. When Scientology officials tried to stamp it from the site, the church drew the ire of young Internet denizens around the world, spawning a wave of masked protest that put Scientology on the defensive.
Old friends. This was the year when Boomers and Gen Xers got hip to Facebook. More than a few teenagers were bummed to find their “hip” mom signing up and asking to “friend” them. (Whether one should “accept” such a request or “ignore” it is indeed a question of modern etiquette.) And younger parents flooded the platform with endless terabytes of baby pictures. Maybe 2009 will be the year when Grandma and Grandpa jack in.
Rickrolling to the top. The Web is unrivaled in its ability to generate slang and to endow quirky characters with 25 seconds of fame. Just ask Rick Astley, whose career as an ‘80s pop star was briefly resurrected when “Never Gonna Give You Up” became an anti-anthem among snickering YouTubers. Astley’s second coming reached its pinnacle when he performed on a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
Twitter roars. The microblogging service showed itself to be a raw but compelling new channel for instant info. During major events -- earthquakes, fires, the election, the Mumbai attacks -- Twitter users were quick to share unfiltered shreds of thought, experience and opinion.
Entertain me. As much as it’s changed communications from top to bottom, the Web has been spotty as a venue for pure entertainment. Amateurs and professionals have dumped out truckloads of made-for-Web video shorts and series, but Web hits are still elusive. It might be time to admit that three minutes just ain’t long enough.
Quiet, please? Now that it’s permanently in our pockets, the Web has become difficult to escape. Online content can now fill any interstitial space, no matter how small. Instead of minutes, hours can now be counted in text messages, sports alerts and e-mails -- how many times have you checked yours today? Call me a romantic, but the idea of un-punctuated quiet time seems like one we should bring back.