Decade's end: Most annoying things the Web offered (photos)

From irritating viral videos to nefarious password-stealing schemes, CNET social-media beat writer Caroline McCarthy presents the dregs of the digital decade.


Caroline McCarthy

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1 of 11 YouTube

Keyboard Cat

There was a lot of brilliant, groundbreaking innovation to emerge on the Web in the '00s. There was also a lot that, well, wasn't. And to give those digital train wrecks their proper place in the sun, we present to you the 10 most annoying things that the Web puked up in the past decade.

CNET trawled through 10 years' worth of irritating memes, played-out YouTube videos, and nefarious business models to dig up our final list. We tragically were forced to omit some of the most irritating things to ever hit the Internet because of the fact that they were already around before the "naughties" started: the "Dancing Baby," International Talk Like A Pirate Day, blinking text, sing-along electronic greeting cards, Hampsterdance.com, chain letters, and animated cursors come to mind.

Play them off, Keyboard Cat...and then get into your Honorable Mention spot.

2 of 11 Original animators "RalphWiggum" and "Comrade Flynn"

Peanut Butter Jelly Time

10. It's Peanut Butter Jelly Time

OK, fine, it was cute once: ridiculously wacky online animations that appeared to have been created under the heavy influence of mind-altering substances. And it was sort of fun to send them to all your friends over instant message.

But if I have to hear "It's peanut butter jelly time!" chanted over and over again, I might barf. The video of a dancing banana, created by two guys with too much spare time, emerged on the Offtopic.com forums sometime in 2002 and grew mainstream enough for references on network TV shows "Ed" and "Family Guy." It also may or may not have been behind why it seems like more people go through the humiliation of putting on banana costumes at Halloween these days.

3 of 11 Warner Bros. (with enhancement by CNET)

Harry Potter fan fiction

9. Icky fantasy fan fiction

I'm all for free speech and expression, but there's something about turning family-friendly books into pornographic literature that just grosses me out. Especially when that pornographic literature takes the form of soap-operatic fan fiction rife with longing looks and heaving bosoms worthy of Harlequin paperbacks. Fan fiction, once the domain of idealistic "Star Trek" fans who wanted to continue the adventures of Kirk and Spock long after the TV series had ended, took a questionable new turn with the dual rise of community blogging sites like LiveJournal, and of multimillion-dollar fantasy franchises like "Harry Potter," the "Lord of the Rings" films, and now "Twilight."

So a few innuendo-laden jokes about wizard wands and vampire bites are totally cool. Funny, even. Any further, and ew. I do not want to read about Hermione Granger hooking up with Professor Snape. Period. End of (bosom-heaving) story. I'm OK if Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee are more than friends, but I don't want the graphic detail, thanks. And I'm not even going to think about what's been concocted for the cast of "Twilight."

But there's also an unfortunate flip side of the whole fantasy-porn fan fiction subculture. In 2007, LiveJournal deleted some particularly explicit "Harry Potter" fan fiction creations in an effort to remove content that could potentially be considered pedophilia or child pornography, but many users cried foul and even LiveJournal acknowledged it went too far.

4 of 11 CNET

Display ads

8. Display ads from the ninth circle of hell

You know what? I don't want to punch the monkey. I don't want to shoot the ducks, either. I also don't want to fill out a survey to learn who has a crush on me. And--hello?--I can find my long-lost classmates on Facebook now, so quit showing me pop-up windows. Display advertising was around well before the dawn of the decade, but the flashiness of them just seemed to escalate in tandem with browser and processor power.

Many of these obnoxious display ads, in fact, contained a lot of the shady "free" offers that weren't really unmasked until they made their way to wildly popular social-network games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars. With hidden costs involved for, say, entering a contest to win a free iPod, some of these display ads were more than just eyesores.

Don't even get me started on acai-powered-weight-loss ads.

5 of 11 YouTube

Single Ladies man

7. It's funny because he's chubby and pasty

Ha! Ha! Look! An overweight white guy! Really, people, when will we stop finding this funny and admit that it's just dumb (and in some cases, offensive)? Unfortunately, being built like the Pillsbury Doughboy and doing something ridiculous is more or less a recipe for a high YouTube play count.

There's the brave soul who donned a spandex leotard and danced to Beyonce's "Single Ladies." There's the Numa Numa guy. Or there's the C-SPAN footage of former George W. Bush strategy czar Karl Rove onstage at the Radio-Television Correspondents Dinner, dancing to a comedian-penned rap song and proclaiming "I'm MC Rove!" Blog pundits responded with snark along the lines of, "This man probably had no friends in high school."

6 of 11 Caroline McCarthy/CNET


6. Phishing

This was the decade in which "phish" took on a meaning that had nothing to do with a well-regarded New England band preferred by stoners everywhere or a well-regarded flavor of New England ice cream preferred by stoners everywhere. Now "phishing" has come to mean an online scam that poses as something legitimate in an attempt to steal passwords and other sensitive information--often with despicable aims of identity theft.

Yes, scams have been around since the earliest days of the Web. But more recently, with more people comfortable using their credit card numbers and other sensitive personal information online--not to mention the proliferation of application programming interfaces (APIs) for sites like Twitter and Facebook that have taught us it's OK to use our passwords on third-party sites--it's become a much bigger problem. Security reports have warned that now, at decade's end, they're still on the rise.

7 of 11 BMG Records


5. Rickrolling

We don't need to say very much about this goofy online fad which involves tricking someone into clicking on a link that leads to the extra-cheesy music video for "Never Gonna Give You Up," an '80s hit by British pop singer Rick Astley.

No, we don't need to say anything more. There's a far better explanation here.

8 of 11 MySpace

Social networkers

4. Social networkers who try too hard

That 15-year-old girl with the kissy-faced MySpace profile photo surrounded by a sparkling pink background has way more in common with the middle-aged dude identifying himself on LinkedIn as a "Thought Leader, Industry Evangelist, and Social Media Expert" than you might think. Namely, they're trying way too hard. The rise of social networks has given compulsive self-promoters a whole new outlet, whether we're talking about bloated professional resumes bogged down in marketing banter or blinged-out social profiles with Taylor Swift blaring in the background.

Facebook, meanwhile, has been trying to clamp down on the sorts of things that can make its own profiles similarly obnoxious: news feeds full of Mafia Wars updates, for example, or invitations to take personality quizzes spammed out to all 500 of a given member's friends. In return, some game developers say it's exerting too much control over how their games can spread across Facebook's powerful social connections.

I guess we'll never win.

Note: Parts of the image have been distorted to protect the user's personal information

9 of 11 Perez Hilton

Perez Hilton

3. Blowhards

A corollary to No. 4: Back in the day, to be a cranky talking head, you somehow had to find an inside route to the TV industry or make a fool of yourself yelling on a street corner. No more: you can blame WordPress, Blogger, Twitter, and YouTube. Anybody with any kind of over-the-top opinion about anything now has an instant outlet to go pretty much hog wild.

There's somebody obnoxious on the Internet talking about just about every topic imaginable. But we'd like to draw particular attention to the fields of technology (just trawl through the muck of the punditocracy on Techmeme), politics (from every end of the spectrum), and celebrity gossip (hello, Perez!) where the air can get hotter than a sauna--a sauna in which, suffice it to say, we would not want to be stuck with any of these people.

10 of 11 Twitter (artist Yiying Lu)

Fail Whale

2. The Fail Whale

Twitter! It's hot! It's the future of communication! It...can't seem to keep its servers afloat. Despite raising a recent nine-figure round of venture capital, the San Francisco-based company continues to be plagued by outages, glitches, snags, and other things that make it more difficult for you to post a 140-character update about what you thought of last night's "Glee."

It doesn't soften the blow much that Twitter picked an utterly adorable error message to display, featuring a flock of birds trying to lift a whale above water. Quickly nicknamed the "fail whale," the cartoon by artist Yiying Lu has come to represent the unfortunate underbelly of dot-com hype.

Twitter's servers no longer take a tumble when there's a big tech conference or Steve Jobs keynote speech. But the fail whale, unfortunately, hasn't gone away--in fact, though it rears its blowhole-topped head less often, it's arguably more prominent given Twitter's significantly bigger reach and constant press mentions.

But if it makes Twitter's team feel any better, Facebook suffers periodic outages, too, and it doesn't even have a cute cetacean to tell you about it.

11 of 11 Caroline McCarthy/CNET


1. FIRST!!!!!!

Oh, the humanity.

The culture of lowbrow, snotty anonymous commenting flourished in the '00s, with the comment fields of YouTube, Digg, and many forums and blogs becoming hotbeds for some of the Web's tawdriest and slimiest. But perhaps the worst offender of them all is that shadowy figure who just needs some kind of attention and validation, and feels the need to broadcast that he scrolled to that comment field before anyone else did by entering simply "FIRST!!!!!!"

That's why we put him on the last slide. And yet, considering this list runs in reverse, somehow he still gets to be first. Funny how that is.

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