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14 Classic Distractions for the Internet Newcomer

Every once in a while, I run across an old article, video, or link of some kind and think, "Oh yeah, that was awesome! Too bad it's so old," because my job is to post the newest and hottest links every day. If I post something more than a couple of months old, I'll get complaints. However, it's not really old to someone who hasn't seen it. After all, there are young folks who only use the internet for Facebook and Wikipedia, and more older folks are going online for the first time every day. I put some of those links together as a list of old hits that everyone should see sometime, that could be used as a way to introduce new users to the wonders of the internet, at least the fairly tame yet funny parts. Here are a few suggestions for freshman surfers.

1. Mark Longmire's Romance Novel Covers

As many times as I've seen (and used) Mark Longmire's Romance Novel Covers, they never fail to make me laugh. He's got some other old but wonderful features at his site.

2. Nose

Pick your nose online? Well, just tweeze the hair, OK? This was so nonsensical that everyone loved it. Some folks say there is something satisfying about plucking nose hairs, and artist Jogchem Niemandsverdriet gives you a way to do that without the anticipated pain. Oh yeah, he has a lot of other weird stuff online for you.

3. Red Square

Games are getting more sophisticated by the day, but if you've got an idea that is simple to comprehend but hard to master, you've got a classic. The Red Square game will drive you crazy no matter how many times you try it. All you need to do is survive. Hold the red square and avoid being hit by the blue squares. I usually last about ten seconds, but I have to go back and try again a few times.

4. Viking Kittens

Joel Veitch created the flash animation Viking Kittens in 2002 which became such a bandwidth hog that it is no longer hosted at his Rathergoood site. There are several other sites that host it, but they have appeared and disappeared over the years. If the linked site stops hosting, you can search for another. Or see it on YouTube. Jonti Picking's Badgers is another flash sequence everyone should be familiar with.

5. The Worm Within

Do you have a strong stomach? There are no photographs in the story The Worm Within, (just some cute illustrations) but it is a long, gross read about a tapeworm Vincent Eaton encountered in Belgium. Click to advance to the next page. It is followed by 27 pages of submitted personal parasite stories.

6. Amateur

Young Norwegian filmmaker Lasse Gjertsen charmed us all with his video Amateur in 2006. He is not a musician (or was not at the time); this was all done by video editing. Gjertsen became the internet's golden boy for a while. All his videos are worth checking out.

7. Zoomquilt

Warning: this link may make you lose track of time. The Zoomquilt is a beautiful example of infinite zoom, constructed in 2004 as a collaborative art project. Since then, The Zoomquilt 2 has been added. After you click start, use your mouse and mouse button to zoom in at your own speed. Or out.

8. Backstroke of the West

Although it has just a little NSFW text, Backstroke of the West became a classic because 1. it was real, and 2. it was ridiculous. And still is, seven years later. It's a simple look at how bootleg videos get mis-translated more than once, resulting in nonsense subtitles. Therefore, Revenge of the Sith somehow became Backstroke of the West. This subtitled bootleg movie was the source of the Do Not Want meme.

9. The Singing Horses

The Singing Horses are both cute and fun. Click each horse to make it sing or stop. The French site Incredibox works along the same lines with human singers, but is more involved and sometime a bit more difficult to figure out. But you can do it!

10. The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook

October 4

Still working on the omelet. There have been stumbling blocks. I keep creating omelets one after another, like soldiers marching into the sea, but each one seems empty, hollow, like stone. I want to create an omelet that expresses the meaninglessness of existence, and instead they taste like cheese. I look at them on the plate, but they do not look back. Tried eating them with the lights off. It did not help. Malraux suggested paprika.

The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook was originally published in a Portland alternative newspaper in 1987, but survives for everyone everywhere to read on the internet. It never would have reached such a wide audience otherwise.

11. Instants

Need some sound effects for your life? Instants is a soundboard that has everything you could possibly use to punctuate your conversations. I drove my kids crazy with this for a couple of days and then forgot it. Since then, the sheer size of the collection makes it slower to load and more difficult to use than it was a couple of years ago. But now they have subgroupings, and the effects I used most are in the "Real Life!" category, which I would recommend to anyone. Warning: if you don't recognize the label, the sound effect may turn out to be NSFW.

12. Daft Hands

Daft Hands is a 2007 performance piece by Austin Hall to the song "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" by Daft Punk. The original video now has 53 million views, but comments indicate that people still see it for the first time every day. This video inspired other versions and parodies, particularly on the comedy theme of "Daft Bodies." The original hands video was done in one take with no special effects.

13. iDaft

If you like that song, you'll love the iDaft. It's a sound board constructed from the parts of "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger." Punching the buttons makes you feel like you have some musical talent even if you don't.

14. Samorost

Samorost is an intricate adventure game by Amanita Design. It was created by Jakub Dvorský in 2003 while studying design in Prague. There are no instructions; you have to figure out what to do on your own, but the challenge and the artwork make it very worth your while. Samorost 2 followed a couple of years later, but only the first chapter is available free.

Of course, this list only scratches the surface of the rich pickings for a new internet surfer. Are any of these sites new to you? What are your favorite "internet oldies"? What games, videos, art, and articles hold up well over time? Do you have other suggestions of classic web entertainment that everyone should see sooner or later?

See also: 6 Founding Members of the Internet Zoo and 10 Landmark Moments in YouTube History.

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#TBT
Before Bitcoin: The Rise and Fall of Flooz E-Currency
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In the late 1990s, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Spencer Waxman was in Morocco on holiday when he heard an Arabic slang term for money—flooz—that stuck with him. In the dot-com boom taking place back in the United States, URLs with obscure etymology were popular. When Waxman and partner Robert Levitan decided to co-found a novel way of disrupting the online commerce industry, calling it Flooz.com was almost a foregone conclusion.

What Levitan and Waxman envisioned was a virtual gift certificate that would drive business to participating online retailers, give consumers some sense of security over their private information, and make shopping for stubbornly gift-resistant recipients easy. Rather than merely offering cyber currency, this was a service with purpose.

Unfortunately, it was also one that was doomed to fail.

A screen capture of Flooz.com
Flooz.com

Non-cash currency has been with us since the Chinese used cowry shells to sort out debt for goods and services more than 3000 years ago. In the 1960s, credit cards became an alluring alternative to saving and carrying paper bills. When online retailing exploded in the 1990s, it was only natural that startups would begin to explore virtual payment methods.

At the time, digital transactions were perceived by many consumers to be a near-guarantee of identity theft. Handing a card to a vendor in a closed-loop retail environment was one thing, but the thought of hackers seizing their information once it was entered into the borderless environment of the internet kept many away from online shopping.

As it turns out, that paranoia would turn out to be justified in our current climate of constant data breaches. It was also good for businesses hoping to turn their apprehension over credit card security into a monetized solution. Flooz.com debuted in 1999, just one year after another currency-based URL, Beanz.com, had garnered press. Beanz were a kind of earned points system, with approved transactions gifting customers with redeemable gift vouchers. Flooz took a different approach: Customers would sign up to Flooz.com and purchase gift certificates for specific retailers, which they could then use themselves or pass along to a gift recipient via email.

For businesses, it was a way of driving traffic to sites; for consumers, it was a way to keep credit card transactions limited to one vendor; for Flooz.com, being the intermediary meant taking a 15 to 20 percent cut of completed transactions on the selected retail sites, which ranged from Godiva Chocolates to Barnes & Noble and Tower Records.

To help Flooz.com cut through online marketing noise, Levitan enlisted actress Whoopi Goldberg to be their spokesperson. In exchange for company shares and Flooz.com money, Goldberg led an $8 million ad campaign for radio, television, and print that extolled the benefits of using Flooz.com.

Whether it was Goldberg’s pitch or the concept itself, Flooz.com met with a receptive audience. The company debuted in the fall of 1999, and had opened 125,000 accounts by January 2000. That year, roughly $25 million in Flooz.com money was purchased and used. (In a nod to the impenetrable vocabulary of the internet at the time, the media loved to point out that Beanz could be used to purchase Flooz.)

Bolstered by the attention and early success, Flooz.com was eventually able to raise $35 million in venture capital. Consumers could meet their gifting obligations by emailing a code to their gift recipient without having to waste time shopping. For a time, it appeared Flooz.com would become a leading method of payment for online transactions.

Actress and Flooz.com spokesperson Whoopi Goldberg is photographed during a public appearance
Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

But it didn’t take long for the seams in the Flooz.com model to show. While gifting vouchers to family and friends was convenient for the gifter, the giftee was stuck with a very limited number of vendors that took Flooz.com as payment. If Amazon, for example, had a deal on a DVD or book that Barnes & Noble didn’t, Flooz users were out of luck. Shopping for a bargain wasn’t possible.

The second and most crippling detail was one Flooz.com was forced to make in order to strike deals with vendors. The company guaranteed its transactions, meaning that it would make good on orders even if Flooz dollars had been purchased via fraudulent means. By the summer of 2001, that commitment became a tipping point. Agents from the FBI informed Levitan that they suspected a ring of Russian hackers had purchased $300,000 worth of Flooz in order to launder funds from stolen credit cards.

This created a paralyzing cash flow problem: As their credit card processor withheld funds until Flooz.com could secure the transaction, people were still busy redeeming Flooz dollars they had already spent. Retailers then looked for Flooz.com to reimburse them. Suddenly, customers trying to pay with Flooz were greeted with error messages that the site was down.

Those issues, coupled with the fact that corporate clients had already started to move away from gifting employees with Flooz dollars, forced Flooz.com to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in August 2001. Court papers cited almost $14 million in liability. (Beanz.com was also a casualty of the dot-com bust, when participating retailers processing the points steadily went out of business.)

Levitan rebounded, founding the Pando file sharing network and selling it to Microsoft in 2011 for $11 million. Meanwhile, Flooz.com remains a barely-remembered footnote in e-currency, though it would be hard to chart the rise of digital funds like Bitcoin without it. Like with so many other good ideas, timing is everything.

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Big Questions
What Could the Repeal of Net Neutrality Mean for Internet Users?
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What could the repeal of net neutrality mean for the average American internet user?

Zouhair Belkoura:

The imminent repeal of net neutrality could have implications for Americans beyond the Internet’s stratification, increased costs to consumers, and hindered access to content for all. Net neutrality’s repeal is a threat to the Internet’s democracy—the greatest information equalizer of our time.

With net neutrality’s repeal, ISPs could be selective about the content and pricing packages they make available. Portugal is a good example of what a country looks like without net neutrality

What people may not realize is that a repeal of net neutrality would also give ISPs the ability to throttle people’s Internet traffic. Customers won’t likely have visibility into what traffic is being throttled, and it could substantially slow down people’s Internet connections.

What happens when this type of friction is introduced to the system? The Internet—the greatest collective trove of information in the world—could gradually be starved. People who experience slower Internet speeds may get frustrated and stop seeking out their favorite sites. People may also lose the ability to make choices about the content they want to see and the knowledge they seek.

Inflated pricing, less access to knowledge, and slower connections aren’t the only impact a net neutrality repeal might have. People’s personal privacy and corporations’ security may suffer, too. Many people use virtual private networks to protect their privacy. VPNs keep people’s Internet browsing activities invisible to their ISPs and others who may track them. They also help them obscure their location and encrypt online transactions to keep personal data secure. When people have the privacy that VPNs afford, they can access information freely without worrying about being watched, judged, or having their browsing activity bought and sold by third-party advertisers.

Virtual private networks are also a vital tool for businesses that want to keep their company data private and secure. Employees are often required by their employers to connect to a VPN whenever they are offsite and working remotely.

Even the best VPNs can slow down individuals' Internet connections, because they create an encrypted tunnel to protect and secure personal data. If people want to protect their personal privacy or company’s security with a VPN [they] also must contend with ISP throttling; it’s conceivable that net neutrality’s repeal could undermine people’s freedom to protect their online safety. It could also render the protection a VPN offers to individuals and companies obsolete.

Speed has always been a defining characteristic of the Internet’s accessibility and its power. Net neutrality’s repeal promises to subvert this trait. It would compromise both people's and companies’ ability to secure their personal data and keep their browsing and purchasing activities private. When people don’t have privacy, they can’t feel safe. When they don’t feel safe, they can’t live freely. That’s not a world anyone, let alone Americans, want to live in.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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