The Web is, at its best, a kind of ongoing, spectacular car crash in which nobody gets hurt. At its worst, it's pretty much exactly the same thing, except lots of people get hurt. Naturally, an information superhighway where anyone can drive without a license is bound to be littered with speeders, sideswipers and guys in stolen vans headed the wrong way down an exit ramp. Educational software, pro-democracy campaigns, charitable web sites – these are simply anomalous variations to the Internet's natural state as as parade ground for mindless, mostly cat-based ephemera.
With this in mind, we present our 2012 year-in-review-slash-awards presentation, eschewing obvious choices and instead focusing primarily on the categories, winners and losers that absolutely nobody will remember this time next year.
PART I – The year in fail
The cringe and look away award for inspiring vicarious embarrassment: Presented this year to the organizers of a shooting competition in Kuwait, who apparently hired the single most inept Google-user in the country to download MP3s of various national anthems for the medal ceremonies. When a gold-medal winner from Kazakhstan stood atop the podium to hear her country's anthem, she was instead treated to the fake Kazakhstan anthem from the movie Borat – which features such patriotic lyrics as "Kazakhstan Kazakhstan you very nice place / From Plains of Tarashek to northern fence of Jewtown" and invites listeners to "come grasp the the mighty penis of our leader."
Kudos to the athlete for not absolutely losing it on the tournament organizers. Her country's government, understandably, was not as easy-going about the whole thing.
The William Golding award for Lord Of The Flies-iest business idea: Unless you're running a knife-fighting league or surgically transplanting monkey organs into the bodies of terminally ill super-villains, you shouldn't be out in international waters. Nothing good has ever happened in international waters. If you got a letter from your kid's daycare saying they were relocating to international waters, you would immediately pull your kid from that daycare. It's just common sense.
And yet, a group of forward-looking entrepreneurial types have decided to set up a nautical utopia called Blueseed in international waters off the coast of California. The purpose of this oceanic wonderland? To free today's hardworking web industrialist from the shackles of government regulation, visa requirements and tax burdens. A noble idea, to be sure, but if this thing ever gets out of the harbour, we give it three weeks before the entrepreneurs are stabbing each other over crumbs in the engine room, while a gaggle of AK-wielding pirates raid the brunch buffet on the Synergy Deck.
Worst product name of the year: An easy choice, since one company managed to combine all the worst hallmarks of modern electronics branding in a single, truly terrible name. Missing vowels? Check. Superfluous Xs? Check. A random acronym thrown in there? Absolutely. Ladies and gentlemen, behold the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD.
Laziest list-based article of the year: Given the sheer quantity of drivel churned out by Internet content mills every day, this is no easy award to win. And yet, we are fairly confident in our selection. This summer, Fox News Magazine (such a thing, it turns out, exists) published an online article titled "10 Pranks That Will Spice Up Your Relationship." On the surface, this seemed like the kind of bland Cosmo-ripoff nonsense designed to generate page views and immediately be forgotten. Unfortunately, the introduction to the list was misleading – it said, "Here are some clever pranks to keep him on his toes all day long." What it should have said was, "Here are ten passive-aggressive warning signs that you're married to an absolute psychopath." Every single item on the list was so overwhelmingly saccharine, and yet hinting at an undercurrent of malice, like Fatal Attraction as serialized in a 1950s edition of Good Housekeeping Magazine:
"3. If you're feeling silly, stuff tissues or newspaper into his shoes so that he can't get his feet in. Write "SURPRISE!" on each one — he'll see the message as he pulls them out." What the hell? Nobody does this.
This article was so bad that Fox has since vapourized any evidence of its existence (although text of the list is still around elsewhere). This is good news, because a single bad apple shouldn't detract from the rest of the truly stellar articles in Fox News Magazine.
The Flojuggler memorial award for the worst web site of the year: Regular readers of this space will know that, for years now, we've considered Flojuggler (we're not linking to it, on principle) just the worst web site. And it would have been easy to pick some similar Web 2.0 abomination this year.
Indeed, we came across a few contenders in 2012, such as the hotbed of desperation, creepiness and petty commerce that is GirlfriendHire.com. But this year's worst web site award goes to something way, way more sinister: a barrage of "removal fee" web sites such as Potential Prostitutes.
In each case, the idea is pretty similar: a site pops up pretending to offer some kind of civic service by publicly posting the photos and personal information of alleged prostitutes, pedophiles or the like. Only pretty much anyone can "recommend" a victim, who is then subjected to the misery of being associated with whatever social evil the web site pretends to be fighting. Of course all of these sites will happily take your information off, as long as you pay a "removal fee." The only reason these sites make any kind of money is because most people can't afford to sue the living hell out of them. It's creepy, predatory and shouldn't exist. So congratulations, Potential Prostitutes and your kin – you've won a very competitive category by a country mile.
Worst web-fueled marketing of the year: So much to choose from here. The bizarre campaign to turn Austin's homeless population into roaming wireless hotspots did have its supporters as well as critics, but probably still deserves mention in this space, if only for its dystopia quotient.
Speaking of good intentions gone wrong, pretty much everything involving the Kony 2012 campaign and its creator's subsequent nude parking lot meltdown qualifies – as would, in fairness, any campaign that included the phrase "nude parking lot meltdown." In fact, for SEO purposes, I'm obligated by the Globe to mention the phrase at least three times in every article. Nude parking lot meltdown.
But the problem with Homeless Hotspots and Kony 2012 is that they appear to have been motivated, on some level, by good intentions. A serious Worst Marketing of the Year contender must be motivated by something far more base. So we're left with monumental screw-ups such as the KitchenAid Obama tweet. But in that case, the head of the company stepped in and took full responsibility, in the process disqualifying KitchenAid from this award.
In the end, we had to go with a Canadian entrant. In the early part 2012, Halifax radio station Q104 apparently stumbled upon a pun that was just too good to pass up, and launched a contest called "Male is in the Czech." One lucky male listener would win a trip to the Czech Republic and be put in contact with Flying Hearts, a mail-order bride company. By now, you are starting to realize the Nabokov-level cleverness of the contest's name. Needless to say, many people were not amused by the stunt.
Everything about this whole campaign was just depressing. From the quintessentially lazy shock-jockiness of the subject matter, to having the contest end on International Women's Day, to the station's outraged denials that there was anything sexist about any of it. Why would anyone think that a contest called "Male is in the Czech," which featured this heartwarming banner, was sexist? Your guess is as good as ours.
Copyright-related insanity of the year: In a year that saw SOPA, ACTA and all manner of bizarre copyright legislation, we decided to go with a much more specific winner in this category: A story that clearly illustrates how profoundly out-of-control copyright hysteria has gotten – and also happens to feature Jay Leno.
Most terrifying video of a cat corpse helicopter: "All Orville ever wanted to do was fly," says performance-artist-and-grieving-cat-owner-turned-creator-of-nightmares.
PART II – The year in win
Cute animal photo of the year: Again, you'd think this would be a pretty competitive category, what with how the Internet works and all. But it wasn't even close.
Awesome viral news story of the year: If we told you the winner in this category was a Canadian entrant, you'd probably think of the IKEA monkey, right? No, we here at Globe Tech secretly hate the IKEA monkey story, for reasons we can't quite explain. Maybe the maple syrup heist, or the Bohemian Rhapsody guy? Nope.
Our winner received far less publicity. This summer, a couple of drunk women in Saanich, British Columbia were arrested for a minor theft of some potato chips from a shed. If you've ever worked in journalism, you know that covering a story such as this one is just brutal – there's nothing to report, but if you work for one particular CTV affiliate on what was obviously a very light news day, you still have to stretch it out into a three-minute segment.
What resulted was three minutes of excellence. Everything about this news hit is amazing, from the random neighbour simply listing off different types of potato chips, to the B-roll footage of WHAT A POTATO CHIP LOOKS LIKE. Mostly, though, what makes this clip hilarious is poor Sgt. Dean Jantzen of Saanich Police, as he struggles – and ultimately fails – to keep it together while overseeing what must be the most ridiculous press conference in his department's history.
GIF of the year: Every now and then, the Internet suddenly rediscovers something that's been around forever. First it was bacon, then ukuleles, then bacon again, and now it's animated GIFs.
There are lots of entrants to choose from here. The world of sports provided some quality clips. As did the news business. The best synopsis of the Facebook IPO this year came in the form of a GIF. And somebody out there took the format and turned it into a deeply unsettling but beautiful art form.
With such solid competition, it's hard to pick a winner, although we are inclined to go with this mashup of Beyonce's "Single Ladies" dance and President Obama's head because, well, just look at that thing.
Best thing the Internet did for some random guy in 2012: If this was a drawing of pretty much anything else, it probably wouldn't win this award.
Tumblr of the Year: Tumblrs are pretty fitting for this year-in-review because most of them are made to be forgotten. Remember "Binders Full Of Women"? Feminist Ryan Gosling? No? How about... wait a minute, the Feminist Ryan Gosling Tumblr has been turned into a book? And that book is the number-one bestseller in Amazon's "Feminist Theory" category? Oh come on.
Anyway, some of our favourites this year included the one-joke QR Code Tumblr and the context-free patent images Tumblr. But the winner this year did what Tumblr is best at: taking a couple of unrelated topics and jamming them together into something that's at once stupid and just pitch-perfect.
Tweet of the year: Rarely has anyone encapsulated the true spirit of Twitter in a single Tweet. And yet, somehow, Vanilla Ice did just that when he sent out this gem.
Just to recap, this is a man who is famous for writing the world's least rap rap song some 23 years ago, and he's asking you if you've heard of what was, at that point, the single most widely-known social media phenomenon of the year. Also, he's advocating military intervention, but he's ending that sentence with a question mark, so there's some nuance there.
Typos, C-list celebrities and opinions – it doesn't get any more Twitter than this.
Best picture of a cat that looks like Batman: A RUNAWAY WINNER.