The top 10 online events during the past year are open to debate. But whatever list you settle on would result in the same conclusion: The Internet has quickly grown into a boisterous behemoth, able to amuse us with some mindless video on the one hand and build a presidential victory with the other.
Here's my countdown of the year's top 10, backward, just like how they do it when the ball drops on Times Square tomorrow night.
10. Viral is catching: No one can be certain what makes something on the Internet a "viral" hit, but as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said of pornography, you know it when you see it. One of the most-viewed viral advertising hits of the past year never became an advertisement at all. Through video magic (and a few hidden wires), a Chicago agency named Element79 produced a short of a ballgirl at a baseball game scaling a wall for a foul ball like Spider-Man, before she returned to her folding chair - and her half-empty bottle of Gatorade. The sports-drink maker never used the ad, the agency claims it didn't leak it, but somehow it got out and became more fodder for online discussion than thousands of commercials that someone paid for.
9. Fast but false: Reports of Steve Jobs' demise were greatly exaggerated - twice. Bloomberg mistakenly posted to its Web site a prepared obituary for the Apple founder in April; then in October, CNN's citizen journalism site, iReport, quoted an "insider" as saying Jobs had suffered a "major heart attack." The report was false, but caused Apple's stock to require resuscitation.
8. Dancing is a star: Nothing is as infectious on the newest form of media as dance, perhaps the oldest form of artistic expression. Shane Mercado's flamboyant video of himself dancing to Beyonce's hit "Single Ladies" drew more than 1.6 million views on YouTube. He reprised his performance on the nationally syndicated Bonnie Hunt Show and was apparently satirized in a raucous skit that included Beyonce and Justin Timberlake on Saturday Night Live.
7. Yes he could: The "Yes We Can" video by pop music star Will.i.am drew 14 million views on YouTube and was an early indicator of the emotion and exuberance that Barack Obama's campaign would inspire, particularly among young people.
6. The boys on the cyber bus: Author Timothy Crouse's The Boys on the Bus, which wryly depicted the media coverage of the 1972 presidential campaign, couldn't have imagined how differently campaign coverage in 2008 would look. National news publications and networks are still the dominant opinion-shapers but the blogs continue to emerge as significant players. People came to rely on sites such as Politico.com and FiveThirtyEight.com, a math-driven blog inspired by baseball statistics and named for the number of electors in the Electoral College, for pre-election forecasts and news. Their constant presence revealed that former President Bill Clinton was becoming an erratic liability for his wife on the Democratic primary campaign trail, turning a perceived strength for her into a weakness.
5. Facetime: Online social networking continues to mushroom on sites such as Friendster, FriendFeed, MySpace and LinkedIn. Facebook, now with 140 million members and counting, continues to march beyond a youthful, tech-oriented core into the mainstream (read: older folks). People might argue whether this development is a positive for society, but such arguments have accompanied practically every new communications technology going back to Alexander Graham Bell.
4. Pixels and pit bulls: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin wasn't merely God's gift to Tina Fey. The Republican vice presidential candidate was a rocket-fueled Internet sensation, stoking a vigorous debate between supporters and opponents. Perhaps former President Richard Nixon in his day or Bill Clinton would have elicited as feverish an online tussle had the Internet been such a force during the height of their scandals, but there's been no politician like Palin thus far in the digital age.
3. Tweet, tweet: Twitter was probably the biggest new tool of the year, even if many people couldn't figure out the allure, or the business model, of micro-blogging in 140 characters or fewer. The invention made a splash during the summer's political conventions and became one of the more useful sources of real-time information about the terror attacks in Mumbai, India, last month. The year ended with perhaps the first twitter from a plane crash, after a Continental Airlines 737 skidded off a runway in Denver.
2. iPhone, we phone, they phone: The popularity of devices like Apple's iPhone 3G, Google's Android and the Blackberry Storm helped advance the mobile Internet. It's hoped that consumers will see more price-cutting - the kind that, a decade ago, propelled the cell phone from being a novelty for executives to a fixture for most people older than 12. By the time Obama completes his presidency, it's likely that sitting at a desk to use the Internet will seem as ancient as being tethered to a telephone.
1. The making of the president 2.0: Obama rewrote the book on financing a presidential campaign via the Internet. His ability to raise money online made it possible for him to vanquish Hillary Clinton and then John McCain, who joked that he was "a true maverick - a Republican without money." Obama's cyber-savvy candidacy forced Democrats and Republicans alike to recognize that they will have to revamp how they rally supporters, organize volunteers and fund campaigns in the future.