The Dancing Baby. The Blair Witch. Mahir Cagri, the Turkish man whose own personal Web fame got him a guest spot on The Late Show with David Letterman. And let's not forget Deidre LaCarte, the graphic-design student who put up a Web site full of dancing hamsters as a lark-didn't even spell "hamster" correctly-and will soon sell hamster mugs, key chains and T-shirts, and was even featured in an Earthlink Internet television commercial. A CD of hamster music is due soon, so you know HampsterDance: The Movie can't be far behind.
Do you want in? Do you want the world to chat about your company's Web site around water coolers and over e-mail? Do you want to be invited to appear with David Letterman to tell a world full of potential fans to log on to your Internet address, Cheese-armpit~worm.com (having come to the Web a little late, your first 17,246 domain-name choices were already taken)? In short, do you want your business to become the next Internet phenomenon?
Entrepreneur: Steve Oedekerk
Web site: www.thumb.com
Description: Movie parodies starring thumbs, including Thumb Wars and Thumbtanic
Impact: Thumb Wars went prime time on UPN last May. Thumbtanic scored 15 million hits in 15 days, possibly thanks to its featured spot on an Earthlink commercial
Today: While writing films like Ace Ventura, Pet Detective and Patch Adams in his spare time, Oedekerk continues to expand his "thumb-nation" technology. Future projects include The Blair Thumb, Thumb Wrestling and the pop musical, Thumbs.
Entrepreneur: Deidre LaCarte
Web site: www.hampsterdance2.com
Premiered: Summer 1998
Description: Rows of animated hamsters dancing to Roger Miller's version of "Whistle Stop"
Impact: Appeared in a television commercial for Earthlink. CD, video and merchandising deals are currently in the works. Forty-five million hits since its inception.
Today: LaCarte made one crucial mistake: She didn't rush to register the domain name www.hampsterdance.com; someone else beat her to it after seeing her original GeoCities site. LaCarte started HampsterDance2 after seeing the knockoffs of her site, including LizardDance, CowDance and even the HamsterBlast, in which visitors mow hamsters down. LaCarte is currently trying to get control of the original HampsterDance.com domain name.
Entrepreneur: Joan Staffen
Web site: www.kittycam.com
Premiered: Summer 1997
Description: A digital camera photographs the JointSolutions conference room every two minutes. Kitty is JointSolutions' adopted office cat, known mostly for napping on the conference-room table or peering out the sliding glass doors.
Impact: Although Kitty has no connection at all with JointSolutions' high-tech client base, he has hit a nerve with the public at large. Written about not only in pet magazines, but also numerous newspapers worldwide, Kitty gets mail from around the globe. One woman wrote that, in caring for her bedridden husband, visiting Kitty is her only "window to the world." The site has had almost 2.3 million hits to date.
Today: JointSolutions plans to sell Kitty office accessories, including coffee mugs and, yes, mousepads. As with other celebrities, Kitty's time in the spotlight has led to some soul-searching-this month, the site starts featuring letters from Kitty's own spiritual therapist.
Entrepreneur: Scott Dikkers and Peter K. Haise
Web site: www.theonion.com
Premiere date: May 1996
Description: Satire of current events. Recent articles include "450,000 Unsold Earth Day Issues of Time Trucked To Landfill" and "Congress Wonders If It's Even Making A Difference Anymore."
Impact: The Onion started as an underground Madison, Wisconsin, publication. The Web opened it up to an international audience. Covered in Entertainment Weekly, The New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly, The Onion has grabbed 2.6 million visits per month.
Today: Bigger than ever, The Onion is going multimedia. The Onion Radio News is heard by 9 million people each week. Dikkers and Haise's two books have both made The New York Times bestseller list. Next up: the big screen-DreamWorks recently signed a deal to turn an Onion article into a film.
Fancy Yourself A Phenomenon?
- Entertain your audience. Sixty million-plus Web sites are already out there; 100 million more are expected before the end of the year. Let's say you have a prestigious investment firm. Yawn. Making money is great, but Roth IRAs and savings bonds aren't as zany as, say, that Web site with the dancing hamsters. So splash some pictures of nude Sumo wrestlers all over your firm's home page. I guarantee people will be talking about your company.
- Get the media to notice you. Hire a publicist, get a guest spot on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? or stand outside Sam Donaldson's window and serenade him. Just get noticed. The one thing all the aforementioned Web sites have in common is that reporters wrote about them. Lots of reporters wrote about them. We media types hate feeling left out. If USA Today writes about a Web site, you'd better believe The Today Show will follow.
- Enjoy your Web site, because the chances are great that you will be the only one and why should you waste your life on something no one else will see. Or, of course, it's entirely possible that everybody will see it. "It's all subjective," says Mike Corso, owner of Internet phenomenon; he suggests you simply "build a Web site based on your passion, your interests." Then let the magic begin.
By Gisela M. Pedroza
Say you're willing to set your sights a bit lower-you don't necessarily want to be a phenomenon; you'd settle for just making some e-bucks. We asked executives at three of the most popular how-to sites on the Web to verse us in the absolute basics of making a little money on the Net.
Udai Shekawat, vice president of marketing and business development, AskMe.com: "You need the ability to attract large numbers of visitors to your site, pique their interest and present a compelling case for buying your goods or services."
Courtney Rosen, CEO and founder, eHow.com: "Find an unmet customer need, create a unique, superior product to fill it, generate revenue from as many angles as possible."
Stephen P. Gott, president and CEO, Learn2.com: "The key to sustained business success on the Internet is continuous learning. As the world moves faster and competition becomes steeper, knowledge becomes the differentiating factor between the people at the head of the pack and the ones that are left behind."
- Cool Site of the Day, (914)238-6874, firstname.lastname@example.org.