The Web Hostess: Online manners, memes and must-see video

Feb 23, 2011

A weekly chat about the best ways to kill time online. Our Web Hostess, Monica Hesse, sifts the Internet so you don't have to, searching for meaning, manners and the next great meme.

This week on the Internet, the Internet marketplace company Sedo announced that it had brokered the deal for the most expensive domain name purchase ever. It sold for $13 million to a company called Clover.

Who can guess what the domain name is? Winner gets to decide the sign-off for today, while GSTQ takes a little break.

 

Googling is cheating. I'll know if you do.

 

Let's roll.

 

 

Monica, Can you explain why the Government Waste commercial is "weirdly racist", as you state? Is the fact that the US owes billions of dollars to China somehow controversial in your mind? You work for one of the better papers in the world- you should think about reading some of your colleagues' work sometime. Just because you don't understand something doesn't make it racist.

The "weirdly racist" quote this chatter is asking about came from a piece I had a few days ago, about Tiger Mother Amy Chua's visit to Washington.

It was referring to this commercial, which was widely forwarded a few months ago, and considered pretty controversial.

I don't think that the first 45 seconds of the ad are controversial, nor is the concept that the U.S. owes money to China. But the last bit of the commercial, in which the professor and his students begin cackling evil-ly about America's downfall, plays into odd, xenophobic emotions. Lots of people felt this way -- here's a story my colleague John Pomfret did on the ad when it first came out in October.

Since we're having an Internet discussion here, I'll also say that this ad became a meme, much like Hitler's Downfall, with lots of people contributing their own interpretations of the dialogue. Here's one. I give it threee points for mentioning Michael Bay.

Hi Monica, I'm one of your internet ennui patients... you prescribed longreads.com. I'm just reporting back that I LOVE IT! I have read a ton of amazing articles and I might go so far as to say: I will never be bored on the internet again!!

Careful, now. We will all eventually be bored on the Internet. That is why we must come back to each other, week after week.

I cheated immediately, so no guesses from me, but I always wondered how the sellers of domain names "own" them in the first place? Who decided, and when? I could google this too, but I wanted to participate.

This isn't something I'm well-versed in off the top of my head, but it has something to do with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Incidentally, ICANN recently decided to open up its domain registry to allow a wide range of suffixes. Think .food, or .hug in addition to .com or .net.

Is THAT domain name taken? Might not be a bad one.

This site would have to be so, so good in order to live up to its name.

I'm looking for your Professional Opion: have you heard of a program called "Twiends" - it's supposed to be some (unapproved) program to boost hits on your company's Facebook page and Twitter accounts via some kind of "credit" system. It sounds completely asinine to me, but my company is all over it. I heart the internet and social media, but the corporate mindset of "IT SAYS 'TWITTER!' DO IT! DO IT NOW!" is beginning to make me grouchy.

I haven't heard of Twiends in particular, but there are lots of apps that are supposed to boost your Twitter or Facebook followers. Haven't used any personally -- anyone out there?

In general, I'm so over the "Let's do it now, and figure out what it is later" mindset.

Americans? I don't see why it could be considered 'racist'. You are maybe closer to the mark in calling it xenophobic; but all told, one country reveling in another country's woes really can't be called racist. If so, then the World Cup and the Olympics have a TON to answer for.

I would be intrigued by a World Cup match in which the winning team, instead of applauding, chose instead to cackle maniacally in the general direction of the losing team.

I have a very common name and was the first person to register for it. So I owned it. For years. Until another person with the same name, who owns a business under her name, decided to buy it from me. So now she owns it.

Do you visit it from time to time and take it on play dates?

So, will you know if we Bing? What makes Google the premier search engine? Is there any book/resource on its amazing ascendency? With google accepted as a verb, why is bing just Chandler's last name on the sitcom Friends?

There are tons of books on the power of Google's algorithm. It gets the cache because it's been around for a decade, and doing what it does really well. Bing has been around for just a couple years, and also, "I Bing-ed it" sounds kinda dirty.

 

I observe that monicahesse.com is available.

Which I should probably remedy, in case I ever want to start a business selling dinosaur sweatshirts and Queen of England paraphernalia.

I am also newly obsessed with Kate Middleton.

Well, there's a dairy in Marin and Sonoma Counties, California, called Clover, whose milk has long been sold in stores there.

This domain name has nothing to do with dairy products.

.sex?

Very close.

No, but I do miss owning the domain. Selling it was my final admission that no, I wasn't going to pursue my dream after all. Sigh.

Can you go into business with the same-named woman? Maybe you can share her dream. Maybe you can be "OUR NAME-squared."

I admit that I cry easily (I come from a very emotional, sentimental family). But you'll be weepy too, once you watch this commercial about five elderly Taiwanese gentlemen who go on a road trip to honor the spirits of those they have lost. http://www.htconnect.com/2011/02/one-truly-great-commercial/

I haven't even watched the commercial and I am weepy from your description.

And just because YOU don't understand the racism doesn't make it NOT racist.

Y'know, both statements are probably true.

Truer words were never spoken, Monica. You are right about the Twitter/FB app rush- it reminds me of when Homer cluelessy started a website/company, only to be 'bought out' by Bill Gates (it didn't end well). There are ton of businesses out there that are getting on the Twitter/FB bandwagon, but they're not really "getting it"; social media is a great organizing tool, but there seem to be a lot of entities who are rushing NOW who don't fully get the whole concept.

What's more, the social media rush only pollutes the very markets these companies were hoping to penetrate.

One of the best scenes in The Social Network shows the Mark Zuckerberg character refusing to allow advertising on the site because, he ways, it would ruin the site's "cool" factor. The second that Twitter / Tumblr / whatever become overrun by businesses who are more interested in spewing about their product than they are in undertanding the community they are engaging with, is the second that those communities want to leave the network in search of something less crowded.

Has to be .porn or .god.

Ooh. Good guesses. Who would buy .God? And what would be on that site?

I assume everyone here has already seen this. But if you haven't, you really should. Very definitely NSFW.

I'm actually working on a related story at this very minute! Well, not at this very minute. At this very minute I am typing to you. But you know what I mean.

I think hair stylists in general are interesting people - more so than their clients. I know I always feel like a boring piece of lint after listening to the amazing adventures of my hair stylist. But if people went to her because they saw my hair and thought I must be like her I wouldn't be complaining!

But I think part of the reason that they're interesting people is because they get to encounter such a wide variety of people every day, and some of that interesting-ness must rub off, no?

Actually, that can't be right. Journalists talk to a wide variety of people every day, and we are a really boring bunch.

Any websites want old VCR tapes? What can you do with the stuff? And I don't mean build a raft like T Hanks in "Castaway" ! Would it be useful in Haiti or now ChristChurch, NZ?

What you could do with them is find a way to upload a bunch of the content to YouTube. I'm eternally grateful to the people who have taken the time to give the world their old episodes of "Perfect Strangers" or "Full House...."

Other than that? Hmm. I don't know of any charities. I'll sleuth.

Four Leaf?

Aww, now that would have been nice.

?

That, too.

Why are cats the animal stars of the internet when dogs have been the animal stars of television and movies? Dogs are perfectly capable of being funny and adorable, as America's Funniest Home Videos has repeatedly proven. (Actually, I would be REALLY interested in the breakdown of dog videos vs cat videos for AFHV. Some grad student needs to get on this right now.) I have seen lots of funny / interesting videos of dogs, but people always forward the ones with cats. And I am unaware of LOLDogs or StuffOnMyDog.com (though, admittedly, I haven't checked, so they may actually be out there.) What is up with this? (To be clear, I have cats. I'm not a cat hater. I'm just a Modern Philosopher unafraid to ask the Big Questions.)

Actually, my friend, Salon did an article exploring this very phenomenon a couple of years ago. It's been awhile since I read it, but I remember it as being fascinating stuff.

Just got an e-mail asking me to help someone at work obtain something. It was a message that had been forwarded a few times and included the original request which had a snide comment stating that if I was too stupid to understand what they wanted, I should be instructed to ask this other person for help. I guess the original writer was too stupid to realize that their message might end up in my hands. What they asked me to do was something I do all the time and took care of in 5 minutes. I'm not generally thought of as an idiot, so I don't get the comment. But now I'm sitting here not liking this person too much.

Wow. What a terrible thing to land in your inbox. If you can summon the restraint, then I'd suggest replying all, notifying the email chain that the task had been completed. And maybe adding a line that said something like, "And, Jenna, thank you for your kind suggestion that I ask Kate for help if I couldn't complete the task myself. As I perform this activity all of the time, her assistance was not needed."

And people, please be wary of forwards.

In your humble opinion, which one is going to be Facebook, and which one will be Friendster/MySpace?

This is a better question for a media reporter. I can only observe that HuffAOL spelled backwards sounds like "Loofah."

Is that helpful?

But you can always just un-follow the twitter or facebook account of the annoying business.

That's true. But the community is still tainted. You still know that they're in your space. It's like if your parents suddenly started hanging out at the same place that you and your high school friends all go to on Friday nights. The parents don't have to be sitting at the table with you in order for the space to suddenly feel uncool.

And DogsInSinks.com, is there one of those? I have cats, too, and I think the answer is that cat owners are more likely to wander around taping their cats doing stuff. Dog owners are outside playing with their dogs.

Hahahahaha

Can you recommend any good pieces on Google's ascent to the top of searches? It is fascinating how many engines there were a decade ago- Dogpile, Northern Light (maybe I'm misremembering that one), Excite (made a big ad push with James Brown fx), Ask (seems like there's been a few permutations of that one), and venerable Yahoo (God bless 'em), MSN- now Bing, and how Google outlasted or outdid them all.

I know I've read these, but am hardpressed to remember exact titles of good ones now. Email me after the chat and I'll take a look?

What? Can you build houses out of old VCR tapes?

Everyone knows houses are built out of memories.

It works best. Period.

Well, yes, there's that.

Can you ask Farhi? And while you're at it, ask him when he is going to come back with Station Break? I always knew that guy was too cool for school.

Farhi's on the phone right now. He's too cool for me, too. I made the "come over when you get off the phone" gesture.

No no don't do anything but notify everyone that the task was completed. People can get in to trouble with anything more. The original jerk will probably retaliate or create WWIII with a response thanking them (sarcastically of course). Just buy a voodoo doll and do your thing when you get home.

This is probably wise. I suggested possible wording that I thought would fly low enough under the radar as to be beyond reproach. The last thing you want to do is get angry via email.

please, PLEASE respond in the way Monica suggests. Then write back to let us know what happened. If you do this, I will send you cookies. Or buy you a Farmville cow if people are still doing that.

Let us know what happens regardless. We will all make mental voodoo dolls of this person on your behalf.

Paul says, "It's who gets to the bottom faster." In his opinion, AOL has more money to burn, so they will have a better chance of outlasting NewsBeast.

(Thank you for your special guest appearance, Paul).

I feel like this is already starting to happen with Facebook. Too many corporate pages, too many people's moms with profiles, too many creepy ads (has anyone else gotten the "you should date a single parent" one?). A lot of my friends have dialed back their use, while not deleting their accounts completely. Thoughts?

I've also seen this behavior, but it's hard to tell how much is an "uncool" factor, and how much of it is just saturation.

As I've written about before, the first months that people are on Facebook are very busy: there are lots of old friends to find and catch up with. Once the novelty wears off,  you have less of an incentive to frequently check in.

Monica, last chat you mentioned an article in the NY Magazine (I think that was it) about internet porn and it's effect on our society. I wasn't able to find it (though admittedly, there's a limit to the number of times I will search for the term "porn" at work, even on a magazine site.) Do you have a link to the article?

It was a whole package, not just a particular article. I bet I can find the various links, but we're running short on time here. Can you email me? Or write again next week?

That is exactly what I did - just a short note saying the task was taken care of. The person who insulted my intelligence is way, way above me in the hierarchy here and it would look pretty bad if I got petty in an e-mail. But geez! I'm miffed! A voodoo doll sounds great.

You are a restrained and wise individual.

Or you can buy the "The Voodoo Revenge Book & Gift Set" from Amazon.com and do your magic at home...works wonders, but not enough categories.

Yes!

The canine equivalent of icanhascheezburger.com -- ihasahotdog.com. So yes, there are LOLdogs. "Dogs have family. Cats have staff."

Thank you! I think we all know how we will be wasting time after this chat.

InfoSeek, AskJeeves, HotBot, Spider-something, Lycos.... It was painful trying to pick the one that would actually have a search algorithm that could answer the question you had, particularly when you were a teen trying to do research!

Lycos! Used to love Lycos. And AltaVista for its BabelFish translation function.

Is that similar to the international sign to your waiter that you're ready for your check?

It involves mimicking hanging up the phone, then pointing rapidly back and forth between his desk and my desk, meaning "come see me when you are done."

Then I sent him an instant message to explain the crazy dance I had been doing at his desk.

James Fallows (The Atlantic) knows a lot about China and also thought it was weirdly racist, so it's not just you.

Thanks -- I hadn't seen his take originally, but I'm interested to read.

doesn't it?

Ding ding ding ding! Sex.com, purchased for $13 million dollars.

Hey Cupcake! I apologize for not checking in last week, but I want to give an update on your homework assignment results. Cracked.com and Lamebook are definitely more interesting than the stuff I'd been checking out before, and I'd like more suggestions please if you and your readers have any. Thank you for treating my case of internet boredom/ennui. Completely different note, my laptop died (hence why I wasn't on last week) and I'm getting an iPAD as a replacement. Any iPAD apps to recommend?

Oops -- this slid through the cracks and I missed seeing it until just this moment. I'm glad that Cracked.com and Lamebook are living up to your expectations. Hopefully you got a few things to look at from reader suggestions this time. And we'll have more next week.

I know it's late for this (maybe you could bench it for next time.) I teach English 101 at a community college, and assessing other people's writing is a big part of the course. I think there are really interesting and unique dynamics regarding "e-communication" (for lack of a less lame term.) For example, the way a comments section quickly degrades into a mud slinging free-for all. I'd like to incorporate this into the class, but can't think of any approaches beyond "let's read this forum and discuss how people are d!cks." Are you aware of any articles / books that have addressed this?

Submit this next week! My dad is an English professor, and I'm pretty sure that he's discussed this in a class or two of his. I want to ask him for guidance.

All I can think of now is that CANOE cologne commercial from the '80s. "C"... come on over... "A"... anytime... "N"... now... "O" ... okay "E"... well, I can't remember E.

I have never seen this commercial. But I shall now find it on YouTube.

And if I win, I'm going retro with the signoff -- a la Hill Street Blues, "Let's be careful out there."

Several people suggested sex.com, so I'm not sure if you were the original. However, I heartily approve of "let's be careful out there," so that's what we're going to go with.

See everyone next week. In the meantime, feel free to email me at hessem@washpost.com or do the Twitter thing @monicahesse.

And Let's be careful out there.

In This Chat
Monica Hesse
Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.

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