Heroes on the web: Unlikely hits of the internet

So far, 100 million people have logged on to follow the birth of an eagle in Canada - so what are the other unusual cyberspace success stories? Jonathan Brown logs on to his favourites
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The Independent Online

Eagle

Millions of wildlife enthusiasts are holding their collective breath as they await the safe emergence of a tree-top eagle chick from its nest in the backyard of a retired Canadian accountant. The birth of the young bird has proved compulsive and at times heart-wrenching viewing for more than 100 million people so far, with the story developing into a major news event covered on television, newspapers and online.

Doug Carrick, 73, who set up the webcam at his home on Hornby Island, near Vancouver, to capture the breeding pair, which have been returning to the same spot for the past 17 years, could scarcely have anticipated the level of interest. With one egg having gone missing on Monday, all hopes are pinned on the second egg, which is now desperately overdue. Speculation that a mark on the shell of the egg was the chick's head as it started to peck its way out was dashed when the mark turned out to be a piece of fluff stuck. Eagle experts have suggested that the ageing pair could be infertile.

The chav

If 2004 was the year that chav ruled, the website Chavscum was the kingmaker. Branding itself a "humorous guide to Britain's burgeoning peasant underclass", the site included a handy guide to chav towns and even included tips on how to spot one.

Within two months of its launch Chavscum had attracted 500,000 visitors and prompted a series of high-minded articles in serious publications debating whether it was an exercise in savage satire or one of social snobbery. Celebrities such as Jessie Wallace and Daniella Westbrook found themselves feted as heroines while Victoria Beckham and Jordan were treated as chav royalty.

The Streets, in turn, provided the soundtrack for the Chav generation. But it was not all good news. Burberry, the luxury goods group was hit by a 40 per cent decline in sales of some products that year because its famous check - or at least cheap rip-offs of it - had found favour as the chav uniform and "genuine" customers had been frightened away.

Cambridge coffee pot

Necessity, or more specifically the need for a regular caffeine fix, proved to be the mother of invention for the webcam.

A group of Cambridge academics frustrated at frequent trips down several flights of steps in search of a reviving cup of coffee only to find the pot was empty, hit on a novel solution.

They installed a cheap camcorder to point at the university coffee machine and devised a computer program to relay the image to their screens, allowing them to time their trips to coincide with a full, steaming pot of hot coffee. When the internet came of age, Quentin Stafford-Fraser who devised the camera system, decided to put it online.

Its drip, drip, drip may not have been the most stimulating of viewing - it was often compared to watching paint dry - but it drew 2.4 million visitors to the site.

Pomme and Kelly

Few teenage girls can have resisted bopping around their bedrooms pretending to be Aretha Franklin belting out the soul classic "Respect". For two 15-year-olds from the Netherlands, now known to millions around the world simply as Pomme & Kelly, their miming pop fantasy has generated an unlikely fame.

The youngsters from Amsterdam became the first act to be inducted into the Gidol, or Googleidol.com, Hall of Fame after winning a poll of internet users in the grand final against their rivals the Back Dormitory Boys.

The Gidol website is the brainchild of a Brisbane IT specialist who thought the world-wide web should host its own version of Pop Idol and its US equivalent, American Idol. The girls have already given their first interviews to newspapers, magazines and radio and their personal website has already received 500,000 hits. Not bad for winning a competition with a $250 prize that must be donated to charity. "Winning this competition is just the perfect way to end this all," they said, indicating what may be a hasty retreat from the limelight. But rumours proliferate over why they have suddenly removed their videos from the internet. They insist they are not being sued by the record labels of the stars they imitate although speculation is mounting they could be preparing for a career in the pop mainstream.

The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins

Those who thought Leonard Nimoy's acting talents extended no further than performing one of Mr Spock's famous Vulcan mind melds should think again.

The Star Trek actor became one of the hottest things on the internet around the time of the release of the Lord of the Rings trilogy when a 1968 music video of him performing the song "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" re-emerged. It shows him surrounded by a gyrating team of colour co-ordinated teenagers, as Nimoy croons away somewhat camply for this much parodied performance of Charles Grean's song.

The film was rediscovered by the BBC2 spoof Funk Me Up Scotty and caused some confusion when it was circulated on P2P networks as being by the British rock band Radiohead. The author of two autobiographies - confusingly titled I Am Not Spock and then the later I Am Spock, Nimoy found his career and to some extent his own personality, overshadowed by associations with the icy Vulcan character he portrayed.

He retired from acting in 2003 to concentrate on photography although he teamed up again with his former commanding officer Captain James Kirk to appear in some recent television commercials.

Gary Brolsma

When an overweight 19-year-old amateur videographer from New Jersey recorded himself miming along to a Romanian pop song, he made the calamitous decision to post his performance on the internet.

Not only did the song - "Dragostea Din Tei or Love From the Linden Trees" - become perhaps the most famous to emanate from the former Eastern bloc country, so too did the Numa Numa Dance - the arm-flailing contortion with which he earnestly accompanied it. Albeit from the comfort of a chair.

Mr Brolsma's online video became an instant hit and was soon brought to the attention of the producers of Good Morning America. By now, with 2 million hits under his belt, the world's media began beating a path to his door - only to find it firmly shut in their face. According toThe New York Times, he has now moved back with his parents and stopped taking telephone calls.

JenniCam

What started as an intriguing insight into the sedentary habits of American youth, and paved the way for hundreds of imitators, was to end amid mud-slinging, a rash of broken relationships and nudity.

Jennifer Ringley set up a webcam in her college dorm in Pennsylvania as an experiment at the start of the internet boom. At its height Jennicam drew 100 million visitors a week. Some came no doubt hoping for a glimpse of the 20-year-old naked or having sex, others developed a bizarre love/hate virtual relationship with the emerging celebrity.

Vegetarians loved her and the cats and ferrets she turned into stars with special pages dedicated to them.

Jenni continued appearing on the internet after graduation, rolling out the cameras to other rooms and setting up a business. She appeared on the David Letterman show but public opinion began to turn. Message boards were inundated with abusive comments about her weight, apparent idleness and sexual habits, a factor which she claimed put strain on her complex relationships.

Pundits questioned whether Jenni was a hi-tech feminist pioneer or simply fuelling voyeuristic fantasies, a suspicion that was reinforced when she appeared naked in low-rent pornographic magazines. Jennicam was eventually closed in 2003 under pressure form the online payment service Paypal because of concerns over the scenes of nudity.

Hencam

Milly is a good all-rounder but when she was young she couldn't even go cheep. Penny is a nervous but prolific layer while Tilly is the boss - not averse to handing out the odd peck to keep the others in check. As devotees of Hencam, the Bradford-based website will know, all three have become something approaching global stars in recent weeks after their owner decided to turn a webcam on their exploits.

The idea came to Neil Whitaker, perhaps unsurprisingly while in a pub. His site chronicles the birds 24 hours a day and invites fans to make a donation towards their upkeep in return for a postcard from the owner and the chance to keep abreast of the daily routine of scratching, pecking and egg laying.

Hencam lovers were deeply alarmed by reports of avian flu and there is an ongoing dispute between Mr Whitaker and his local newspaper, the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, over an interview it published with him. At present the webcam is down but Mr Whitaker is still seeking sponsors to support his row on Windermere in aid of a local hospice.

Ghyslain Raza

The story of the young Quebecois has become a morality tale of the cyber age. In 2002 the overweight teenager, brandishing nothing more sinister than an implement for picking up golf balls, videoed himself pretending to be Darth Maul, a character from Star Wars.

He left the tape at the video studio at his school where it was later discovered by other students who, amused at its contents, began to enhance it. Two weeks later the video reappeared, this time it had music, graphics and a "real" light-sabre to replace the whirling golf tool. As the video crossed into the mainstream media, Ghyslain's parents claimed he became the subject of abuse and derision.

After a website launched an online petition to get him a part in the forthcoming Star Wars III, apparently earning him the sympathy of George Lucas, Ghyslain dropped out of school and was treated for psychiatric problems bought on, it was claimed, by his sudden notoriety. His parents initiated a lawsuit against three former classmates seeking damages. The case was settled out of court last month.

Cindy Margolis

In 2000 the former greeting cards saleswoman turned model made history when she entered The Guinness Book of Records as the first, most downloaded person on the internet.

At the peak of her fame she was downloaded a record 70,000 times in 24 hours. It was a fleeting accolade for the then 34-year-old, as the technology that made her so famous just as quickly usurped her with the even more amply endowed Danni Ashe.

The late Nineties were to prove the heyday of her internet career and Margolis trailblazed a way for thousands of other wannabes by setting up her own website. Such was the breadth of her appeal - she says she never posed naked in any of her pictures - that she was named Yahoo! Internet Life magazine's "Queen of the Internet" three years in a row.

Now aged 40, she has become an articulate spokeswoman for Resolve, the national infertility association in the US, having undergone IVF treatment to have her three children. Last month Margolis announced that she was breaking her moratorium on posing in the nude when she announced she would be appearing in a forthcoming edition of Playboy magazine.

She said: "Thank goodness for Desperate Housewives. You're not dead just because you are married and have children. It will be fun to go up against the 20-year-olds and show them they don't have anything on me."

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