Are Internet celebrities real celebrities?



The question seems quaint now, but a few years ago one could easily dismiss some one as being popular "only on the Internet". The Net was written off as a clubhouse full of kooks, obsessive’s whose opinions only mattered to each other.

Now, though, it's a barometer of public opinion of the most democratic sort. Monitoring site traffic and Google hits delivers an instant read on a celebrity's rank in the culture. Run a Google search on the holy trinity of late-90s teen pop stars, for example:


1. Britney Spears: 13.2 million hits
2. Christina Aguilera: 6.9 million hits
3. Jessica Simpson: 4.4 million hits


It's amazing that Britney, even in virtual retirement, still gets nearly twice the attention that Christina does. And that Jessica Simpson, who's had her own TV show and a couple of movies, and does a lot more publicity than the other two, comes in significantly behind Christina.

Cindy Margolis, December's cover pictorial, was the first woman to see Internet traffic as valid line on a resume, perhaps even a starting-point for a career. I was there, in a way — I worked at a magazine called Yahoo! Internet Life, and we were the ones who touted Cindy as the "World's Most Downloaded Woman" in the late '90s. Of course we didn't have Google numbers then; the Internet was more of a mystery, and even we supposed experts weren't all that sure how (or often why) people were using it. We got our numbers from AOL, which could track downloads of images from its own galleries. While that would seem a narrow and misleading focus group today, in 1997, according to an Online Journalism Review article, AOL users comprised a third of the online population and the company "controlled" half of all Internet traffic.

We knew we weren't getting the whole story, but AOL's numbers were simply the best we could find. (We also were seen as a family-friendly magazine, so AOL's policy of no nude photography was good for us. The brand of wholesome cheesecake that made Cindy AOL's bikini queen was about as hot as our audience could take.) As the Internet grew, the value of those numbers came into question — Danni Ashe was particularly bent on wresting the title from Cindy, as documented in this CNN article from 2000.

How does Cindy stack up in these more quantifiable times? Here she is among some women who are primarily famous for displaying their bodies. (Some may claim "actress" on their W-2 forms, but I don't think any have illusions they are Meryl Streeps.) Ten years into her bid for Internet superstardom, 41-year-old Cindy still puts up very respectable numbers in a Google search.

1. Pamela Anderson (Playmate): 5.4 million hits
2. Carmen Electra (Playboy model): 4.2 million hits
3. Jenna Jameson (porn star): 3 million hits
4. Anna Nicole Smith (Playmate): 2.8 million hits
5. Aria Giovanni (Internet model): 2.1 million hits
5. Tera Patrick (porn star): 2.1 million hits
7. Veronika Zemanova (Internet model): 1.9 million hits
8. Vida Guerra (pinup): 1.8 million hits
8. Jenny McCarthy (Playmate): 1.8 million hits
10. Brooke Burke (TV host): 1.6 million hits

Somewhere further down the list, exact ranking not disclosed, sits internet model Cindy Margolis, with 1.1 million hits, Page 3 girl and reigning Babe of the Month Keeley Hazell with 787,000 hits, and internet model Danni Ashe, with 426,000.
It's not a scientific list, I know. But nor is it coincidental that all of the women above have appeared nude in Playboy, in some capacity, at least once. Welcome to the club, Cindy. We were hoping you'd make it.


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