For one naive, shining moment in the '90s, the assumption was that on the Web, popularity would be democratic, earned one enthusiastic click at a time. Pure. Simple. Untainted by Billboard, Hollywood, Nielsen or other mainstream media usual suspects. But that was before clicks meant cash, and before a flood of tools and communities brought millions of new, mainly nonprofessional content providers online, jostling to get their videos watched, audio clips downloaded and blogs and Web pages linked to bigger, more popular blogs and websites.
This intensifying contest has stoked the imperative to be "most viewed," "most e-mailed," "most played." And that, in turn, has led to a gamut of strategies for one-upping the competition.