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The Year Online

From iTunes to Britney, our list of 2006's biggest hits of the internet

1. iTunes: Over 1 Billion Served
Think you know iTunes? Let's test that knowledge, game-show-style. Here are the answers: (a) Feb. 23, 2006; (b) Tetris; (c) the Amahuaca tribe of eastern Peru. And now the questions: (a) On what date did Apple's iTunes store sell its billionth track? It was Coldplay's ''Speed of Sound,'' by the way; (b) Name one of the downloadable games made available for purchase in September; (c) What group of people have not discovered the addictive joy of iTunes online purchases...yet?

2. A New 'World' Order
An Oct. 4 episode of South Park gives its cast of potty-mouthed moppets superpowers while transporting them to a strange new world. For most viewers, it is their first exposure to a phenomenon called World of WarCraft. To fans of the WoW online game, it's the ultimate tribute to a pastime that inspires almost narcotic devotion. A massively multiplayer online role-playing game (or MMORPG, in geek-speak), WarCraft lets players roam a vast fantasy world, making it the modern-day version of Dungeons & Dragons. Is that a snort of derision we hear? It probably won't bother WoW's creators, Blizzard Entertainment: This year, they'll rake in more than $1 billion in subscription fees.

3. You Tube, They Get Rich
It was developed by Chad Hurley, Steven Chen, and Jawed Karim as a way to easily upload video clips onto the Web. One of their first uploads was footage of Steve's dog. Who knew the site would quickly become the repository of all that is amazing or stupid or hard to find? Even more surprising? Watching Google reach into their very deep pockets and pay $1.65 billion for a site that has yet to prove it can be profitable — perhaps because it features such fare as a montage of CSI: Miami's David Caruso putting on his sunglasses.

4. Perez Is Burning (in Hell)
As the creator of the site that bears his nom de Net, Perez Hilton (born Mario Lavandeira Jr.) becomes the bad boy of online gossip — no small feat in an arena infamous for its lack of civility. ''Hollywood's Most-Hated Website'' (as proclaimed on the homepage) earns its rep by pasting crudely funny comments and unflattering photos of celebrities. Hilton questions the sexual orientation of some famous names, relentlessy attacks favorite targets (like Nicole Richie), and even posts songs and videos (from artists including Gwen Stefani) before their official release dates. No wonder he's getting sued by content owners. But love Hilton or hate him, this 21st-century Walter Winchell knows his audience: His site routinely gets up to 3 million visitors each day.

5. Who's Got Game?
Gamers camp out for the November launch of Sony's Play-Station 3 and Nintendo's Wii, with a few poor souls taking bullets from would-be thieves. Both consoles feature various online components, and sell out in hours. PS3s (which cost $600) fetch up to $7,500 on eBay, even as lukewarm reviews roll in. Sounds more like PayStation to us.

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