It's fascinating to study popular subcultures online — from some delightfully annoying Internet memes to some that can be termed deeply disturbing. In the chaos that is the Web, there is no one formula that is guaranteed to click when it comes to going viral. Often the most incredibly bizarre underdogs have their way, finds out KARTHIK SUBRAMANIAN

For the love of God, I would like to believe that Rick Astley, in a parallel universe where the Internet does not exist, never gets to make a record ever in his life.

Like hundreds of other pop sensations, the English singer-composer enjoyed relative success in the mid-1980s and retired at the ripe old age of 27. But unlike other pop stars, he was not relegated to the pages of history. Ricky became an Internet sensation for no apparent reason, and has given millions of unsuspecting users, including me, never-ending agony. The music video of his 1987 song “Never gonna give you up” is part of a phenomenon called ‘Rickrolling'. The song is often appended to the end of a video prank, for example, “exclusive new trailer of Harry Potter movie” and ends with the punch line that you have just been “rickrolled”.

There is no standard formula as to what becomes a viral sensation on the web. But some Internet metrics point to possibly the adolescent audience being the most influential in helping some of these phenomena click.

Thriving in anonymity

Cyberculture has sprouted in different directions. But the most popular kinds seem to stop at places where anonymity thrives. Rickrolling mushroomed into a phenomenon in the notorious anonymous forum boards.4chan.org, which often gets classified as the place that is both brilliant and dangerous at the same time.

One of the earliest Internet memes — concepts that spread across the web and become subcultural phenomena — was the LOLcats that saw Internet users post photographs of their pet cats, or just photos of cats copied from across the Web, and post them often with provocative messages and smileys. Knowyourmeme.com is a good resource on such phenomena, and Google insights engine shows that LOLcats and its branch off “hitlercats” have scored heavily on Internet search since 2007.

The years 2007 and 2008 were the years of the LOLcat with messages like “Is it caturday yet” and quirky images like that of the ‘monorail cat' literally flooding the Web.

While humour and abruptly pungent messages seem to make memes such as LOLcats or Rickrolling work, the more hilarious, yet often expletive-filled, meme in this genre is the ‘FUUUUUUU man' comic. It has gained a sort of cult status among Internet fans, and even has its own memebuilder, where users can create their own comic. Bear in mind, some of these comics may be NSFW (not safe for workplace).

There are the other darker subcultures that parents might want to guard their children against. A growing phenomenon is “roulette chatting,” much like the game of Russian Roulette. The idea is to meet strangers online and chat with them via text or via web-cam video. Though the perils of this seem pretty obvious, even by the sound of it, an alarmingly high number of young people from across the globe are “taking a chance” and meeting strangers online.