Net evolves: Meet interactive elf

In the beginning, there was the Dancing Banana -- and it was good, at least as far as Internet amusements went.

Ever since that hyperactive banana hit the Net in 2000, we've witnessed a rise in both the sophistication and interactive nature of this sort of Net fluff that gets passed along via e-mail, IM, and blog postings. And it's not only creative developer types spawning them for their own amusement and notoriety. Companies are leveraging the Web medium to effectively spark viral marketing campaigns -- which not only give themselves some potentially inexpensive publicity, but also can showcase some rather inventive uses of ever-evolving Web technology.

Case in point: OfficeMax has launched an entertaining "Elf Yourself" campaign that generated plenty of chuckles and guffaws (as well as some eye-rolling and snorts of derision) at the InfoWorld office.

The idea is, you upload a photo of yourself (or someone else). After a couple of steps to properly size the pic, the Web app will generate an animation of an elf grooving to some swing-y Christmas music -- with its face being the picture you've uploaded. Want a sample? See Sir Bill the Elf get his groove on.

OK, that bit's not necessarily sophisticated, and it's been done before (e.g. the "Wedding Crashers" Web promotion from a couple of years ago).

The interesting bit is, once you've uploaded the image, you can add a voice message for the elf to utter as it dances and prances about. When I first visited the site, I assumed a mic was needed, but no; the Web site gives you a phone number and a code. Dial the number, follow the prompts to enter your code and record your message -- and within moments, the little elf is "speaking" it (though it's sped up to sound more elfish).

Now granted, this isn't the most useful application of Web 2.0 technology -- but it's still a pretty inventive creation. I was particularly impressed by how quickly the voice and animation were stitched together -- though the one I made with voice (not posted here) was done later in the evening, because I got a busy signal trying to record a message during the day.

Oh, and on a semi-related holiday Net-fluff note, there's also the Simon Sez Santa 2.0 site, which is sort of a rip-off of Burger King's infamous and disturbing Subservient Chicken -- but still fun.

Do you have any entertaining seasonal sites to share?