Web escapes keep us sane

— -- When the reality of the world gets to be too much for Jana Ogletree, a waitress from Elgin, Idaho, she turns to — puppies.

Six puppies, to be precise — romping, rolling, sleeping, yelping and playing.

Ogletree doesn't own the six furry shiba inu puppies. And she's never touched them. Instead, the puppies are being raised by an anonymous couple in San Francisco, and Ogletree — along with some 4 million others around the world — watches them live, online via video feed on Ustream.tv three to four times a day.

"The economy is tanking. There's going to be a new change in the administration," says Ogletree, 42. "Everything happening in the outside world right now is just completely overwhelming.

"What's a better little island in the midst of a giant sea of angst than six little puppies in San Francisco?"

Watching the puppies "is really a relaxing way to spend a couple of minutes during the day," she says.

When the going gets tough, the tough are turning to the Web, whether it's to take a break from a busy day, escape a nasty boss, or forget about the state of the world.

Some spend five minutes between meetings to learn to talk like a pirate (talklikeapirate.com). Some sneak away for a moment to peek at Cute Overload, a blog that features all things cute, including of course, lots of baby animals. Others take five for the irreverent bite of humor at The Onion or find stress relief with I Can Has Cheezburger, which features pictures of animals (mostly cats) set to funny captions of what they might say. There's the one of a picture of a big dog licking a kitten saying, "Baftime in one lick."

"Everybody needs comfort and escape," says Silicon Valley futurist Paul Saffo. "In the past, you had do it by going to the photocopier and copying some stupid joke. Now escape is one click away."

"We don't have martini lunches anymore," adds Alex Halavais, assistant professor of interactive communications at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. "But you can look at I Can Has Cheezburger in most offices."

There are literally thousands of websites where people can go for a break, whether it be YouTube for the latest video sensation or a quirky little blog such as Lunch Bag Art, which features the lunch bags that a man paints every day for his kids.

And that's the point for many sites out there.

"We just want to make people happy for five minutes," says Ben Huh, CEO of Pet Holdings Inc., which runs a network of humor sites including I Can Has Cheezburger, wearing a cheeseburger hat during a video interview.

Traffic on the Cheezburger site has skyrocketed in the past year from a half-million page views a day to 4.6 million a day, Huh says.

The site was so popular that it just released an I Can Has Cheezburger book, which is currently the No. 1 selling cat and dog humor book on Amazon.

Huh's entire network of sites gets 6.3 million users a month and 128 million page views a month.

Hard times may be a contributing factor to the growth, he says.

Huh adds: "We take no joy in seeing people suffer, even if we help them get out of it. We hope to bring balance into the lives of people who are struggling."

READERS: What's your favorite guilty-pleasure, stress-reducing website? (Keep it clean!):