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Picking (on) the New 7 Wonders of Nature

Image: Tourists visit Victoria Falls
Will Victoria Falls make the New 7 Wonders of Nature? No. In fact, it didn't even make the long list of 77, which makes columnist Rob Lovitt wonder about the usefulness of such a designation.Alexander Joe / AFP - Getty Images file

Well, well, well; will wonders never cease?

Not, it seems, if the folks who brought you the New 7 Wonders back in 2007 have their way. The New 7 Wonders Foundation has announced the 28 finalists in the organization’s latest listing endeavor: The New 7 Wonders of Nature. Culled from 77 semifinalists, their names were revealed at 12:07 p.m. (GMT) on July 21.

Allow me to recall the timeless philosophy of my late Aunt Sonia, who knew a thing or two about coming up short in popularity contests. “Mazel tov,” she’d say, “but what about the others? What are they, chopped liver?”

Assigning value via popular vote
As the latest brainchild of Swiss-Canadian impresario Bernard Weber, the new campaign would seem a, well, natural successor to the first New 7 Wonders campaign (N7W for short). That effort set out to enumerate the seven most important man-made structures constructed, since, well, the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were named more than 2,400 years ago.

While the original Seven Wonders (O7W?) were so named by a handful of successive observers, the N7W were declared after what its promoters call “the world’s first-ever global election.” Some 100 million votes were cast — on the Web, by phone and by text message — with the winners announced in a gala celebration in Lisbon on July 7, 2007 (yes, 07-07-07).

It would seem a tough act to follow. The Taj Mahal. Machu Picchu. Jennifer Lopez. (She headlined the Lisbon festivities and, let’s face it, she is pretty wonderful.) But rest assured Weber and company aren’t about to shy away from the challenge. Choosing from the top vote-getters from a preliminary public vote, the foundation’s Panel of Experts unveiled the 28 semifinalists, and public balloting has resumed in order to choose the definitive New 7 Wonders of Nature.

Said voting is expected to go on until sometime in 2011 (oh, 7-Eleven, perhaps?), and organizers are projecting that as many as 1 billion people will cast their ballots. It’s all designed to support the campaign’s mission statement, which states: “If we want to save anything, we first need to truly appreciate it.”

Hey, I can appreciate that, but is another Internet-powered, marketing-driven popularity contest really the way to do it?

Questionable effects and quixotic campaigns
Consider the outcome of the previous campaign, which was launched with the laudable goal that 50 percent of net revenues would be used to fund the documentation and conservation of heritage sites around the world. Alas, it seems there were no net revenues.

A year ago, Weber noted in an online FAQ that the group had made enough money to “cover our main costs.” Presumably, that includes the six-month world tour (to showcase the 21 finalists), the promotional airship and hot-air balloon flights and the pyrotechnics during Ms. Lopez’s performance in Lisbon. He added that the sites’ heightened profiles would inspire host countries to promote sustainable tourism, although no mention was made of any funding or support for such efforts.

Which, in this crazy, interconnected, Internet meme–driven world, hasn’t stopped others from running with the concept. There is, for example, Chi-chi Ekweozor, a young woman from Manchester, England, who recently launched a campaign to visit all Seven Wonders (N7W, not O7W) in seven days this fall. A social-media consultant by trade, she’s pitching the trip as a fundraiser, seeking £777,000 ($1.25 million) in contributions that will be donated to seven charities.

From amazing to mysterious, view the natural, cultural, archaeological and architectural wonders of the world.

Then there’s Mike and Roxy, a pair of happy-go-lucky New Yorkers who spent much of last year wandering from Wonder to Wonder, scoring hash and marijuana and chronicling their adventures with blog posts and video clips on their Stoner’s Guide Web site (motto: Been there, burnt that.). At least they weren’t asking for donations, although I’m guessing that if you had anything to share, they’d just say thanks.

I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about the Seven Wonders that inspires some truly half-baked ideas.

Let the tweeting and YouTubing begin
And now the publicity machine is about to hit high gear for the New 7 Wonders of Nature. There’s the Facebook page (77,000 fans), the Twitter account (2,130 followers) and the nearly 300 YouTube videos singing the praises of this, that or the other wanna-be Wonder. And that was before the 28 finalists had even been announced.

When they are, the whole process will start again. There will be more videos, more get-out-the-vote campaigns and, of course, another grand tour for Mr. Weber and company. Perhaps there will also be some answers as to why places like Mount Everest, Victoria Falls and the Serengeti didn’t even make it into the top 77. What are they, chopped liver?

Of course not, although you could certainly make the case that any “wonders of nature” competition that doesn’t include them is a bunch of baloney.

Rob Lovitt is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com. If you'd like to respond to one of his columns or suggest a story idea, .