There are a million and one reasons why the internet is the greatest thing since using soap to prevent the black plague. But one of the most interesting aspects of the internet is its ability to make something “go viral”. The internet having this capability certainly makes sense. But what types of things “go viral” and why? Below are three experiences I’ve had with internet virulence. I hope that the drastic differences between each is obvious.
A video about ShelvAR was my first experience with something “going viral” on the internet. In less than a day, we received tens of thousands of hits on our video and were being contacted by librarians, researchers, and Fortune 500 companies all over the world. Interviews and photo shoots happened shortly there-after. We were even scheduled to appear on CNN to discuss this technology but that ended up getting bumped due to the death of Osama bin Laden. Unlike my other experiences, this instance of “going viral” moved beyond the internet and out into the real world.
I Just Can’t Wait For Booty
One of my side hobbies is creating mashups. I’m no Milkman, but people tend to send me positive feedback on what I make. Usually I’m very excited when I get a couple hundred listens on my tracks. One of my tracks sampled “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” from the Lion King soundtrack. Initially, it was like the others and was only exposed to a small group of people. One day, though, I logged on and saw that it had over 100,000 plays in under 24 hours. Today it sits at over 200,000 plays. Turns out the track was discovered by a popular Tumblr site Ruined Childhood, and it took off.
So this is happening…
Yesterday some of my coworkers and I were goofing around and took a stupid picture. Yup, that’s me with the thumbs-up. Then we thought it would be funny to continue taking iterations where someone else sits next to a display of the previously shot picture. My friend in Washington DC, Paul Weber, saw it on Facebook and he jumped in too. Long story short, the idea made its way to Reddit. Over 1.8 million views and 750 comments later, the joke exploded into a “crowd-sourced chain photo” with participants from all over the world. The full series is here.
Update, 2012-08-08: My buddy, Paul, ended up putting together a video of the pictures. I think it’s safe to say that it has also “gone viral”. In about 24 hours it’s received over 101,000 hits on YouTube, was covered by Gizmodo and The Daily Mail, and ABC’s Good Morning America even asked if they could show the video.
I have no idea what I’m doing
I can’t explain why some things go viral and others don’t. Some might argue that the ShelvAR video is boring, the mashup is off-beat, and the chain-photos are stupid. And I could probably entertain all of those assertions. But they took off anyway. I believe that a lot of it has to do with luck. A large portion of internet virulence can be attributed to sites like Reddit and 4Chan, and I think that most of the success there relies on good timing. Other services like Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter are also key players. But what makes someone want to click an link and share it?
You can’t force it. When I was in school, I heard of classes trying to create viral videos. They would brain-storm and attempt to come up with something clever. Sure, the videos would turn out ok, and they might have received a lot of attention from peers, but nothing ever took off. Internet virulence is not a goal, it’s a side effect.