Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What Makes Something Go Viral

I happen to catch a post in my Google Plus stream by film and TV star Jeri Ryan. She was reminding everyone that her TV show Body of Proof had a two-part episode called "Going Viral" that would air tonight. It reminded me of the apparently unanswerable question; what makes something on the internet go viral?

Some months back, my friend Mike Downes happened to catch a video of an obnoxious person on the underground. For reasons neither of us could fathom, this video received millions of views within hours of it hitting YouTube.

We all know the hit song Friday Friday by Rebecca Black. This was a low budget video which somehow caught on and was shared and re-shared until it was viewed by over 10s of millions of people.

More recently the KONY 2012 video was smattered all over the internet and, in fact, was picked up by television, radio and print news media propelling it further into the public's eye.What made these videos stand out?

There are so many more examples of this phenomenon but few concrete explanations.

I had an uncanny experience as well. Beyond my column each day for months, I have posted a number of other interesting or amusing items. But none ever gained the kind of traction this post did the other day.

My son emailed me a graphic which I thought was worth sharing and so I posted it on Google Plus. Much to my surprise three days later people are still commenting or sharing it. It has been shared over 700 times, accumulated 1100 plus ones and almost 200 comments. Was this three by three matrix so novel or so controversial that it could stimulate this level of interaction?

This simple graphic somehow sparked an initial reaction that snowballed and drew more and more people into the fray. I don't know if we'll ever truly understand the underlying cause or if, in fact, it is just one of those random combinations of events that lead to this outcome.

I'll keep looking for content to evoke this kind of reaction again.

Captain Joe

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