Monday, January 16, 2012

The Anatomy of my Viral Video

A few days ago, I was sitting at my desk when my roommate, Scott, got my attention. I turned around to see that one of my cats, Sophie, had climbed up under her own steam and perched rather adorably on top of his head and was watching what he was doing on his computer. I, of course, thought this was hilarious, and managed to whip out my phone in time to capture a 1:15 long video clip of her sitting there and readjusting herself into a more comfy position.

I posted it on Facebook initially, then when people seemed to like it on there, thought I'd give posting it on reddit a shot. Reddit is one of my favorite websites and a pretty great online community, and until recently I'd just been a lurker (i.e. someone who views and upvotes/downvotes posts without contributing any content or comments of their own), but had recently been looking to change that. I posted it in a popular sub-reddit - /r/videos - and gave it an upvote boost by logging into a couple novelty/secondary accounts I've created, then sat back and estimated it'd probably get around 20-25 total upvotes. Boy was I wrong.

I posted it to /r/videos on Friday afternoon around 4:30pm, and by the end of that evening, I'd made the reddit front page. For those of you who aren't redditors, making front page is kind of a big deal on the site because of what it takes to get there. Your net upvotes (i.e. your total number of upvotes minus the number of downvotes people give you as well), on average, to make front page must be in the hundreds at least, and usually there's a pretty robust comment section accompanying these posts. What I think must have happened next - no actual data on this all-important bit - is that a redditor who thought the video was cute/funny/whatever tweeted the Youtube link to Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing fame. Xeni then posted the link to Boing Boing for their weekly Caturday post, people started viewing, retweeting, posting to their Tumblrs, and more, and everything kind of exploded from there.

I woke up the next morning to find that overnight, the video had become significantly more popular. If Youtube Analytics is to be believed (and I have some reservations about that, but more on that in a later post, probably), by midnight that night, it had gone from maybe a couple thousand views to almost 60,000, and was still climbing fast. I woke up to two rather remarkable emails – one from ABC News requesting permission to post the video on the Good Morning America website and asking for any editorial details I could provide, and one from a viral marketing group called Viral Spiral who were interested in helping me license and manage the video. To the former, I enthusiastically gave permission, and to the latter, I asked for more information out of sheer curiosity. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the thought of making money in this kind of way, so while their array of clients was actually pretty impressive (they currently help manage viral videos like Charlie Bit My Finger and that sneezing panda one), I never really had any intention of enlisting their services.

Over the next couple of days, I’ve watched my view count steadily rocket upwards as more and more sites linked to the video and as more and more people shared it on their FB pages, Twitter feeds, Tumblrs, blogs, or emails to friends. The video made the Yahoo homepage for a while earlier today, as this screenshot that redditor PDXracer messaged to me earlier shows. It has been posted everywhere from Digg to Laughing Squid to Kotaku, and I’ve seen it pop up on quite a few news and radio station websites. As I’m typing this, the latest numbers I have from Youtube are 894,576 views, with over 6,200 “likes” and only a little over 100 “dislikes” from the soulless troll section of Youtube users. My video is the most popular with males aged 25-34, and is most popular in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It has been watched in countries all over the world, from France to South Africa to Poland to Iceland to Russia, and of the 1,200+ comments on the video on Youtube, a good chunk of them are from people outside of the US. I suspect it’ll reach 1,000,000 views quite soon, if it hasn’t already.

I am so completely fascinated by this whole process it’s hard to even articulate exactly how and why. Everyone has, at some point, seen a viral video – a video that you tell your friends about only to hear “Oh yeah, I saw that the other day. It was hilarious/awesome/scary/(insert adjective here)!” I’ve seen quite a few myself, some when they’ve gone fully viral, and others in the initial stages, but never in a million years would I have believed that a 1:15 video of my cat sitting on my roommate’s head that I posted to one website would have joined the viral video ranks.

I’m not pretending that the video is going to have any kind of lasting impact whatsoever. That’s the nature of most viral videos – they explode in popularity and make people laugh for a short period of time, then something else comes up to supplant them. Sophie perching up on top of Scott’s head might not have any kind of major social impact, or make any kind of statement about society as a whole, but honestly, I’m just really glad that she could make so many thousands of people smile. :)


  1. You made I Can Haz Cheezburger. Next stop, the Today show. But if you get on Colbert, can I pretend to be your agent?

  2. Just saw that one! And if Colbert suddenly decides a video of a cat sitting on a dude's head is worth talking about, I'd be happy to have you pretend to represent me, Trent. :)

  3. I think you should get iSchool credit for this somehow. Directed fieldwork on analyzing the spread of digital information via your own viral video phenomenon? :)

    1. I'm actually considering it! This whole thing has been fascinating to track, and it might be getting even more interesting shortly.