Thursday, December 4, 2008

Going viral on the Web

This negative stained Transmission Electron Micrograph showed recreated 1918 influenza virions that were collected from the supernatant of a 1918-infected Madin-Darby Canine Kidney (MDCK) cell culture 18 hours after infection. Image provided by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #8243, Photo credits belong to Cynthia Goldsmith, Content Providers(s): CDC/ Dr. Terrence Tumpey/ Cynthia GoldsmithDear Gentle Reader,

The image above is a recreation, sort of like Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park, of the Influenza (Flu) virus which swept around the world in 1918.

World War I, the War to End All Wars, had not even ended. It was spring when the first wave of this virus hit.

The 1918 Influenza virus would sweep around the world, essentially in three waves, between 1918 and 1920.

Current estimates of the total mortality from the 1918 Influenza virus are between 50 million to 100 million people (sourced here).

In percentage terms that equates to 2.5% to 5% of the world's population who died as a result of contracting this particular strain of the flu. The infection rate of this pandemic was obviously much higher than the mortality rate, as the disease continued to propagate.

When people talk about "going viral" on the web, they generally do not talk about people dying.

Hopefully they are not talking about their hard drive or their computer dying.

When peoople speak of "going viral" affectionately, they are usually talking about an infection of interest in a thing--an image, a video, a song, a website, a posting, or a download.

On the subject of "going viral" a friend wrote an excellent description which I would like to share.

OxyJen (now nicknamed Toxina) wrote:

For something to go viral on the internet, its content needs to be so compelling that people spontaneously start alerting their friends to it.

The spontaneity is crucial because that next generation of friends must also--independently--judge the content to be so compelling that they spontaneously pass it along.

This effect propagates through countless stages of people who don't know the content provider and thus aren't willing to do him/her any favours. The content itself has to secure their full enthusiasm.

This effect is actually really similar to how books become bestsellers. Marketing and publicity don't sell books (although they get the books looked at in the store, which is very valuable); only word-of-mouth generated by the quality of content sells books.

Your best chance of going viral comes from continuing to provide the best content you can, and continuing to lure people to your blog by interacting in an engaging manner on their blogs (this is marketing), and--if you're looking for a mercenary angle to help things along--choosing topics that are likely to resonate with, strongly amuse, intellectually interest, or emotionally inflame large numbers of people.

Pretty bright person, that OxyJen. She knows what she is talking about. One of her posts had 858 hits in just one day... going viral, that's what we are talking about...

When we read what OxyJen wrote, it is obvious, but also because OxyJen says it so well.

I had never really considered the importance of the spontaneity aspect and the compelling nature of the spontaneity before.

I suspect, after reflection, that spontaneity is also important because if something is so compelling we will spontaneously send it without even thinking through the appropriateness of sending that thing along.

Personally, I cannot wait for OxyJen's first book to be signed by a publisher because I cannot wait to read it. That book will, I am sure, be excellent. So, OxyJen's agent... get selling.

Chris, Regina, and Pommes (learning to read in anticipation of the happy book purchase)


Cloudia said...

Yes, Chris; The words must live and take on a life independent of our nurturing "push."
This happens, I think, when you or I "catch" something that is in the air, give it shape and pass it on. It already had an impetus of it's own, we are "used" by the virus to replicate and spread (oh, that WORKS!). the 1918 flu marked the lives of the period. May We never experience such a wrenching loss....Aloha!

jjdebenedictis said...

Ooh! Thank you for the linkage and the compliments! I'm absolutely delighted you found my words worth repeating.

(And Mr. Pattinson got over 1200 hits yesterday. This is getting creepy; I may take that photo down.)

By the way, my agent is awesome and splendiferous and leaps tall buildings!

The publishing industry, however, has a few problems right now.

Junosmom said...

Chris, I've had a few blogs like that, but only over a hundred, not 800. I am wondering if this blog had anything to do with this Robert Patterson and the teen craze for this movie. As I wrote on OxyJen's blog, I also got a lot of hits on a blog about what they must be doing to get chickens to have such big breasts. Obviously, the Googler was not looking for a homeschooling middle-aged Kentuckian's words of wisdom. Sexy Hooker shoes always gets hits from Europe. It is interesting to study this trend. What is the goal though, going viral or having regular loyal readers that miss you when you are gone?

jjdebenedictis said...

Junosmom: I think loyal readers are the goal; having something you post "go viral" is just a way to expose yourself to potential readers.

Also, I think "going viral" has to mean the blogger's own content enthralled the audience, not that they've fooled people into coming to their site via a fortunate combination of words or by posting a photo of someone sexy.

Looking at my stats for that one post, it seems I've encouraged maybe 5 people to look elsewhere on the site before leaving. So my post has not "gone viral"; Robert Pattinson's popularity has! I'm just seeing a side effect of him being the latest teen heart-throb.

Sepiru Chris said...

Hi Cloudia,

I agree with you and with OxyJen, the words have to have their own impetus. Possibly the process is like Michelangelo's, who claimed to only release the figure otherwise trapped within the stone, not to create it himself.

Possibly my challenge is trying to inject less of myself into the stories, and letting them flow more naturally.

I do believe that practice helps.

As per the 1918 pandemic, statistical hazhard analysis tells us that we will. On the plane from HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon) I read that Hong Kong has recently had another outbreak of Avian H-5 Bird Flu, its first in six years...

Cheers, Chris

Hi OxyJen (aka Toxina),

I am so glad that you are delighted. I enjoy reading what you write.

I also just realized that I did not ask first before republishing... I take it that is implicit approval (bad copyright minder, bad Sepiru Chris)...

I still think that your hits are also due to your literary content even if they are also driven by the photo...

I believe your agent is awesome, she picked you! I just want her to make the mega deal soon so that El Husbando and I can spend our days dodging disasters on the ultimate "three hour cruise" on the ultimate "tiny ship"...

Hi Junosmom,

My primary goal is to achieve higher quality, consistent writing.

And to identify what people are interested in... when someone's eyes glaze over at a party, I know to shut up. Or when your Heroine kicks me...

Loyal readers who will miss me when absent? Wow... No words there, from me...

It is delightful to read comments, especially from people whom I am begin to build an impression from due to their repeated gifts of themselves, or at least a side of themselves, on their own blogs...

'Viral' is a (potential) proxy for knowing that you have hit "break out" work or found a "home run" topic that piques people's interest.

I intend to be published on a couple of fronts, one of which is very difficult to be published in.

More loyal readers might help an agent persuade a publisher that something is not only well-written, but that there is a market for it, also.

I note that there is no agent, and I do not claim to produce well-written pieces, yet. But I hope, and I try.

I do not want to go viral for the sake of going viral. I merely see it as a proxy for a different indicator, which is itself a proxy also.

Once again, my primary goal was to learn to write compelling stories.

Loyal readers are, of course, a wonderful indicator of success at writing compelling stories.

I should be so lucky; I hate to presume anything as grand as that yet as I have barely been blogging.

And I am so heartened that you and some others do seem willing to trade your time for what I write.


Cheers and Tschuess,