GOING VIRAL: Popular People and Viral Media

I finished reading a thought-provoking book about things going viral, titled The Tipping Point (2000) by best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell, who is a well-respected journalist at The New Yorker. In his book Gladwell focuses on how ideas, products and messages reach a tipping point where they spread like viruses and enter­ into popular culture.

Several of the examples Gladwell uses are taken between the sixties and the nineties, with one of the earliest examples being the stirrings of the American Revolution. Gladwell asserts that word-of-mouth is still the most effective method for creating social epidemics. Spreading the famous phrase “The British are coming” for example, spread like wildfire and saved the settlers of early America.

Going Viral - The Tipping Point Explained

Going Viral - The Tipping Point Explained

Gladwell argues that out of any population of people it is only a few who are responsible for making something go viral. These people he refers to as Connectors — trustworthy, charismatic people who are a part of many social circles and are therefore well connected. Whether an idea, product or message sticks is dependent on what Gladwell calls The Law of the Few.

Never have Connectors been more important to this social process than they are today in the digital age. Today people don’t even need to know their online contacts or followers personally to help them make something go viral. Social media has made it possible for anyone to become an influential Connector. It doesn’t even take long for a viral e-mail to find its way around the world.

Going Viral - Demotivational Posters

Demotivational posters are one of the most viral forms of imagery on the Internet. A Google image search for ‘demotivational posters’ fetches more than one million results.

Advertisers still attempt to increase the popularity of products by using celebrity endorsements. Fans of such celebrities may very well be persuaded this way. However, there is a far greater chance today of a product or idea going viral based on what those same celebrities say on Twitter or on their blogs. If Stephen Fry recommends a good book on Twitter, there is a chance that over three million people will follow suit.

Viral Superstar Justin BieberThe Internet is a fantastic tool for self-education, but it has to be said that, generally­, people will follow the law of crowds. If 640 million people have watched Justin Bieber’s video Baby you are likely to assume that it must be good and proceed to watch it yourself; or, you may watch it just to see what all the fuss is about. When a record label catches wind of such popularity and comments are largely favourable, those 640 million viewers are counted as potential consumers and Justin Bieber becomes an overnight superstar.

Viral Superstar Susan Boyle - Going ViralYouTube has great power to influence popular culture as it continuously evolves. Social media research conducted in 2009 reported that every minute, 24 hours of video footage is uploaded onto YouTube. Whether any of this becomes sticky and goes viral depends on those few individuals who, firstly, spend a lot of time on YouTube, and secondly, who are well connected and widely followed. What the rest of the world will consider popular largely depends on what they will consider to be popular.

It’s an intriguing yet daunting thought. A reflection of some of the most watched YouTube videos of all time include “lolcats”, people singing or dancing, and people falling over or getting hurt. Cats hold their position as the second­ most popular pet in the world, two of the most popular TV shows watched today include Idols and Dancing with the Stars and there has been a proliferation of reality shows depicting dangerous stunts or bodily functions — Jackass, Crazy Monkey, Dirty Sanchez, The Dudesons, Balls of Steel and Kenny vs Spenny, to name just a few. One would imagine that countries such as Bhutan, which are not a part of social media phenomena, would find such epidemics quite bizarre.

It appears that cultural globalisation lies in the hands of a few. We can either choose to take part and be contributing spinners of the growing web or we can be susceptible flies caught in its sticky threads.

lolcats gif (image: www.lolcats.com)

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THE EXPONENTIAL TIMES: Extra! Extra! Etc. Etc.

I treated myself with the purchase of a NAG (New Age Gaming) magazine the other day, which came with a glossy-ink-scented E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) supplement. The accompanying DVD was also largely dedicated to E3 and consisted of around two hundred game videos, trailers and GameTrailers.com awards.

I do not work for NAG nor do I sell their magazines. I was merely mesmerized by how far gaming has come in the last few years. We are certainly living in exponential times with the bacterial-like spread of information and new technologies.

Gone are the days of chalkboards and letter posting in the developed world. The sale and consumption of hard-copy books is fast dwindling at the hand of the Kindle and other eReaders. If Wikipedia were to be published as a book it would be over two million pages long. There are now even babies in Egypt named “Facebook.”

Exponential Times in Gaming

3D graphics has reached a point beyond comprehension five years ago. The number of gaming devices and vibrating motion controllers on the market this year can have one gleefully immersed 24/7, if you have the time. The exponential rate at which new game titles are being released has made the task of writing letters to Santa quite a meticulous one.

Exponential Times in Social Media

In 2007, one out of every eight U.S. couples met online. It is now estimated to be one in five. When television first entered our lives, it took 13 years to reach a target audience of 50 million. Facebook took just two years to get the same number of people on board its platform.

Greater than the exponential development of technology, is the exponential availability of information. It is estimated that a week’s worth of the New York Times contains more information that anyone living in the 18th century could have consumed in their entire lifetime. The amount of technical information available is more than double every two years.

Exponential Times in Education and Employment

This exponential growth of technology and information is changing the way children are educated. Students are now being prepared for jobs that don’t yet exist and being trained to use technologies that have not yet materialised. It has also been shown that students who are online tend to outperform those who receive more face-to-face education.

This is of course changing the way that people are employed globally. It is estimated that 95% of companies that are online today recruit people using LinkedIn; around the same percentage of businesses use social media for marketing purposes.

Exponential Times Year to Year

In 2008, more than 200 million cell phone calls were made every second. This has roughly tripled every 6 months since. In 2009, every minute or so, a day’s worth of video footage was uploaded to YouTube. In 2010, the number of Google searches completed every ten minutes could have powered Las Vegas for half an hour. This year there are roughly 80 million Farmville farmers versus the 1.5 million real farmers. The moment you’ve finished reading this, most of this information will be outdated.

Here are two of the videos where you can find this information as well as more and more and more...

Exponential Times in 2008

Exponential Times in 2011

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NEWS: Facebook and Twitter now available on Xbox LIVE in South Africa

Xbox LIVE logoJUST months after the launch of Xbox LIVE in South Africa, we’re pleased to inform you that Facebook and Twitter will be available on Xbox LIVE from the 26th of January. At the same time, a ‘My Community’ channel will also be added to the LIVE Dash and will launch on both the Standard and Family Dashboards. This is part of our ongoing commitment
to providing quality gaming and entertainment in the living room.

The launch of Facebook and Twitter adds to the depth of experience the Xbox LIVE service has to offer. Xbox LIVE launched less than three months ago in six new EMEA countries, making a total of 35 LIVE enabled countries globally. In this short time, members from the newly added countries have spent over 3.5 million hours using the LIVE service, which is an unprecedented pick up.

  • Over 630 000 hours of multiplayer gameplay have been accumulated across all six launch countries in that time.
  • Xbox LIVE now has over 30 million members across the world, each spending on average 40 hours a month, meaning that in total members are logging over 1 billion hours a month worldwide.

We’ve listed some of the exciting new Facebook and Twitter features below. The Xbox LIVE community is expected to grow over the coming months, so look out for more news as we continue to add to the Xbox LIVE experience.

Facebook on Xbox LIVE

Facebook and Xbox LIVE join forces to connect you with your friends as you interact with the largest entertainment and gaming network on TV. Share real-time status updates and photos with your friends, check out photo galleries on the big screen or share your favourite gaming moments on Facebook right from your television. Take bragging rights to a completely new level by sharing updates on your achievements and success in upcoming games available on Xbox 360.

Facebook on Xbox LIVE features:

  • Connect with friends using Facebook.
  • Explore news feeds from friends and family.
  • Update your status with achievements in-game.
  • Post, read, and respond to comments on status updates and photos.
  • View photos using the Xbox 360 built-in scaler for great-looking pictures.
  • With Friend Linker, find friends on Facebook that also have Gamertags and invite them to your Xbox LIVE Friends List.


Twitter comes to Xbox 360 and Xbox LIVE. Thanks to the app, you can now stay in touch with your friends and family by reading and posting Tweets via your Xbox 360 and Xbox LIVE. If you want to let your friends know that you’re firing up a multiplayer match, you can quickly and easily read, reply, and post updates online right from your console.

Twitter features:

  • Link your Gamertag to your Twitter username.
  • Automatically sign into Twitter when you sign into Xbox LIVE.
  • Read Tweets from people you follow, post new messages and reply to others.
  • Connect with Xbox LIVE friends who you follow on Twitter, view user lists and favourite Tweets.

NOTE: Facebook, Twitter, video chat features and Xbox LIVE Party require an Xbox LIVE Gold membership.

Follow South Africa’s local Xbox 360 Twitter page @Xbox360ZA or join their Facebook page Xbox 360 South Africa.

- Published on behalf of Xbox 360 South Africa

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GEOTAGGING: Internet safety and online privacy

THE Internet and privacy have been major concerns in the past decade — and rightly so. Facebook alone has been caught up in several court cases in the past few years, which has seen the service making major revisions to their privacy policies.

Facebook aside, several of the latest gadgets on the market today automatically make use of geotagging. This infuses media such as photographs with location-based information or metadata, which is perhaps the bigger concern when it comes to privacy and security online.

What is geotagging?

The following definition of geotagging is taken from the official homepage of the U.S. army, which is trying to discourage troopers from using social media services and risk compromising their positions.

“Geotagging is the process of adding geographical identification to photographs, video, websites and SMS messages. It is the equivalent of adding a 10-digit grid co-ordinate to everything you post on the Internet.” - www.army.mil

My LocationiPhones, iPads, smartphones with built-in GPS, and several other devices automatically create such metadata when content is shared or posted on the Internet. Smartphones in particular automatically embed geotags in pictures taken — often with users being unaware.

Social networking services, on the other hand, are being forced to be a lot clearer when it comes to geotagging photos and videos in particular when posting them on the Internet. Photo sharing sites such as Flickr and Picasa for example, offer geotagging options, but this is not an automatic function.

The fear is that tagging photos or videos­ with an exact location on the Internet allows random people to track an person’s location and movement patterns.

Understand what you're using

iPhone GPSIt is therefore important to understand the characteristics of any hi-tech device you might own. Study its manual to determine how to switch off GPS functions. This is, of course, if you fear for your own safety.

Perhaps the real concern involves parents of teenage children. There is a prevalent belief that pedophiles living in basements scan the Internet on a daily basis and use such services to find their next victims. It would be foolish to think that such people don’t exist, but it would also be a shame if technology was avoided altogether because of a fear of them.

The bottom line is to practise being a savvy and cautious Internet user and teach such practices to your children. Social networking is all about bringing people together and sharing experiences with family and friends. It has also been used to successfully capture criminals online. Good measures are already in place to keep things private and secure and are being continuously improved. The choice to behave in a relatively risk-free and secure manner online lies entirely in the hands of the user.

Geotagging, the Internet & online privacy: final thoughts

As soon as you sign up for a Google account or join a social networking site or service, you immediately begin building an online track record. Deciding who you connect with, and what information you choose to supply online, will determine who gets to learn what about you.

If you use services such as Gmail, Twitter or Facebook, look under your “settings” tabs to access and edit privacy options.

Of course there are risks of genuine breaches to private information; but, if you have nothing to hide and are savvy and cautious­ when online, the chances of geotagged media seriously harming you or your family are about the same as being struck by lightning.

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GOOGLE WAVE: An analysis of its untimely downfall + Google Buzz

GOOGLE announced the closure of Google Wave on their blog on August 4 after much hype from loyal Google followers. There has been much buzz as to why Google Wave was a failed project, but the pivotal reasons appear to be three-fold. Excessive hype and expectations, too many features for a single web application, and at the same time, not enough unique features to differentiate Google Wave from existing services (Facebook, Twitter), all ultimately lead to its untimely downfall.

The hype involved a handful of people being invited to test Google Wave and lead to several bloggers discussing it amongst themselves. After almost a year of testing and a plethora of blog entries, a lot was obviously expected of Google’s latest brainchild. However, there were still only a handful of people that actually knew how to make use of Google Wave and in an era of short attention spans and click-happy web-users, the buzz had just about fizzled entirely upon its release.

Google Wave logoThe problem was that for the average Internet-user to get to grips with Google Wave required setting aside a good period of time to learn how to use it, and for many, watching a video tutorial was essential. Google’s software developers even admitted that the service “takes a little getting used to” and that even they were still learning how to use it themselves.

Once Google Wave invitees got the hang of Wave they needed more people to be using it besides themselves in order to get a proper wave going. This proved to be difficult enough in itself, but perhaps the problem was not a lack of users, but rather a lack of appeal.

What exactly is Google Wave?
“Wave's primary feature was to let users collaborate in real time, using an in-box-like interface that resembled a mix of Google's Gmail Web mail service, and its Docs and Spreadsheets product. Each strand of messages, which could include text, links, and photos, was called a wave. Google launched the product with an API for developers to build extra functionality in the form of extensions that users could turn on and off” - Cnet News

I would argue that Google Wave had two other inherent problems. The first being that it did not offer enough unique features – i.e. things that web-users couldn’t already perform using existing Google and other services, and secondly that it tried to achieve too much at once. There also seemed to be a lack of focus with regards to what the product would primarily be used for.

To rope people into any new web service takes time and requires baby steps if you want to get enough people on board in order for the services to be worthwhile and developed further. The web-user trend is to stick with what’s foremost familiar and secondly to make use of the tried and tested. Although Google Wave offered several easy ways to perform familiar tasks online in real-time, the popularity of services such as Facebook and Twitter far outweighed its demand as a new web service.

Google has brought many great apps to the table that are worthy of praise and the Internet would not be the same without them; sadly Google Wave was not one of them. Until a viable market demand is found, the focus should be on improving existing Google services before unleashing something new to the online public.

A bit on Google Buzz

Google had another chance with Google Buzz – a web app released just prior to Google Wave. For those who are unfamiliar with Google Buzz, the service is an extension of one’s Gmail account – appearing below one’s inbox. It can be rightfully argued that Google Buzz is essentially a Twitter clone as it allows friends to provide status updates, embed photos and links, and to follow or be followed by other Buzz users. It now has a few Facebooky features too – these being the options of liking or commenting on other users’ posts and embedding photos and video.

Google Buzz logoThe idea was to discuss “the buzz”, but from many users’ experience the service seems to be primarily used as a promotional tool for embedding links and directing peoples’ attention to them. Facebook remains the popular choice for status updating and the sharing of photos and videos and Twitter is still the first choice for posting something of real value.

I do not imagine that Google Buzz will ever become as popular (or perhaps more importantly – more popular) than Twitter or Facebook – least not until it offers something different to what exists already. Buzz needs to be able to stand on it's own, which isn't currently happening with the ability to Buzz on Facebook or Buzz on Twitter.

Perhaps bloggers and Google Wave testers are largely to blame for the excessive hype and ultimate disappointment of Google Wave. Perhaps it was the product itself that asked too much of web users by way of time and practical use. Or perhaps Google Wave simply did not fill a need in the World Wide Web by offering something entirely unique and different.

Google can surely be forgiven for the failure of Google Wave and hopefully learn from their mistakes. With a history of so many other great services and the downfall of only a few, support for future developments should by no means be tainted by their recent faults. Keep the services coming Google; you ultimately never know what will work online until you try.


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