Why Videos go Viral

With 48 hours of video uploaded to youtube every minute, YouTube Trends Director Kevin Alloca, explains how and why videos go viral, breaking it down to three key components:

  • Tastemakers
  • Communities of Participation
  • Unexpectedness

Worth a watch, if only for the humor of it all, and because online, “no one has to green-light your idea and we all feel some ownership over pop culture.”

How Push Button Posting is Breeding Curators

A few months ago, my dear friend and filmmaker Anthony Ladesich of Mile Deep Films posted a question to Facebook asking just what the heck was Pinterest and really what’s its point.

While some of the responses sought to explain the practical uses of Pinterest’s content curation format, namely the ability to pin images from throughout the web on custom ‘boards’ for easy reference, most of the responses validated Ignite Social Media’s calculations that if you are on Pinterest you are most likely a 24-34 year old, college educated women living in the mid-west. (Interestingly, of Mashable’s list of 21 users to follow there was a fairly even split in gender.)

What the generalist observations didn’t take into account was the way in which the format of sites like Pinterest are primed to alter the established conventions we currently utilize to interact with content.

Elad Gil, a San Franscisco based entrepreneur whose start-up was absorbed by Twitter,  offers an informative timeline explaining the way trends in social media have shifted from Long Form to Push Button publishing.

Gil identifies that in the origins of social media creation – the long form blog – there was an expectation of high caliber content.  After all, only one percent were producers while the rest of us just consumed. Facebook and Twitter’s short form format “decreased the friction to both producing as well as consuming content,” lowering expectations and making it universally accessible.   Retweeting and Facebook’s share feature, as well as the Tumblr repost platform, began the process of shifting consumers into curators. Users could share others content within their own networks but were still limited by the timeline format of these services.

Pinterest is important because it was the first service to enable users to collect content via bookmarklets and showcase it in curated collections, making consumption less passive though still highly efficient and increasingly ubiquitous.

Some of my favorite bookmarklets

Curation has become a key component to the social media experience, allowing users to showcase their interests, preferences and opinions with ease and polish.  What Instagram did for photography—making it suddenly easy for anyone with an iphone to create great looking content—sites like Pinterest have done for curation.

Pinterest is not alone.

Paper.li offers social news curation, allowing users to create customized digital news papers based on topics, drawing from their own services such as Twitter or Facebook or from subscriptions to news services.

Scoop.it is a news aggregator that displays content in a digital magazine format allowing any user to become a publisher of sorts, drawing on content from Scoop.it’s own recommendation engine or the browser bookmarklet feature.  Scoop.it’s focus is the curation (or aggregation) of news content rather than the creation of content.

(News aggregation as a whole is dicey business which I won’t get into now other than to offer an ironic example of one of the Huffington Post’s most recent missteps which was fantastically satorized by The Onion in ‘Huffington Post’ Employee Sucked Into Aggregation Turbine, which I discovered via my current Twitter news aggregator of choice The Tweeted Times.)

Short Form is a social media network aimed at video jockeys.  The site let users curate customized channels that draw from video all over the web including Youtube, Vimeo, Hulu and the content being shared by friends on Facebook and Twitter.   The site also capitalizes on the social by creating live viewing parties where vjs can broadcast back-to-back content from their channels or content from other vjs on the site, and can also “pass the remote,” as it were, to any of viewers in the room, letting them take a turn in control.

The challenge with Turntable.fm, a site that allows users to experience and discover music together live, is a case of empty room syndrome.  Turntable.fm is awesome because the playlist is chosen by the djs in each room (or channel if you need to think more literally) but only becomes social if your friends are there to play and more friends keep joining. The challenge then becomes the limited number of dj spots.  Still the interface looks fantastic with and feels more social than Spotify or Pandora.

As social curation becomes the norm and we see our current go-to’s absorbing the format (see Twitter’s acquisition of Summify) it is interesting to consider how the idea will bridge the gap between the online and offline, perhaps drawing on the commercialized format of sites like Fab.com and my personal favorite Quarterly, a site that connects subscribers with “cultural icons” who curate themed packages to be mailed out quarterly.

Quarterly is like a magazine, but instead of receiving words on a page, our subscribers receive actual items that tell a compelling story crafted and narrated by the contributor… A blend of original, exclusive, and consumer items that are timeless, practical, exciting, and fly under the radar… So maybe you’ll get the same kind of notebook that your favorite author used to plot their recent bestseller. Or maybe it’s the tea a musician was drinking while they penned a famous track. Or a secret family cold remedy an artist used while working on a masterpiece. The point is, every object—while uniquely brilliant in its function—will also have a story, and through that story take on new meaning.

Dare I say, like a Pinterest inspiration board come to life.

Data as Art

It is easy to relegate social media to the realm of art discourse rather than art itself.  Its function is, after all to spur dialogue. Now, however, a new generation of digital curators and new media artists are harnessing the data we share everyday to paint a portrait of society that is both aesthetically and intellectually stimulating.

We Feel Fine has been around since 2005.  The site scours newly posted blog entries to find occurrences of the words “I feel” or “I am feeling” and compiles the data into visual representations of real-time human emotion.

At its core, We Feel Fine is an artwork authored by everyone. It will grow and change as we grow and change, reflecting what’s on our blogs, what’s in our hearts, what’s in our minds. We hope it makes the world seem a little smaller, and we hope it helps people see beauty in the everyday ups and downs of life.

The site divides these artworks into six “movements” – MadnessMurmursMontageMobsMetrics, and Mounds.

The image below is one example of Mobs in which the feelings of a given population are ranked based on frequency.

Programmer Jeff Clark, set out on a similar task of data aggregation in his latest interactive, Spot which draws on realtime Twitter data and uses a particle metaphor to represent tweets.

The site allows you to query for any keyword and presents the last 200 results in five different view options including group, words, timeline, users, and source.

The group view below, shows posts that share common words inside larger circles, featuring the avatar of the author.

For Spot, Clark drew inspiration from Revisit, another Twitter visualizer, that presents allows users to search for multiple keywords at one time and presents them in a timeline which shows the complex relationships between multiple retweets and replies.  Below is a search I did for #KCMO:

Finally, here is a TED talk from artist Aaron Koplin, who has tapped online data to create an array of beautiful and collaborative projects. His talk is one of my TED favorites.

Content Overload

Recently IFC launched the second season of its critically acclaimed series, Portlandia, lending a self-referential gaze on hipster culture, the narcissism of small differences and the need to be in the know about everything.

My favorite bit from last season, Have Your Read shines a light, perhaps without realizing it, on our current state of content overload.

The ubiquity of Web 2.0, a platform “in which users generate, share, and curate content” in such a way as to improve it every time it is used, has drastically changed the way we as a society—and particularly my generation of digital natives—view participation.  As Charles Leadbeater, a leading authority on innovation and creativity, describes, no more are we a generation defined by “we are what we own” but rather “we are what we share.”

In the race to not only know but share, to become experts in our fields, to position ourselves as individuals equipped to contribute to the conversation, hell, to even keep up with the conversation, we can find ourselves sucked into what Tech Crunch contributor James Altucher describes as the “loop“:

Every day right now I make a huge mistake. I start off with the loop: email, twitter, facebook, my amazon rank, my blog stats, my blog comments. My wife Claudia asks me: “did you finish the loop yet?” And I think it will only take a few seconds but it actually takes about twenty minutes. I probably do it ten times a day. That’s 200 minutes! 3 hours and 20 minutes! Ugh.

I wish I could say that my loop lasted 20 minutes.  Alas it is an endless battle to stay in the know.  Reading Facebook posts in line at the grocery, scrolling through my Google Reader app while waiting for coffee, tweeting while sitting in traffic (bad, I know); I have been swallowed up by a desire for knowledge with which to contextualize my practice.

There is hope, however. An answer that comes without the obvious and occasionally necessary need to completely unplug.

It comes in curation.

As we become inundated with not just more content but more communities and outlets for participation, web developers are striving to create ways to aggregate this data into clean, user-friendly interfaces that showcase what we want to know, when we want to know it and in a way that is palatable to our ever-changing tastes and needs.

This type of content curation fascinates me so in an attempt to evaluate for myself and for those reading just what tools make my practice easier and what just adds to my loop, I will use this forum to evaluate different sites and services, starting with those featured in the sidebar and welcome any suggestions or comments you could add to this test.