Web Wanders: Vying for that viral spot

  • TECH
  • Saturday, 22 Mar 2014

Susanna Khoo shares the amusing finds that she stumbles upon in the World Wide Web.

IT’S either viral or it’s not important nor worth your time. At least that seems to be the perception that most people have when they think about the content that they consume or contribute to the Web. 

Most of us tend to discover what’s currently viral on the Web through the things that our friends and family share with us via social media. But nowadays, there’s a whole breed of websites that exists for the primary purpose of serving up an ongoing stream of what’s popular and trending on the World Wide Web. 

In the process of keeping up this fortnightly column, I often traverse such websites to gather inspiration for what I should write. I’m pretty sure you would have visited them at some point or another too. 

Here are a few examples: 

Viral Nova
The people who run this website have mastered the art of crafting irresistible titles. Just browse through several of the current stories and you’ll know what I mean instantly. As a result, you’ll somehow feel the urge to promptly click on the link provided in order to read more. 

Viral Nova posts have a pretty simple structure: An introductory paragraph followed by a collection of photos interlaced with a brief sentence or two in between them. This makes for very easy reading, which is probably why many of us tend to get hooked on the stuff we find here. 

If you’re a video junkie, then Upworthy would probably appeal to you. It’s chockfull of videos on a wide range of topics including inspirational themes, environmental issues, science and technology, economics, entertainment and politics. 

Essentially, what the site administrators hope to achieve is to promote the concept of “social media with a mission." In other words, showing you videos that are worth watching.

If you hang around the site long enough, you’ll soon notice certain points of view coming across through these videos. But really, it’s no secret what their stand on specific issues are. You can head on over to the About & FAQ page to read all about it.

According to its About page, BuzzFeed seeks to provide “the most shareable breaking news, original reporting, entertainment and video across the social Web”. 

Besides its standard menu navigation such as News, Entertainment, Life and so on, visitors to the site can also browse specially designed feeds that are categorised according to badges bearing the words of common online expressions like LOL, OMG, WTF and Win. 

Stories are grouped into these respective categories based on readers’ responses. A series of corresponding yellow badges accompanies every post on the site and users can click on them to award badges to deserving articles.

The site also features its own set of original videos, and lots of other popular article formats such as quizzes and lists. You’ll also see plenty of GIF images accompanying the content too (and in my opinion, often one too many). 

Captivating the masses 

You know, the thing about these websites is that I kind of have a hunch that they actually have a hand in influencing what ends up trending on the Web. 

After all, there is a chance that the only reason that a certain cute dog or beautifully decorated home gained public adoration was because it had been featured on one of these sites. 

Well, it’s either that, or the people behind these sites have actually figured out a reliable formula that helps them identify material that will appeal to the masses. Honestly, I don’t think it’s really all that simple, since humans by nature are generally unpredictable. 

However, there are some sharp folks out there who have actually been studying these online trends. Here are some of factors that they have claimed would cause something to be viral-worthy: 

1. Social currency
This refers to current issues that are of concern to the general public. It could be anything from a natural disaster to an economic crisis, as long as it’s something most people would be interested to know about. 

2. Easy to remember
This one goes without saying. How could you share something with others if you have trouble remembering what it’s all about, anyway? 

3. Simple
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. The simpler it is, the less trouble we have remembering it and hence, we’re more likely to pass it on. 

4. Practical
Not many people have the patience to plod through an article that they cannot relate to or understand. But if they can clearly see a way that they can use what they’ve seen, read or heard in their everyday lives, it’s quite likely they’ll stay tuned till the end. And then proceed to share that knowledge with someone else. 

5. Evokes strong feelings
If an article or video stirs your emotions, chances are higher that you will take some form of action afterwards. Clicking the Share button would probably be one of the things that you’ll think of doing. 

6. Story quality
At the end of the day, nothing beats a story well told. Nobody likes ploughing through content that is pointless. So it does count, although it’s sad to say that this isn’t the main reason that something goes viral most of the time. 

So, do you agree with the points that were raised? I, for one, feel there is quite a bit of truth revealed here. Maybe we all ought to pay a bit more attention to what appears on our social feeds from now onwards to see if these theories hold water. 

But while it’s great that others are constantly giving us viral content to look at and be amused with, it’s disappointing to note that most of it tends to be pretty shallow. 

Perhaps it’s good for us to seek out for ourselves the stuff we really need from the Net for a change, instead of relying on pop culture to keep us entertained. It’s worth a try, don’t you think?

(Susanna Khoo would love to see more original posts appearing on her social media feed rather than the usual fare of overshared viral content. How do you feel about what’s viral or trending online these days? Tell her all about it at susanna@thestar.com.my.) 
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