The six things that make stories go viral will amaze and maybe infuriate you
Since his initial foray into the nature of sharing, Berger has gone on to research and test a variety of viral-promoting factors, which he details in his new book, “Contagious: Why Things Catch On.” Almost ten years in, he feels he’s discovered a formula of sorts: as sites like Upworthy or BuzzFeed would likely put it, The Six Things You Need to Know to Make Your Voice Heard. While emotion and arousal still top the list, a few additional factors seem to make a big difference. First, he told me, you need to create social currency—something that makes people feel that they’re not only smart but in the know. “Memes like LOLcats, I think, are a perfect example of social currency, an insider culture or handshake,” Berger told me. “Your ability to pass it on and riff on it shows that you understand. It’s the ultimate, subtle insider signal: I know without yelling that I know. When your mom sees an LOLcat, she has no idea what it is.” When Upworthy first started, not everyone knew what it was, and the videos seemed fresh. Now they are being derided as link bait and mocked. Other sites, including the Washington Post, are copying their formula.
The presence of a memory-inducing trigger is also important. We share what we’re thinking about—and we think about the things we can remember. This facet of sharing helps explain the appeal of list-type stories (which I wrote about in detail last month), as well as stories that stick in your mind because they are bizarre. Lists also get shared because of another feature that Berger often finds successful: the promise of practical value. “We see top-ten lists on Buzzfeed and the like all the time,” he notes. “It allows people to feel like there’s a nice packet of useful information that they can share with others.” We want to feel smart and for others to perceive us as smart and helpful, so we craft our online image accordingly.
A final predictor of success is the quality of the story itself. “People love stories. The more you see your story as part of a broader narrative, the better,” Berger says. Some cat lists are better than others, and some descriptions of crying teen-agers are more immediately poignant; the best underlying story, regardless of its trappings, will come out on top. That, in fact, is what the Upworthy editors have argued in response to their critics: the headlines may seem like link bait, but the stories, the curators promise, are worthwhile. “Coming up with catchy, curiosity-inducing headlines wasn’t the reason Upworthy had those 87 million visitors,” they write. “It was because millions of members of the Upworthy community watched the videos we curated and found them important, compelling, and worth sharing with their friends.”
How a math genius hacked OkCupid to find true love
With that, he created two profiles, one with a photo of him rock climbing and the other of him playing guitar at a music gig. “Regardless of future plans, what’s more interesting to you right now? Sex or love?” went one question. Answer: Love, obviously. But for the younger A cluster, he followed his computer’s direction and rated the question “very important.” For the B cluster, it was “mandatory.”The biggest land rush in the history of the internet starts on February 4
When the last question was answered and ranked, he ran a search on OkCupid for women in Los Angeles sorted by match percentage. At the top: a page of women matched at 99 percent. He scrolled down … and down … and down. Ten thousand women scrolled by, from all over Los Angeles, and he was still in the 90s.
He needed one more step to get noticed. OkCupid members are notified when someone views their pages, so he wrote a new program to visit the pages of his top-rated matches, cycling by age: a thousand 41-year-old women on Monday, another thousand 40-year-old women on Tuesday, looping back through when he reached 27-year-olds two weeks later. Women reciprocated by visiting his profiles, some 400 a day. And messages began to roll in.
Hundreds of new gTLDs means hundreds of times as many available second-level domains. It could even mean an end to the increasingly silly names new businesses have to adopt just so they can secure a memorable web address. Shpoonkle, anyone?
So in June 2008, more than two years after an internal policy group first started considering it, ICANN’s board approved recommendations to create a fourth set of new gTLDs. Rather than planning extensive consultations about what they should be, this time ICANN allowed the market to decide. Anybody could apply to run a new domain, so long as they met certain requirements and coughed up a $185,000 application fee.