Ever since I was young, I’ve always had a passion for computers. In fact, I created my first “website” in elementary school, stringing together Microsoft Word documents that I managed to open as web pages. Obviously, that website didn’t get much exposure — my brother and I were its two most active (and only) users. Since then, my techniques have gotten a bit more sophisticated, but that drive I developed has remained the same.
Fast forward to 2007, when I was in sixth grade. In my middle school, we were allowed to use the computers during “study hall” if we finished our homework. Of course, as with all responsible school districts, these computers had strict firewalls that limited what sites we could and could not visit. Playing web-based computer games seemed off the table — that is, until I realized I could create my own website that would still work on the school’s network. And thus, Free Addicting Games Online by Matt G was born. (Original name, right?)
After just days of sharing the URL with my friends at school, the site spread rapidly. It was almost as close to an overnight hit as you could get as a sixth grader in middle school — I’d get texts on my LG Chocolate asking for the link, friends would come up to me asking about the site, and I was able to track several dozen hits to the website daily. That felt like a big deal, and so I kept at it.
Within a year, my website welcomed tens of thousands of visitors — sometimes over 200 a day. Hundreds of free web-based computer games were in the hands of middle school students and others around the world (yes — Italy, Turkey, Spain, and Germany, to name a few). It seemed that my site became the go-to destination for this niche population, and I didn’t spend a dime advertising it. It had developed legs of its own, and in the context of this market, you could even argue that it went viral.
In February 2013, I published a message to the site’s homepage to commemorate its five-year anniversary. As I started winding down my involvement in the site, I celebrated the over 500,000 visitors I had reached organically. I found that limitations in the web host made it costly and difficult to maintain. And of course, my school’s administration caught wind of my site and enforced a specific firewall setting to block access to my domains (definitely a bitter sweet feeling). Since then, the web host I used took down parts of my site, though some pages are still accessible if you search Google for “matt g games” — one of my webpages is still the top result, over eight years later!
Take a step back and I’ll illustrate another case study in which my clever middle school antics helped me create something that also went “viral”. When the Black Eyed Peas released their hit single “I Gotta Feeling” in 2009, I played that song on repeat to learn every word (you know, for the bar and bat mitzvahs). I discovered lyric videos on YouTube, and noticed that one didn’t exist for “I Gotta Feeling”. Perhaps a little too coincidentally, I was learning a new video editing software at the time which offered “captions” on different “slides” that could transition on a set basis. Used more for slideshows, I repurposed this software to create my very own lyric video for the song, and used pictures from the internet as the background. After uploading to YouTube (in the good ol’ days, before their algorithms automatically took down your copyrighted content), I shared the link with friends and posted it to my Facebook account.
Unfortunately, the video is no longer accessible, but within the first year of posting, it got over 116,000 views! This was also organic in the sense that the video was never promoted or advertised beyond my close social circle. The success of this initial lyric video inspired me to make several others, with a video of Taio Cruz’s “Break Your Heart” reaching over 54,000 plays.
Of course, these two examples don’t exactly fall under the standard convention of viral content as it relates to our previous class discussion on virality. However, in the context of an everyday person like myself creating something on the internet (like a website, or videos on YouTube), sharing this content with one group of people and then discovering hundreds of thousands of others accessing it is quite fascinating, to say the least. The most remarkable part is that I’m not convinced I could’ve reached a larger audience even if I tried; after all, my goal at large wasn’t to reach people half way around the world. But hey, that’s the power of the internet.
Further reading: Links to my gaming website and YouTube videos are up above. If you’re curious for more academic material on what causes “traditional” content to go viral, here are some good resources:
- Viral Videos: http://www.adweek.com/digital/what-makes-a-video-viral/
- Viral Content: https://www.smartbugmedia.com/blog/whatstrending-3-characteristics-of-viral-content
- Viral Content in Relation to Brand Development and Marketing: https://xen.com.au/6-characteristics-viral-content/