Anatomy of a Viral Video

A look at how an infamous YouTube video spread across the country

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There's a special place in the Internet Hall of Fame for Miss Teen South Carolina, whose bumbling, incoherent response to a question about American education is currently 27th on YouTube's all-time most-watched list. Or at least she definitely features prominently in the hame of fame's blooper reel. The video of her blunder, viewed 17 million times, is a textbook case of a "viral" video--one that spreads exponentially through the population in a short time.

To help decipher the complex dynamics behind these videos, the online demographics company broke out the video's viewership by state and by day. It then created a slide show, below, that maps the video's growth and decline over seven days. (The image automatically scrolls through the days, beginning on Aug. 25, 2007.) This particular video took four days to peak, following an elegant bell curve of rise and decline in popularity. For a day-to-day bar graph showing that curve, Compete has one in its blog post on the map.

Without the benefit of the raw data, at least this seems evident: New Jersey (which gave us MTV) was ahead of the game on this one, showing the greatest density on the first day.
Miss Teen South Carolina should appreciate it. After all, she really loves maps.
--Chris Wilson
Reprinted with permission from