Sunday, November 2, 2008

Just how do those "viral videos" go viral?

Most people who've been paying even passing attention to the 2008 Election understand that online video has changed the way campaigns, the media, and voters communicate and learn about politics. Most people can point to a few of their favorite "viral videos" (to use a worn-out term) that have propped up or pushed down a particular candidate over the past two years. But how much do we really know about what causes a video to rise to the top and gain national attention?

The first answer is always content. Compelling content rises to the top, pure and simple. Just because the media ecosystem is more democratic than ever before doesn't mean that good content doesn't still matter - it does. Look at any of the flagship YouTube videos of this election - Yes We Can, HuckChuckFacts, We Need McCain, Obama's speech on race, Vote Different, Rev. Wright, etc. - and each video is compelling in for it's own reason.

But how does a compelling video spread? There's some interesting research being done in this area, and one of the more compelling tools we've come across is over at a new site called Shifting the Debate. The site, created by some smart developers in New York, tracks the link-outs of YouTube videos in the blogosphere. Using a unique and intuitive scatter plot graph that delineates between conservative and liberal blogs, the site tracks YouTube views over time based on linkages from blogs (not unlike the basic "Pagerank" system by which Google's founders started their little search engine project 10 years ago).

Head over to the site and take a look - and then compare the results with the "most viewed" pages in our News and Politics section on YouTube. Shifting the Debate shows how many blogs are linking to the days top videos. And you can see just how hard each party's bloggers work to promote videos that favor their candidate in their networks. Of course, we're not talking about a simple cause-effect relationship here - a video rising in "most viewed" on YouTube puts it on the radar of bloggers, who then link out to it, building that buzz in a positive feedback system that pushes the most compelling content up to the top. The tool at Shifting the Debate also lets you filter by time, so you can check the longevity of videos in the blogosphere.


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