Commentary

Viral Videos: Just Too Familiar

I was reading a positively daft post on Yahoo titled ”It’s Complicated: When Your Partner Doesn’t ‘Like’ Facebook” -- a social media lament in which writer Janet Kornblum confesses she can’t talk to her mate about stuff passed around on Facebook, including viral videos, because he doesn’t go there. What to do?

The things that people think too hard about fascinate me.

Indeed, thinking too hard about unimportant “problems” like that would seem to be a recipe for some videos that go viral. I started thinking about that as I read a posting on Medium.com that asked a provocative question in its headline: “How Defensible Is Your Content?”

David Cohn, senior director at Advance Innovation Group, who wrote the essay, used BuzzFeed as an example of the dilemma. He says that everybody who wants to has now copied BuzzFeed’s signature video idea, to the point that the Internet is saturated with look-alikes.

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He defines that type of video like this: “People with X background do something from Y background’s culture and comment on it.”

I think that’s a pretty perfect summation. I didn’t know to hang it on BuzzFeed, but as a leading maker of the light, basically irrelevant but mildly entertaining short video, that certainly sounds like them.

Cohn used that definition to define a video, done by another site, called, “Americans Try Latino Sodas.” 

What follows are short clips of Us drinking It and mostly not liking It much at all. But you know that from the title.

It looks like BuzzFeed. But it’s not. It’s just a formula of sorts. There’s no “concept” to follow, but there’s history to guide you, as in 2012’s “How Old People Use The Internet.”

Cohn explains that, presumably, there are ways to create videos that go viral, or people who like to this so. But when everybody does it, you’re headed for trouble.

That problem doesn’t sound too unfamiliar. “Saturday Night Live,” has been competing with itself for decades. And while I’m not fully schooled on the history of automatic coffeemaker, it seems Mr.Coffee created a monster category and is now only one of the gang on the shelf. Even on a smaller level it is common: Two women — not a big lighting company — introduced what we commonly call holiday-season “icicle lights” at a trade show in 1996. They were run over. Now those lights are sold under lots of different names by a lot of different companies.

The essay Cohn wrote says an understandable conclusion would be for BuzzFeed, or any site I’d guess, to become the best copier of an idea that’s just bubbling up. 

“As long as there is niche Internet culture, their will always need to be a clearinghouse for it,” he says. “This means Buzzfeed’s role isn’t in ‘owning’ any style. It’s in appropriating whatever internet fad the kids come up with next. They are the hipsters of the Internet in this sense — doing stuff just before it becomes uncool, but not early enough to say they added anything of real value to the culture other than blowing it up.”

He’s not saying that’s “defensible.” But just based on any number of television fads that went from OK (“Survivor”) to screamingly, almost unlawfully awful (“Here Comes Honey Boo Boo”), it is not anything new.


pj@mediapost.com
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