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September 19, 2006

"Tape Bacon to the Cat" - Chronicle of a Viral Event

At 10:31 am on September 13, John Scalzi posted a to do list on his blog, the Whatever, which included the item "Tape bacon to the cat". In response to commenters suggesting that it was not, in fact, possible to tape bacon to a cat, Scalzi produced several photographs of bacon taped to his (somewhat bewildered) cat.

Less than two hours after the images were posted to Scalzi's blog, Fark had linked to the post in question, more than doubling the amount of traffic that the Whatever receives on a daily basis, and Scalzi's post with the pictures had become the 4th most linked-to post in the blogsphere for that day, as well as the top link produced by a Google search for "bacon cat". In response to this surge of traffic, Scalzi posted a demotivators-style poster with a tagline that read:

Awards? Success? Fame? Perhaps one day they will be yours. But the fact is, nothing you'll ever do will be more popular than that online picture of bacon taped to a cat.

There are several things worth noting about this momentary internet phenomenon, not the least of which is the speed with which it occured. While the bacon cat incident didn't involve anyone's IP, rapid responses to viral events will be vital if the free publicity they generate is to be successfully exploited by rights-holders. Another is that its charm seems to have stemmed from its novelty - as Scalzi notes in another post, it seems as if he was the first person to tape bacon to their cat and post the resulting photographs on the internet. The rapid expansion of the event was probably due to both the humor value of the post and Scalzi's pre-existing readership passing on the link to other people, and its lack of legs was probably due to Scalzi's disinterest in continuing work in the cat/bacon mashup arena, as well as the fundamentally transitory nature of the audience's engagement. Seeing pictures of bacon taped to a cat is funny for a few seconds, but it doesn't inspire a desire to more pictures of bacon taped to cats, though the same is not necessarily true of other viral events.

Ultimately, it would be easy to dimiss the bacon cat saga as a random internet event, but such minor examples of how viral events are spawned, expand, and die can be useful in understanding how larger-scale viral events function.


terrifying theme.


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