I cut my hair to make the wings
January 16, 2014 8:55 PM   Subscribe

Stan Alcorn on Digg attempts to answer why audio almost never goes viral. Alcorn outlines a rare exception in how an audio interview of two girls and the "Worst Haircut Ever" went from a coffee shop show called “The Ear Cave” in Hartford to a one line link on Metafilter made several months later by gauche, to ultimately landing on gawker where it ratcheted up 1.3 million views. posted by zenon (16 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
on Digg

.... hunh.

Anyway, back to the piece. I think that the web is a much more visual interface than the usual audio devices: radios, mp3 players, etc. So most browsing is done on screens, which will privilege visual content.
Next, I notice that most of my audio media is consumed while I'm engaged in something else: driving, running, or otherwise engaged in physical tasks. Yet when I watch a video, that's prety much what I'm doing. Visual stimuli have an immediacy that sound lacks.
Finally, just because audio links aren't getting shared in a quick-burn way doesn't mean they aren't consumed. I think for most users, audio files are more permanent than video - mainly due to size constraints. I download the podcasts I've found out about from MeFi, but I've never captured a cat video.
Transmitted audio is an older medium than transmitted video. We organically copied and shared songs long before we did the same to television shows and movies. It's a slow burn.

Or you could make the argument that, since audio has historically been first, the walled garden of podcasts is one possible future for internet video. YouTube and a real name policy, subscription-based services for video, locked-down proprietary devices to watch them on - and purchases in an app store.

Audio sits in the middle. Text is fast - I can read a speech faster than I can listen to one. But more subtlety is contained in audio, while even more information is carried in video. Perhaps audio sits in a bad spot - not fast enough for some, not information-rich enough for others?

Radio is having a very hard time adapting to the internet, that much is true.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:22 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

audio never goes viral?
posted by Ironmouth at 9:28 PM on January 16, 2014

I hate how video is encroaching on text. If you have something to say, unless you're illustrating it with animations or doing some sort of amusing dance, there is no circumstance in which I'd rather spend five minutes watching you mumble verbal fills into a webcam rather than thirty seconds reading the same amount of text.

Also, watching a video means pausing whatever music I'm listening to, and ugh, fuck that.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:36 PM on January 16, 2014 [11 favorites]

I can watch a video or look at a picture or read text at work.

Its much harder to listen to things.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:37 PM on January 16, 2014

What about that whole Christian Bale freakout thing, wasn't that just audio?
posted by mannequito at 9:50 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

so there's these things called songs...
posted by es_de_bah at 10:05 PM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

I took a social media class that had a viral aspect as part of it. It made me realize the following, which I believe is summarized essentially in the FPP. It's easy to spread the common cold... you sneeze. It's a bit harder to spread mono, you kiss. It's even harder to spread AIDs, you screw. You look at the success of each disease and you see the difference. If something is easy to spread (a video on Facebook, for example) it spreads. If something is harder to spread (let's say one image among many on Reddit) it spreads slower. If something has a 1 in 1,000 chance of spreading (say a Soundcloud file among a select online community of 500 interested users) then it spread slowest, but maybe has the hardest grasp.

So here's the sad part about this new media economy we live in. It's easily comparable to a disease. Imagine your life, as an (ahem) "NEW MEDIA CREATIVE" as less a person, but rather, some sort of vector of infectious disease. Perhaps this actually gives us some sort of before unknown perspective on what it means to be a virological entity (cold comfort, I think). What makes your particular genetic strain spread the fastest? I suppose if you can divorce yourself of your humanity the most effectively then this becomes a minor obstacle to overcome. Well then, ganbare, namaste, proust.
posted by codacorolla at 11:06 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by PenDevil at 12:26 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is something that public radio has been grappling with for years. Organizations with resources like NPR try to post their audio with what amounts to an accompanying written copy, in the hopes that people will share the written part of it. Shows like This American Life and our show simply try to make the audio as central as possible (with short descriptions of each episode and not much more), and hope for the best.

I do think there can be very successful pieces--the ones that people seek out and everyone seems to have heard. But this happens in a sort of siloed world of podcast listeners, and the bar for success as measured by podcast downloads is much lower than that of a viral video. An podcast episode with a million downloads, even by the standards of the most popular public radio shows would be an insane unprecedented success. A viral video can rack up 50 million views in a couple days.
posted by Alex Goldman at 2:04 AM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Because of viral audio, we're no longer forced to buy Jimmy Dean sausage in a puny little twelve-ounce package. Thanks, Randy Taylor. We owe you one.
posted by Brackish at 5:35 AM on January 17, 2014

Another (hilarious) example of audio going viral showed up on This American Life a while back, but it wasn't internet viral. I wish I'd thought to mention this to Stan when he interviewed me for the article, but it wasn't in my head at the time.
posted by gauche at 5:37 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I listen to audio almost never when I'm at the computer. I listen to audio when I drive, go to the gym, or walking somewhere. One of my greatest frustrations is clicking a link, finding an interview, but then no transcript. I close the tab and move on. Bah humbug.
posted by Atreides at 6:52 AM on January 17, 2014

That haircut bit is hilarious! And as the author himself says:

Because audio doesn’t go viral.

Except that sometimes, it does.

So he himself admits that saying audio never goes viral is wrong. It seems toward the end he redefines "viral" to mean "viral on purpose". Advertising or other professionally made content put up with the intention of gaining wide distribution, as opposed to something somebody found interesting enough to share that touched a nerve with the internet as a whole and spread like a... well, you know.

He really only begins to touch on the structural reasons video is the preferred viral medium these days. The internet is usually accessed on video monitors, and video recording and transmission has become cheap and widely available. Before that happened, viral audio was a real thing. In the 60's and 70's you had Redd Foxx party records (potentially offensive to modern listeners) that were bootlegged and passed around (in high school a friend got us his parents copies on 8-track). In the 90's we listened to the Jerky Boys. And the early days of the internet were full of viral audio. A number of instances are cited in the article, but I am partial to this gem. Never come out of a fucking up-tempo record to do a goddamn death dedication!

But because video is the preferred internet medium now and YouTube is the easiest place to find it, viral audio is out there still, just with a picture sitting there while it plays on YouTube.
posted by TedW at 7:20 AM on January 17, 2014

speaking of digg, remember YTMND? That was basically an audio version of AdviceAnimals
posted by rebent at 9:20 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Of course that audio went viral, because it is the CUTEST THING EVER. It destroys your puny cat videos with 86x10^14 megajoules of concentrated cuteness focused into a single laser pulse of adorability.
posted by msalt at 10:34 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not to be missed is the fact that many many viral audio bits are included/linked in the article, perhaps the most put together in a single place:
Dramatic re-enactment of a kids story about a bear and a mouse and some advice on dealing with being scared- the Scared is scared.

An obviously Canadian kid oversharing his dietary issues (references to pickle chips and poutine give it away).

An interpretive reading of LOTS of emotional texting originally from buzzfeed This is what crazy looks like via text message where lovely New Zealand accents abound. Note: anonymous lonely person having bad day is mocked for trying too hard.

A voicemail to the boss turns into narration of a traffic accident that devolves... you'll wish you coulda been there man.
posted by zenon at 11:17 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

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