What are Viral Videos?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A man demonstrates the evolution of modern dance, two slackers rap about their Sunday afternoon activities, and an overweight teen practices with a fake Jedi sword: this is the world of viral videos. Viral videos can best be described as short video clips with unusually shocking or humorous themes often shared on social networks, video sharing websites and personal emails. Viral videos get their name because of the seemingly virus-like way they explode across the Internet landscape. What may start out as a private family video in Idaho could easily be featured on a Japanese website in literally hours or days.

Viral videos may contain shocking or extremely interesting themes, like sword dancing, that are shared on social networks.
Viral videos may contain shocking or extremely interesting themes, like sword dancing, that are shared on social networks.

In the days before Internet sharing and digital video uploads, the only way most people saw "viral videos" was through local television station feeds. Filmed footage of an unusual or humorous news event might be shown at the end of a local news show, and sometimes that same footage would be shown again and again on other stations receiving the same feed. Because there was no feasible method short of videotape to repeat those stories, there was little chance the clips would become "viral videos" in that sense.

People might share viral videos with co-workers during office hours.
People might share viral videos with co-workers during office hours.

With the advent of the Internet and the ability to record, edit and publish videos from a home computer came the rise of viral videos. Short video clips could now be sent through email attachments or even posted on websites. A number of would-be movie producers and actors took it upon themselves to create original content destined to become viral videos. Even established sketch comedy shows such as Saturday Night Live jumped on the viral videos bandwagon, producing several classic viral videos as "Lazy Sunday," "Laser Cats" and "Shredders," a mock commercial about lettuce.

Video file sharing websites such as YouTube have become well-known for their hosting and presentation of viral videos. Many of the highest-rated videos on YouTube are considered viral videos, including the "Evolution of Modern Dance" performance and the original "Mentos and Diet Coke" experiment. Some viral videos have a very short but memorable shelf life, while others continue to be popular for years. It can be hard to tell if a particular video will become viral or not, but there is no shortage of amateur and professional videographers willing to take the chance.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular EasyTechJunkie contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


@MrsPramm - I don't know about that. Some of the viral videos I've seen have been interesting only because of the culture and memes that have built around them, rather than because they are that interesting themselves.

The Star Wars Kid for example, is kind of a mean spirited thing to post and not something I'd want to watch on its own. I don't know how it got popular, except that some people are jerks. But some of the remakes have been really cool, because they aren't just based around making fun of someone.


@Mor - I've heard that theory before and I'm sure that if you trace back recent viral videos you will find that something similar happened.

But when people look for theories about why something becomes popular, I think they overlook the idea that sometimes something is just really good. I only share something if I think it's worth sharing. I think if a video is of a certain caliber (and I don't mean in terms of quality, just in terms of entertainment value) then it will eventually become a viral video, even if it doesn't happen right away.

Promotion makes it happen faster, but there are plenty of boring videos that have been promoted heavily and never caught on, because no one cared.


Apparently it really depends on a video managing to get in front of the right person for it to go viral. Some of the viral videos out there today sat unnoticed for a year or more until they were seen by someone who could be considered to be a "tastemaker". Tastemakers are really good at finding and promoting content that other people want to see and they usually have thousands or more connections through social media. So if even one of them decides to post a video they like, all those people they are connected to will see it and it has a chance to spread.

Without that chance, it might never be seen by anyone.

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