On making it to What’s Hot on Google+: Autopsy of a viral story.

This morning I woke up at 6.30am to attempt to cover a story for EuroTech. The $25/ $35 computer called the Raspberry Pi was about to be launched. At the time of writing, the post I wrote achieved:

653 +1s



I write for the online tech magazine on a regular basis and enjoy it greatly. In part because I love technology and in part because I’m committed to write something on a daily basis, so might as well do it for a good cause: revealing that European technology is worthy of coverage.

Whoever followed the story knows that the Raspberry Pi servers could not cope with the demand. They had a fall-back plan and served up a static site in a few minutes, restoring access to everyone. Their suppliers were not as well-prepared: both sites crashed badly and about ten minutes after I published my story online I learned that the whole stock had been sold out to those who had actually made it to the servers.

I finished my story at around 7.30am and was following what was happening on Google+ and Twitter. The chatter was initially good-humoured, but it soon turned very bitter. I was shocked by this and wrote a quick blog post but did not publish it because I wanted to see how things would turn out. I thought that if it went away quietly it would have made no sense to bring it up again.

My story (posted on EuroTech’s Google+ page), however, did not die a quick death. People were searching for Raspberry Pi like rabid dogs and by around 10am it had reached a respectable 10 – 15 shares. Then +Max Huijgen shared it around that time and the shares started growing slowly but steadily. By midday our time, however I realised  that we had made it to “What’s Hot” on Google+ and since then the story has just kept going and going all over the site, and till this evening it is still featured on the What’s Hot page, even if it has been pushed down quite a bit.

People kept complaining and at around 12.30 I decided to push the “Post” button on my phone’s WordPress App, and linked to it quickly from my profile on Google+. It drove quite a bit of traffic here, but thankfully nowhere near what RaspberryPi.org was experiencing this morning (you can read my post here).

It had me wondering, though, about what makes a story go viral. I think it was relatively well written, especially when you consider that I churned it out so hastily. I also used the style we have developed at EuroTech (mostly thanks to Max’s expertise) to encourage speed-reading. What I think made the deal, however, was a combination of 3 important factors:

Subject matter that captures the imagination of readers: this is a computer that can perform most normal tasks being sold at 1/20th of the price of a normal computer;

– Timeliness: it is not only a case of being out there first, but of being there with fresh news when people are looking for it;

Connections: the story had already gained some mileage when I shared it, but it really caught on fire when Max (who is in many more circles than I am) re-shared it.

(#60 of 366 X 2012 project)

(P.S. #59 of 366 X 2012 project was published on Media Tapper: WikiTravel: An Online Community Success Story)

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