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)

Morbid Circus Act

I must admit it. I am intrigued by the double murder that happened on the first morning of the year. Just for the sake of anyone not living in Malta, this horrific happening does tick all the right boxes in terms of morbid fascination. I have watched countless* episodes of C.S.I and don’t think I have ever seen anything similar.

Essentially, what seemed to be a home invasion/ robbery gone wrong turned out to be something which is at yet uncovered. In summary, though, the details we do know are:

  • Person A somehow entered the penthouse of person B at around 6.30am on New Year’s day.
  • Person B was in bed with his wife in a room with their twin babies, who was sleeping.
  • The next fact we know is that both person A and person B were found dead of stab wounds in the kitchen of the apartment.
  • Both men appeared to have killed each other, and the only weapons used were two steak knives from the apartment’s kitchen.
  • The wife and children were (physically) unharmed and the wife said she remembers the husband saying something along the lines of “not in front of my kids”.
  • Person A is a young man who had spent the night working in a bar, then in another bar until he was asked to leave.
  • Person B, who is married to the daughter of one of Malta’s most powerful businessmen, spent the evening at home with his family, drove his parents home and headed in for an early night.

There was very little hard evidence released officially to the press and most of the rest of the information came from Person B’s father-in-law.

The second part of the nightmare, however, started the following morning in what passes for press on this God-forsaken island. First of all everyone raided both people’s Facebook profiles for pictures – including one of Person B with his twins in his hands.

Next the conjecture started. I can fully understand that the whole population turned into Horatio Caine for the week, but the press should have had enough sense to only report what was actually happening.

The police said they ruled out robbery, The Times (of Malta) interpreted that as “Person A went into the house with the intention to murder.”

MaltaStar, in some of the worst English to hit the internet, suggested that the men were in a relationship. No sources, just that.

Another Maltese newspaper suggested the wife was involved, claiming that she must have finished off the intruder.

Where has journalism gone? Where are the good old days of only publishing a story when you have one? Where is the respect for the families of the deceased? Why does the Maltese dedicate hundreds of column inches and hastily produce TV programmes about the event when there is absolutely no clarity into it?

It is natural to be intrigued by such a horrific event – and I can understand why people would want to know the truth as soon as possible. This, in fact is why CSI is exciting to watch, but in CSI we get closure at the end of the day, usually forty minutes after the “murder”. If people cannot see the difference between fact and fiction, then I think we need to start educating them.

The press, for starters, should be the ones to be advocating caution and restraint. But then again caution and restraint does not push stats up – so expecting this to change any time soon is an impossible dream.

On a separate, but related note, I was shocked by the level of English being used in Maltese papers nowadays. I remember a time when at the very least The Times had impeccable grammar and was relatively free from mistakes. In my research for this post I stumbled upon some of the worst English I have ever read (though not from The Times, to be fair).

*Gosh, I attempted a quick count there and it was shocking too – around 600 episodes if you include C.S.I. Miami and C.S.I. New York.

(#6 of 366 X 2012 project)