Understanding Susan Boyle and Other Internet Sensations

April 27, 2009 06:30 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
On the Web, it only takes minutes for a video, story, picture or personality to attract worldwide attention. But just what does it take to become an online sensation?

The Power of the Web

With a voice that few seemed to expect, Susan Boyle catapulted to fame on “Britain’s Got Talent” with her powerful rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream,” from the musical “Les Miserables.”

The YouTube video of Boyle’s performance has been viewed by tens of millions around the globe. But such sensations aren’t always made in a day. In fact, Chris Abraham of the social media marketing firm Abraham Harrison LLC notes that “it takes about ten years of suffering hard work to become an overnight sensation.”

However, the Web can help shorten that time frame. Experts have studied social media for some time, trying to understand what makes it tick.

Social media is redefining the way people and companies around the world communicate with one another by dissolving geographical and cultural boundaries,” writes Knowledge@SMU. The site quoted Akanksha Goel, the new editor-in-chief of Stuff Singapore in 2007, as saying, “Social media has shortened the distance for a message to be communicated between the source and the receiver. The information highway today is no longer about command and control as much as it is about connecting and collaborating.”

But that hasn’t necessarily helped people understand what makes a site like YouTube so successful. In 2007, Alex Weprin of Broadcasting & Cable wrote, “The point is, as much as we like to think we know why YouTube is a success, or what its effects are on our society, the truth is a little more humbling: We don’t know.”
As for social networking sites, they have become so popular as a means of connecting and sharing information that they have even “eclipsed email in global reach,” notes Steve Donohue of Contentinople.
Web video sites remain popular as well. Donohue cited a recent report by Nielsen indicating that, since 2003, the amount of time Americans devote to video sites has grown by 339 percent.

Related Topic: Recent online sensations

Cute Things Laughing (and Falling Asleep)

In the cuteness category, Nick Malis has worked to lighten up people’s day by devoting a site to videos of “cute things laughing.” The laughs caught on tape at this site (primarily baby laughs) are ranked by “cuteness” and “merriment.” Malis also has another site, Cute Things Falling Asleep.

Pimp This Bum

Sometimes, a good cause and the right name can go a long way toward making an online hit. When a father and son duo, the Dolans, decided to start a Web site to highlight homelessness, they knew they needed a face for their project. They found it in Tim Edwards, a homeless man who needed a fresh start on life.

Calling their site Pimp This Bum! (a name Edwards says made him laugh), the Dolans drew attention to their cause and raised enough funds and public awareness of Edwards’ situation to help him get to a rehab facility and start looking for a job. They are working to help others now, according to KARE-11 in Minnesota.

Reference: Iconic videos


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