The Bacon Cat Law of Internet Popularity

I had a different post drafted for today. A serious post about German literature, linguistics and unusual narrative perspectives inspired by the awarding of the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize yesterday.

But then something happened. I went online and found that my website stats had literally exploded over night and that I had twice as many views as on my best day to date. And majority of those views went to a five months old post that had never gotten very many views before.

I investigated what had happened (chronicled in my previous post) and wrote a “Isn’t it strange?” post. Then my stats really exploded and suddenly I was getting more views in half an hour than in a very good normal day. By the end of July 11, I had gotten as many hits in a single day as in the previous two months combined. For July 12, I already have five times as many visitors as on my best day before yesterday and it’s only 6 a.m.

And the target of all that interest wasn’t one of the posts that I had long sweated over, but a post with a funny title that I had dashed off quickly five months before (at any rate, I suppose I did. I didn’t actually have much memories of that post until it suddenly became popular) and the follow-up, dashed off just as quickly.

In short, I experienced one of the great laws in internet communication in action. Let’s call it the

Bacon Cat Law of Internet Popularity

which says that

The most popular post you will ever make will not be a post over which you laboured long and hard nor will it be a post that has anything to do with what you normally blog about. Instead, it will be something completely out of the left field.

Shorter version:

You can’t predict which posts will become popular and which will languish in obscurity.

And what does a bacon cat have to do with all this?

Simple. Meet John Scalzi, multiple award winning science fiction author, current president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, film critic and pioneering blogger (he has been blogging since 1998!). In the corner of the Internet that I normally inhabit, John Scalzi is a very big name and his blog Whatever is a very popular site.

Like many writers, John Scalzi has a cat. That is, actually he has several. And in September 2006, he taped bacon to his cat for reasons best known to himself, took a photo and posted it on his blog. And the post went viral.

This post, a photo of bacon taped to a cat that isn’t even particularly funny (at least IMHO), became the most popular post John Scalzi ever made on his very popular blog, getting a multiple of the hits he normally gets. And it’s not a post about science fiction or writing or film or politics or anything he is usually known to blog about. It was a photo of bacon on a cat. Hence, the Bacon Cat Law of Internet Popularity.

John Scalzi explains his take on the unexpected bacon cat fame here, which is basically that you can never predict what will become popular.

Case in point: Very few people cared about my posts about the flood of plagiarism cases involving German politicians (not really all that surprising, since this is an English language blog and most of my readers are not German) until the latest plagiarism post was linked from the popular VroniPlag wiki which has broken most of the current plagiarism scandals. I consistently get more hits and search engine traffic to my posts about the critical reaction to Game of Thrones – a TV show I haven’t even seen, on account that it is not broadcast in my country and I’m not interested enough to locate it by other means – then I get on my reflections about things I have actually seen and read. My first breakout post on the new blog was about a curious observation I made in the schoolyard.

And now I am suddenly the world’s foremost authority on Strunk/White fanfiction, even though I don’t particularly care for Strunk and White a.k.a. The Elements of Style for the reasons outlined in this post, haven’t written any fanfiction since my late teens and have never written any slash at all. It’s the bacon cat law of internet popularity in action.

Besides, I strongly suspect that there is actual Strunk and White slash out there somewhere. But the really explicit slash is often hidden away in friendslocked livejournal posts and private archives far from the prying eyes of Google, because its readers and writers prefer it that way. So the thousands of people who typed “Strunk White slash” or variations thereof (you have no idea how many variations to that particular search string there are) into a search engine all landed here.

The writer in me now feels challenged to actually write some Strunk and White slash, while the academic in me insists that it would be a bad idea, considering I might have to explain it to a university hiring committee some day.

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17 Responses to The Bacon Cat Law of Internet Popularity

  1. Pingback: Cora becomes internet famous, the Japanese prime minister gives the straight facts and the future of fusion | ABC Buhlert

  2. Having encountered this phenomenon many times myself, I articulated it a while ago as Governo’s Law of Online Social Stimulus. :)

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  6. #net2camb blogging tip #4 – be aware of the bacon cat law of Internet popularity http://t.co/oUVivYMU

  7. Karen Thomas says:

    #net2camb blogging tip #4 – be aware of the bacon cat law of Internet popularity http://t.co/oUVivYMU

  8. #net2camb blogging tip #4 – be aware of the bacon cat law of Internet popularity http://t.co/oUVivYMU

  9. Net2Camb says:

    #net2camb blogging tip #4 – be aware of the bacon cat law of Internet popularity http://t.co/oUVivYMU

  10. @tim2040 says:

    On the other hand, if you tape a piece of toast buttered side up onto a cat’s back, you will have a machine of perpetual motion. Cats always land on their feet, buttered toast always lands butter side down. Two immutable laws of nature fighting each other. Come on science, get to it!

  11. Estara says:

    So this is where everyone comes from ^^
    http://www.meetup.com/net2camb/

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