USA USB: A Case Study In Internet Fame

by Evan Roth | September 14, 2008


8 Rules For Getting Famous On The Internet

Greetings from Hong Kong class! I’m hesitant to use examples of my own work for purposes of this class (and I promise not to make it a habit), but since I had incorporated many of the things that we will be talking about over the course of the semester, I thought it might be beneficial to see some evidence that these things that spew from our lips might actually be able to make our view counters go up. I want to go on record and say that I am not asking you to like this project, think it is good, clever, or have any redeeming values to society whatsoever. Similarly, in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t even receive all that much internet famo and my hopes are that you will be soon pulling more page views than this in in your sleep.

The project I am using here as an example was posted last Thursday (9/11/08) and was titled “USA USB – American Flag USB Memorial.” It was initially launched on the blog as well as my blog. Below I will quickly outline some of the strategies I used to increase the chances of it reaching more eyeballs.

1 – Timliness:
The internet is constantly telling you exactly what it wants, so listen up. A good rule of thumb is to combine the headlines of major media outlets (e.g., cnn, nytimes) with the headlines from web media outlets (e.g., digg, BoingBoing). In this case, I knew that 9/11-related stories were soon to be in the mass media news so I created a vaguely patriotic project and wrapped it up in a DIY USB hack (nerds love USB hacks). An even more popular project would have been a Sarah Palin DIY USB hack.

2 – Release Early In the Week, and Early In the Day:
It is an old marketers rule of thumb to release projects online early in the morning and early in the week. Who knows if this is true or not, but it makes sense that if the bored at work network is just sitting down to their desks at 9am then you better have your stuff online well before that. Most editors of major blogs know this as well and begin looking for content to publish well before the morning rush. My advice would be to have things live by 6:00am on the day you are interested in receiving traffic. I didn’t get this project posted until 8:30am, which is perhaps why it didn’t get posted on some sites (e.g., gizmodo) until the following day.

3 – Prepare Your Media for the Blog-o-sphere:
It is hard to tell if blogs are more likely to post an image, text, an animation or a video, so my advice is to give them everything. Blog editors are often busy (or perhaps just lazy), so release your work in a way that makes it effortless for them to take your content and re-post it. To seed the USA USB project, I released various forms of media including: a single strong image (in standard 500px width blog format), an animated gif (also at 500px width), an instruction set, and an embedable video (short and sweet at under 1 min). You can see my original post for the project here. In this case, the most popular re-blogged elements ended up being the Vimeo clip and the .jpg, but since you can never tell exactly what media people will pick up on it’s best give them properly formatted options.

4 – Blog Titles Are Poetry:
Your blog title is perhaps one of the most over looked and important elements in reaching a wide number of people. Often, the words contained in the title are more important than the project itself. In fact, if you are floundering for project ideas, experiment with thinking up juicy blog titles as a starting point. Spend time crafting your post and project titles; make it a forethought and not an after thought. For inspiration, read the titles of the top videos and posts on sites like Digg and Youtube. Personally, I am a huge fan of the title writing that goes on at, I swear Shakespeare has come back to life and is posting videos over there. Just from today’s headlines you can fine beautiful poems such as “In Your Face: A Montage”, “How Not To Jump Over A Bus”, “Hippies Wail for Dead Trees”, “Horse Gets Tired Of Annoying Owner”. I want to click on all of those real bad. The title I ended up using, “USA USB – American Flag USB Memorial”, while not having the immediate click-ability of some the previous examples, attempted to employ clever word puns (nerds love word puns) and clearly describes the project in 6 words or less. I also included potential secondary titles (such as “PC = “Patriotic Computer”, and “USB Flag Waving Ceremony”) in the body text to serve as alternative blog post titles for editors to pick up on. Poetry in the blog titles can also work against you as well however. I have to give props to for their poem titled “Worst USB Gadget Yet: Flag with Fan and Light”.

5 – Identify Media Outlets and Contact Them:
We are in the business of getting eyeballs, so get comfortable telling people about your work. Identify popular online media outlets that post work similar to your own and email them. Boing Boing has a suggest a link page… use it. Most blogs will have contact information listed for editors… email them. Don’t forget that email is blogging for one, so all of the same poetic rules that went into your blog title should also be evident in your private messages to editors. These are the people that are in the business of writing words, so pick yours carefully.

6 – Release Early And Often:
One day is all you need to make a project and put in on the internet. To make the USA USB project, I left the house at 11am to buy materials and by 8:30pm I had the project finished, complete with photo and video documentation, blog posts, project page, and emails sent out to editors. The more times you swing the bat, the more likely you are to knock it out of da park. For the purposes of this class, if you aren’t releasing 2-3 projects per week regularly then you aren’t serious about the famo.

7 – Make Something Worth Clicking On:
This is going to be a theme of the class this year, so get used to hearing it. Last year people found out that cleavage + rap music = famo. It was a brilliant discovery, but now that that mystery is solved, we want to focus on famo that can build over time into something you can be proud of. I’m not saying that the USA USB project is going to win the next ARS Electronica, but it also isn’t still frames of scantily clad Japanese models over 50 Cent beats (youtube loves scantily clad Japanese models over 50 Cent beats). It is possible, however, to use these famo guidelines to sneak un-popular ideas into unlikely places. In this project, for example, I was able to sneak a project based on sarcastic patriotism onto the front pages of many blogs on 9-11. If you make something worth clicking on and package it in a way that the internet can easily digest, then you up your chances of filtering content into a greater number of heads.

8 – Find Under-Tapped Portals to Famo:
As you can see from my failed attempt on digg, sometimes following all of these tips won’t gain you much. But if your project is really worth clicking on (or at least somewhat worth clicking on), then there must be a community of people out there for you somewhere. Digg used to be a playground for creative people seeking an outlet for eyeballs but lately it has turned into a very complex puzzle to crack, with much of a post’s popularity having to do more with who posted it rather than what it contains. Instructables, on the other hand, has a very large readership base of people that are willing to give your project a shot. There is the added step of packaging your work in the form of a How To guide, but this is a community that is rapidly expanding and worth speaking to. The USA USB post on instructables not only received a lot of views, but because it was posted to the featured section on the front page, it also ended up referring views back to the project page. If you look at Instructables readership in relation to other popular online media outlets, like Digg and Boing Boing, you can see that it is a serious player.

In the end, the projects popularity attained the following (listed in order of readership):
- (fontpage)
- MAKE blog

***Bonus Famo Tip***

Nerds Love Lists:
If I was going to post this article on Digg I would title it : “8 Rules For Getting Famous On The Internet.”

Categories: notes
Tags: | 5 Comments »

5 comments on “USA USB: A Case Study In Internet Fame”

  1. Kiteman:
    9-15-2008 at 2:37 pm #

    Clever as this is as an exercise in self-aggrandisement, I can’t say I’m impressed at your abuse of trust on Instructables.

  2. Bumpus:
    9-15-2008 at 5:18 pm #

    True that Kiteman.

  3. clie78404743:
    12-4-2009 at 4:50 am #

    ” .Hello,

    ‘Yes’, the Cart can be used for subscriptions.

    Majority of our merchants’ buyers are actually international. Sadly, not a lot of local users are accustomed to buying things online.
    It does not include a website (although we also offer that service separately). You can get any 3rd party to do the website and we will just integrate with them.


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