On Virality (The Quality of Spreading Ideas Virally)
Brian Gongol

The next Nobel Peace Prize should go to whomever can figure out how to make The Economist-quality content spread virally like the linkbait they post on Buzzfeed. Seriously. Technology is advancing with dizzying speed (drones in the sky...instantaneous social media in the hands of people with no judgment...designer babies on the horizon), and it's not just applicable on the personal or consumer level -- it's forcing a lot of tough questions to be asked of nation-states and businesses as well. We need to know whether North Korea is serious about launching a nuclear war. We need to know whether Israel and Iran (or Israel and Syria) are about to get into a shooting match. We need to know whether big banks are meeting the right "stress tests". But instead, we're being baited relentlessly into clicking ripped-off and regurgitated articles on duckfaces and Beyonce photos.

There's something to be applauded about the way The Onion routinely gets satire brilliantly right in a way that actually ends up offering news analysis and criticism that's often better than what's found in sincere, serious news outlets. But getting meaningful content virally exciting really needs to go much farther -- there are volumes of things a person needs to understand today that our counterparts of 100 years ago didn't. Retirement then meant having enough kids that they could support you if you outlived your working life. Now, a basic understanding of mortgages, life insurance, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and options (or at least the dangers thereof) -- plus investment vehicles like IRAs, SEP plans, and the 401(k) are all necessary just to function. Libel way back then meant not calling out your neighbor in front of everyone on the town square; the newspaper publishers generally took care of preventing people from accidentally defaming others in print. Today, the number of social-media errors appearing daily, ranging from the stupid to the outrageous, is exhausting...not to mention the accidental incidents that happen because cameras are everywhere. High technology then was a party-line telephone and -- perhaps -- a radio receiver. Now, you'd better know your adware from your spyware from your viruses from your Trojan horses from your honeypot sites from your phishing from your spoofing from your spamming. And that's before you're asked, as a voter, to be wise enough to know a little about net neutrality, interstate commerce and sales taxes, and whether it's safe to build a pipeline to carry oil from the tar sands across the Great Plains.

It's not that these questions are too hard; it's that they aren't being driven, delivered, or discussed with the skills that are make people go crazy for cat videos. That needs to be addressed. For, as little as the linkbaiters actually create for society, they're very good at getting people to read things and stick with them. Now, the people with good ideas need to adopt and co-opt their tricks in order to get what's important out into the public consciousness.