- 13 Mar 09, 09:16 GMT
"Well of course it isn't, you blithering idiot, you're abusing the language. You've completely misunderstood the term "viral" - and anyway this isn't even a blog."
That will, I'm sure, be the reaction of many of the weberati to my provocative headline. But I've been pondering over who decides what various web terms actually mean - and whether the increasing professionalisation of Web 2.0 and the social media (what on earth are they, you may ask) is diluting their original purity.
It's the Today programme "viral" that's got me thinking, of course. The project has been very well explained by Evan Davis, but the idea was to place a video on the web, and then sit back and watch it take off. Last time I looked, it had got nearly 18,000 views in two days - not so much a viral as a blockbuster - but then of course, Today has been cheating, hasn't it? Here are a few of the comments by those who've viewed the YouTube video:
"The idea of a Viral is that it spreads under its own "steam", not plugged by the author on a National Mainstream radio show."
"Well, I loved it, but it's not really a viral per se and it does not really stand on its own"
"This is very poor show indeed. Smacks of being forced and fake"
"Evan Davis rocks. I never thought I'd say that."
Well obviously the last point is true - but just how genuinely viral is this video? It has indeed been ruthlessly promoted, both on air on Wednesday morning - and by BBC people like me, Twittering and Facebooking about it. I've even stolen it to place on my Red Nose Day fundraising page - my own attempt to make my page go viral along with the Today clip.
So what is a viral video? Here's Wikipedia's verdict:
"A viral video is a video clip that gains widespread popularity through the process of internet sharing, typically through email or instant messaging, blogs and other media sharing websites." And here is the verdict of the Computer Encylopedia - whatever that is:
"A video that spreads quickly via the internet. It is often a short clip on a video sharing site such as YouTube that people reference in blogs, e-mails and instant messages."
Well, by those definitions, I think "Inside Today" hacks it. But the purists would say the essence of a "viral" is that it spreads in a slow, undercover manner, and that viral status can only be conferred by the democratic will of the people - in other words, the web community - and not by some media behemoth or shadowy marketing agency.
Too late, folks, I'm afraid - the marketing folks have seized on the "viral" idea like drowning men spotting a lifeboat. Just do a quick Google search for the word viral and on the front page you'll find nothing about infections, plenty about marketing - and the sponsored link is for what appears to be a professional viral video production company. The web purists have lost the battle - "viral" now just means another way to spend your advertising dollars.
So what about "blog"? Surely the whole idea was that blogging was a platform which gave a voice to millions of "ordinary" web users, the unheard who had no access to the mainstream media, and wanted to share their ideas, their prejudices, their jokes, with the world. But now those tired old voices we've all heard for too long - newspaper columnists, politicians, chief executives, and yes, BBC broadcasters - have all decided it's hip to blog. They're fooling themselves, of course, say the purists - they don't know what a blog is.
Back to that incredibly authoritative Computer Encyclopedia:
"Blog: A website that displays in chronological order the postings by one or more individuals and usually has links to comments on specific postings."
Well I think dot life ticks all of those boxes. But the purists are right to say that what we originally understood by the term "blog" - or "weblog" - was something extremely personal. That is now being diluted by the arrival of a new wave of bloggers with something to sell - whether it be a newspaper, a software company, or a broadcast news outfit.
So who is to decide what a blog is, or what viral means? Perhaps we need a National Institute of Web Terminology, appointed by the government to rule on these matters. Then again, perhaps not. Much better simply to let the people decide - go on, have a row about it on this blog. Or whatever you'd like to call it.
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