Update!!: Jørgen was wrong.
Oh Jørgen! Why do you doubt the amazingness of the internet?! You are so crazy like these guys!!
Have you heard of One Million Giraffes? It’s one of my favorite kinds of viral/social experiments on the web. Pointless, but not really. Simple, but executed at a scale that makes it complex. Fun, and with a connection to the tangible world – that is, not entirely digital. And most importantly, it takes full advantage of the third wave of disruption that is currently occurring – the advent of nested acceleration platforms on top of the web as an infrastructure.
Ola Helland started this art/geek project after a conversation with his friend Jørgen that ended up with a bet (for 1 case of beer) that Ola couldn’t collect one million giraffes by 2011:
My friend, Jørgen, doesn’t believe I can collect one million giraffes by 2011. I’m gonna prove him wrong, but I need your help. You can create your giraffes in any way you like, but not on a computer and no store bought objects. You must create your giraffes yourself! Click here to read why.
Ooooooohhhh!!!! That Jørgen!!!
I saw Ola Helland give a great Ignite presentation at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco in early May talking about the project, and asking for more giraffes of course. At the time I thought that it was an awesome and ingenious project, but I couldn’t figure out what to say about it beyond that – i.e. why to share it aside from the fact that it’s cool and you should make a giraffe because there’s beer at stake. And then something happened… I got this tweet from Ola:
At the W2E Ignite, Ola set up a station in the back of the room for people to draw their own giraffes to contribute to the project. I took the opportunity and drew a ‘Zebra Giraffe’ in reference to a joke that Ola made during his presentation, and being a good citizen of the interwebs, I tagged it with my Twitter handle (@supnah).
When I got the above tweet from Ola’s @1000000giraffes Twitter account my first thought was that it was some sort of script Ola had written to collect twitter accounts in some way and send them tweets that would send them back to the onemilliongiraffes.com website so that they might contribute a new giraffe or spread the word about the project. Maybe he had collected all of the users who had tweeted about W2E, or about the giraffes, or some other way he was identifying users to reach out to, but imagine my surprise when I clicked on the link and in fact it was my giraffe. OK – of course it could be my giraffe. I did tag it with my Twitter handle after all, but then it was more the fact that technologies sitting on top of the platform of the internet had made it so easy to connect all of the dots in these interactions.
There’s been some discussion lately about accelerators – in particular Facebook as an accelerator. Michael Arrington of Techcrunch wrote a post about the third disruptive wave of computing. He marks the first wave as the personal computer, the second as the internet, and now the third is the infrastructure of accelerators on top of accelerators. The internet is an accelerator, and then geo services, social graph, Facebook, Twitter and other services are all secondary, nested accelerators speeding things up exponentially.
People may say that location or the social graph is the next big thing, and that may be true in some ways, but it’s only because these services are being accelerated through other platforms that are accelerated by the web itself. Foursquare spreads awareness through other platforms – even though Foursquare is a big service, it is hypercharging its growth by federating its updates, messages, content, badges, etc. out through Twitter and Facebook (as are its competitors like MyTown and Gowalla).
Zynga, for all its public protesting and threats about leaving Facebook, needs platforms like Facebook to spread and grow at the ridiculously fast pace that it has been experiencing. And as seen with the one million giraffes project, it’s not just financial propositions that are benefitting. In the 90’s this project would have been an email chain letter – and maybe a website. But today it is a distributed movement. The website serves as a hub of information, a base of operations, and a focal point for attention, but the word is being spread through platforms like Twitter, Ignite, and personal social graphs that individual users are now able to manage because of these platforms.
Smart developers, like Ola, take advantage of this by making their content extremely shareable and relevant to how the users want to interact with it. Every giraffe has a unique URL, and the website repository is searchable across multiple attributes including name, age, city and country, making it possible for users to find their own giraffes. In fact, here’s a link to the 159 giraffes collected at W2E.
This kind of smart design on top of platforms that allow the creator to reach out directly to contributors (as Ola did with me) increases engagement, loyalty and shareability of a meme. There’s much more here than just “liking” a giraffe through Facebook or retweeting – check out the navigation icons at the bottom of the screen on onemilliongiraffes.com – you’ve got:
- A playable game
- Awesome mosaic giraffes made from other giraffes
- Statistics and trend numbers about contributions per day
- A map/geo mashup of site visitors and giraffe contributors
- A blog, and more
Users can also submit via direct upload, linking to another place on the web where you’ve put your giraffe, email, snail mail, Twitter and Facebook.
This project is being accelerated through any and every means, and that along with some elbow grease, is what has gotten Ola (at present) to 833,646 giraffes, only needing 166,354 more. So take note. Taking advantage of the web and the platforms built upon it as nested accelerators isn’t the future – it’s the present, and if you’re not thinking this way today then you’re already behind.
Now go make a giraffe of your own. It’ll be one in a million.