The lifecycle of video viral-ity as demonstrated by the Harlem Shake

We're now at the Jump the Shark moment with latest video trend

Chances are that by now you've heard of the latest video trend hitting the Internet - the Harlem Shake.

This one is a bit hard to explain (go here for a full explainer), but basically it's a video where one person in a crowd full of people is dancing alone, and then when the music stops and starts again, you cut to a video of everyone dancing.

Since some of the earlier videos appeared on the Internet, we've now seen an explosion of other videos that are trying to imitate the concept, something we've previously seen with videos related to "Call Me Maybe" or "Gangnam Style", as well as memes like the "S**t (People) Say" meme from last year.

These videos tend to follow the same pattern, so we're here to provide you with the different stages of a viral video trend:

Stage 1: Introduction

Every viral video has to start somewhere - it's basically the original video that's created. Sometimes it can take years to fester in the deep tunnels of YouTube, or sometimes it quickly gets seen by influencers and imitators.

Here are the first two Harlem Shake videos, the ones that started it all or got the viral ball rolling, so to speak:

Stage 2: Growth

Once the original video starts racking up the page views, other video creators decide that they can do a similar video and ride this gravy train to the video view bank. They add a different twist. Sometimes it's putting the video in a different location (see the Harvard baseball team's Call Me Maybe on a bus video), or sometimes it's adding a different theme that's understandable to a niche audience (see "Gandalf Style"). The creation and generation of more and more of these parody videos of the original help fuel continued growth of the virility, reaching more audiences and causing normal people to go, "WTF is this?"

Most of the time, the people creating these versions are college students or others with lots of free time, or those that can move quickly to create a new version and get it uploaded and promoted.

An offshoot of this trend is to take video properties from other brands and re-edit them to fit the meme. For the Harlem Shake, this is where we see the "My Little Pony" version or the "Peanuts" version, based on footage from other TV shows, but now fitting the current trend:

Stage 3: Maturity

At this point, this is where the trend is really exploding, and we start to see corporations and other "squares" jump in with their versions. We start to see company-sponsored versions, which are less imaginative and less funny than the original, but still might appeal to some of their audiences.

The reason that most companies are involved at this point is because they usually need to hold meetings to discuss the creation of the video, send memos out to interested parties, reserve a conference room (or outside space) and get the approval of either the HR department, legal or marketing. That takes time, people!

For example, here are two videos of the Harlem Shake, courtesy of Intel and Google:

Stage 4: The backlash

After something gets popular, of course the haters then have to come in, declaring the original trend video stupid, or snarking about all of these parody videos that are being created.

It's a bit of an overlap, because as they're commenting or creating backlash videos, new videos are also being created, so it's tough to tell exactly when this kicks in.

In the case of the Harlem Shake, we got a pretty good indication of the backlash stage when Freddie Wong created this video:

Stage 4: Decline (or death)

This is the point of no return. Basically, whenever the Today Show (or, in some cases, Regis Philbin) does a news report or tries to create one of their own, the video trend is officially dead. Any videos that get created from this point on are officially marked forever as "behind the times".

We're currently at that point with Harlem Shake, here's the painful version from the folks at Today: (you can also tell you're in Stage 4 because they're still relying on a non-YouTube video platform for embedding)

Now, many people may still wonder, "What the heck is this Harlem Shake thing?" (at lunch, a co-worker asked me). At this point, you just shake your head and try to get them onboard the next viral video trend. Chances are, one is already starting (tell them to check Reddit or Tumblr to try to catch the next train).

Keith Shaw also rounds up the best in geek video in his ITworld.tv blog. Follow Keith on Twitter at @shawkeith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

Watch some more cool videos:

Mash-up gold: Marty McFly meets The Doctor

Squee alert: Elder Scrolls Online announces beta

Take a tour of the International Space Station

Is there a Nerd Culture War going on?

Science Thursday: The Momentum Misconception

Insider Tip: 12 easy ways to tune your Wi-Fi network
Editors' Picks
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies