Contagious Media Experiments
Hundreds of millions of bored office workers
sit in front of computers forwarding emails, blogging, IMing, and playing on social network sites.
These distracted corporate employees have accidentally created the Bored at Work Network (BWN) -- a
huge people-powered network with greater even reach than traditional networks like CNN, ABC,
or the BBC.
Solo and in collaborative groups, I create media for the BWN, including email forwards, joke web
sites, phone lines, and weblogs. These viral projects are examples of what I call "Contagious Media"
and this site documents five examples that have reached millions of people: the Nike email, the
Rejection Line, Black People Love Us, Fundrace.org, and the Contagious Media Showdown.
These experiments illustrate the practical application of concepts like emergence, 6-degrees of
separation, and tipping points. Each project starts small and spreads virally to millions of people
without any promotions, advertisements, or press releases. In the end, the mass media picks up the
story as a trend, and the project is able to permeate the culture at multiple levels.
This low-budget, bottom-up approach makes it possible to create a global cascade that begins with a
small group of friends and extends to the set of CNN or the Today Show. These Contagious Media
Experiments suggest new opportunities for artists, activists, companies, and entertainers in the
My current project is a company called BuzzFeed. Each day, we detect the newest, most interesting
things that appear on the BWN. Then we track them as they spread through word-of-mouth around the
Internet. You can see the latest by visiting BuzzFeed:
--Jonah Peretti (email)
A global email forward chronicling Nike's
refusal to print the word "sweatshop" on a pair of shoes reaches an estimated 10 million people and
culminates in a live debate on the Today Show about Nike's notorious labor practices.
Jonah Peretti and an anonymous Nike
Someone won't leave you
alone? Give them "your" number: 212-479-7990. The caller is officially rejected and has the
opportunity choose to speak to a comfort specialist, hear a sad poem from a kindred spirit, or cling
to the unrealistic hope that a relationship is still possible. Millions of people have used this
Jonah Peretti and Chelsea Peretti
with guest performers Dennis Quinn and Becky Poole.
The site appears to be the home
page of two white people bragging about having black friends, but is actually a satirical critique
of subtle forms of racism. The site provoked extensive debate on racial politics, on-line, in the
media, and around the dinner table and water cooler.
Chelsea Peretti and Jonah Peretti with Josh Kinberg
(design), Andrea Harner (photography), and guest performers Bobby Tisdale, Valerie Clift, Tchaiko
Omawale, Jose Germosen, Adeola Enigkoban, Forrest, and Dela.
The site allows the public to investigate the
political contributions of wealthy neighbors, business owners, and celebrities. Each of the
millions of searches helps assure political transparency and accountability.
The New York Times
, The Economist
The Atlantic Monthly
, The Associated Press
, The LA Times
, The Washington Post
, The New York Observer
, AM NY
Mike Frumin and Jonah Peretti with Ann Poochareon
(design), Nick Kroll and Cory Arcangel (funny graphics), and the members of Eyebeam's Contagious
Media Group and Creative Technology Group.
Eyebeam's Contagious Media Showdown was an open competition to see who can make
the most viral website. The event included workshops, a launch party, real time tracking of all
entries, and an award ceremony where the most popular projects received thousands of dollars in
The Showdown was developed by the Contagious Media
research group at Eyebeam including Jonah Peretti, Cory Arcangle, Ze Frank, Ann Poochareon, Paul
Berry and Mike Frumin.