The term “viral” seems like one you can’t separate from the Internet. But the principle behind it — namely, sharing — is as old as the oldest stories.
The project will launch later this month and will use algorithmically comb through the most widely reprinted texts to appear in newspapers in the 19th century. From Wired:
The tech may have been less sophisticated, but some barriers to virality were low in the 1800s. Before modern copyright laws there were no legal or even cultural barriers to borrowing content, (project leader Ryan) Cordell says. Newspapers borrowed freely. Large papers often had an “exchange editor” whose job it was to read through other papers and clip out interesting pieces. “They were sort of like BuzzFeed employees,” Cordell said.
Cordell and his team will be looking for interesting patterns in the research. Among them: how the development of the transcontinental railroad affected the way people shared stories, and from which cities the most-shared articles originated.
Cordell’s existing research has shown some similarities to some of today’s viral hits.
Some of the texts that went viral in the 1800s aren’t all that different from the things people post on Facebook today, Cordell says. Political rants were popular, for example, as were recipes and travel stories.
Poems were also popular. Here’s a visual showing of how one poem — Charles MacKay‘s “The Inquisitor” — spread in lockstep with the railroad.
We’re still talking years rather than nanoseconds, of course, those suckers. Now, go tweet this article.
Read more at Wired.
photo credit: NASA on flickr