The Beginning of Viral Content

Head to the local library and you’ll find shelves and shelves and shelves, piled high with books filled with information about anything and everything. Pull out a book from past decades and you’ll discover classical approaches to solving a problem or meeting a particular need. However, when it comes to the history of viral content, the backstory and the future of this phenomenon reside in one place: the Internet.

As viral videos continue to become more engrained in our culture and our daily lives, the best way to understand how to take advantage of this trend is to understand how it came to be.



The short film, “The Spirit of Christmas,” launched the careers of two relatively unknown filmmakers, Matt Stone and Trey Parker. The duo initially passed the video around on VHS tapes until some loyal friends made the revolutionary decision to upload it on the Internet. From this one video, two major sensations were born: South Park and viral video.


Despite that the first real viral video came 10 years earlier, the true foundation of the video sharing explosion was a result of three ex-PayPal masterminds—Chad Hurley, Jawed Karim and Steve Chen—who, unbeknownst to them, created one of the world’s most popular websites in February 2005: YouTube.

The first ever YouTube video posted to the site came two months later on April 23, 2005. The 19-second video featuring co-founder Jawed Karim at the San Diego Zoo is as simple as it gets, but it has still managed to rack up 15,678,999 views.


YouTube was able to become an integral aspect of viral video because the site itself became a viral sensation a little over a year after it was launched. By July of 2006, there were more than 65,000 new videos being uploaded to YouTube on a daily basis with 100 million views per day.

The site became an even greater social sharing platform on November 13, 2006, when Google purchased YouTube. The global recognition that the Google name added to YouTube was evidenced by the huge leap in viewership that its videos experienced.

One of the best examples of this new level of virality was the dancing compilation video of the ages, “Evolution of Dance,” which is still going strong 274,293,558 views later.


A fan favorite—seven years and 749,777,911 views later—a minor oversight in forgetting to mark the video as “private” created one of the most memorable moments in video history, “Charlie Bit My Finger Again.”


The top viral video of 2008 is also one of the greatest freak-outs by a news anchor.


Uploaded on January 30, the 125,308,769 video views prove that kids are hilarious—and humor is a major component to virality.


The ultimate branded viral video from Old Spice is at 48,910,428 views and counting.


Possibly the most hated and beloved viral video of all time; however, its 70,232,794 views demonstrate the power of YouTube and online video to promote musical talent (with the definition of talent being open for interpretation).


Arguably one of the most ridiculous—and yet most viral—video of all time has garnered the attention of the entire world with 2,055,650,350 views.


The strangest “One-Hit-Wonder” in the history of music, but with 437,683,143 views, there’s no contesting its virality.


Today, YouTube is the third most visited website, trailing behind Facebook and Google. Every minute, more than 100 hours of video are being uploaded to YouTube, with 1 billion unique visitors every month.

A winner of the race for the 2014 viral video sensation has yet to be determined; however, the history of viral content is an indication that more and more brands, businesses and content creators will join in on the sprint to viral success.

Read more: