The Susan Boyle Phenomenon

On the off chance you’ve gotten to this website (which means you must be on the Internet) and you haven’t heard of Susan Boyle, here’s the synopsis.

47-year-old Susan Boyle of Blackburn, West Lothlian, Scotland came to a reality show called Britain’s Got Talent, a program not unlike NBC’s America’s Got Talent. Before performing she has a somewhat awkward exchange with the judges and the audience seems ready to start heckling her. Then, she begins her performance and the audience and judges are stunned by its quality.

You can watch it yourself here, as has been done over 30 million times already.

There are a couple of interesting things at work here, but I’m mainly going to focus on the viral nature of this video. I originally found out about it myself using an interesting function on Twitter’s search website. One of the elements here is trending topics. This is a list of items that have been tweeted about most. Oftentimes, the items here are not very interesting or useful, but sometimes developing news stories will become trends, and these are sometimes worth checking out.

Anyway, one of the trends was Susan Boyle, not knowing who she was I clicked on it and saw many people tweeting on the merits of her performance on Britain’s Got Talent. Incorrectly in retrospect, I had assumed she was some new starlet that I didn’t particularly care about. Since I’m not a fan of reality TV performance competitions, I dismissed the whole thing and went on my way. Later, however, I saw a bit of her performance on the CBS Early Show, which led to significant discussion at my workplace, not the least of which was her considerably-not-starlet-like appearance.

At this point, I actually watched the video myself and saw what my colleagues were all talking about. It is a masterful production from a technical standpoint. The viewer is really set-up to believe that this will be a William Hung type moment, but it turns out to be something completly different. Her story has really resonated, though, as she has appeared on all of the major network morning shows and there seems to be a lot of momentum for following the rest of her competition on the program.

The interesting part of the viral nature of this video is that the inevitable result of news reports on Susan Boyle is that people who search on the Internet to see the entire video. This causes folks to end up on the Youtube version of the performance, as opposed to the inferior version on the Britain’s Got Talent website. The video has been uploaded by a user called BritainsSoTalented, so it’s hard to tell conclusively if this is an official release or an unauthorized upload. In any case, it goes to show how difficult it is to now control where content is going to go after it has been created.

So when you go to watch this video, think back to how you originally found out about, and how different that process is then even a few years ago.

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