ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

The Most Popular Thing Ever —

Oh, there’s been some great hits in my webserving past. The word gets out, and thousands of people start visiting a specific URL or location on one of my sites. This has included the “Freedom, Justice and a Disturbingly Gaping Ass” weblog entry on this site (78,000 visitors in a single day) and Koalas are Little Bitches (30,000 in a single day). And there’s even been a few cases of the mass of bandwidth being unfathomable, like when I idly mentioned having 1,700 arcade manuals. That one killed a ten megabit connection for a week.

But in terms of sheer numbers, I’ve never encountered anything like Jesus Cat.

I collect flash animations. Of course, I collect a lot more than just flash animations, but I definitely collect flash animations. I use scrapers on 4chan and other sites, and I actually sort them out. The result has been tens of thousands of these things. Some are horrifying (animals are killed, or someone falls to their death). Some are bizzare (animations combining all sorts of people and images in a non-sequitir manner). And some are just music played to something funny.

One of these is Jesus Cat, which is meant to be as silly as it seems. Nothing big, that’s just what it is. (It plays music, in case you’re somewhere you’d prefer not to hear music.)

It’s not a particularly deep creation: a cat jumps out of a boat and walks on water to the shore, to the tune of Our God is an Awesome God and with the words “Jesus Cat” pulsing in the corner. It’s 371k, almost instantaneous on many connections.

Whatever reaction you get in the first 4 seconds is about all you’re going to get out of it; it loops forever, and any amount of time watching it reveals what’s going on: shallow water, cat trying to get back to land, just hops in the shallow water and is free. Someone’s doing some work in the water behind him and easily belies the depth of the pond at this location. In other words, under analysis, it utterly falls apart. It’s a simple eye trick, and the music and words (in the opposite corner) distract you enough for the conjunctive disorder that might make you laugh. Or not.

I happened to show this to an IRC channel, and linked to a “stuff I have lying around” directory on one of my servers.

Two days later, 91,000 people visited.

And it was that specific URL too, and since I didn’t put it anywhere other than that channel, once, it meant someone gave it to someone else, or pasted it in another IRC channel, and then it just exploded outward. I see 3,000 matches for the original URL, and if you spend the time browsing them, you find lots of commentary. I’ll save you time and tell you the general responses:

  • Hilarious!
  • Stupid.
  • That cat’s not REALLY walking on water.
  • This reminds me of endless other cat stuff HERE’S SOME LINKS
  • I will now riff on the idea of a cat as a savior for the next paragraph.

91,000 throws it way past anything I’ve done, ever with regards to serving a popular file. Some of the others might have more longevity over the Jesus Cat (the Goatse article, for example, is still packing them in a year later) but for sheer popularity, Jesus Cat stands above them all.

God bless his wet, matted little fur.

I suppose I could come up with lame “look I’m better than those people” theories about why the cat is so popular, but I’m rather sure it’s because it’s compact, gets what it wants to get across, and is 371k. You go and you’re there. And two words, Jesus Cat, sum up the entire experience for you. If I had to pin it on anything, I’d go for that: ease and compactness. It is truly Dawkins’ idea of a meme, a replicating virus that uses human brains.

And now I spread it again. Oh no.

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  1. t0rpid says:

    I don’t know if this would fly with you or not, but i’d bet there’s quite a few people who would be interested in leeching your flash or other collections. Bring them to some cons, setup a wifi AP, and see if it catches on!

  2. Flack says:

    So does it bother you that something like Jesus Cat gets more hits than the stuff you’ve obviously put a lot of thought and work into?

    A while back, I wrote a blog entry that mentioned a pair of Patrick Ewing Nikes I own. If you Google for Patrick Ewing Nikes, I’m hit #2. Every day in my logs there are dozens of people searching for information about Patrick Ewing Nikes that end up at my site, and more specifically, at that specific blog entry. “Patrick Ewing” is continually at the top of the list of items people searched for to find my site. Sometimes, you just have to laugh.

  3. Jason Scott says:

    I long ago got away from worrying about my “ratings” or the relative popularity of anything I do as being a measure of the “worth”. If 100 people truly enjoy something I worked hard on for solid reasons, it doesn’t affect me that later something I happened to have lying around attracted 10,000.