What Does A Viral Phenomenon Look Like?

Watch how long it took for the ALS Ice Bucket Challege to go global

Viral videos achieve an inexplicable kind of fame, and they are damn near impossible to predict. For example, remember Tay Zonday, the guy with the preternaturally deep voice who posted a video of himself singing his original song “Chocolate Rain”? It stormed the Web in 2007 and has since been watched more than 100 million times. Or how about the sneezing baby panda that’s generated north of 220 million views since 2006?

There’s David After Dentist, Charlie Bit My Finger, Keyboard Cat. And who among us hasn’t been Rickrolled? Just a few weeks ago we watched a young girl, all hopped up on painkillers after dental surgery, get punked by her brothers into thinking they had to flee the zombie apocalypse. And earlier this week we met Chewbacca Mom. She put on a character mask she bought at Kohl’s, laughed hysterically in her car—alone—for more than two minutes, and shortly after she was on The Late Late Show with James Cordon talking about how it feels to have a silly video you filmed in a parking lot watched more than 140 million times.

But what does that kind of hyperspeed rise to popularity actually look like on a global scale? What does it look like when a viral video becomes a video pandemic? In the video above you can watch the spread of the world-consuming ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that was used to raise awareness and funds for those living with Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

The “Cold Water Challenge” had been kicking around since 2013, but it entered the American consciousness in a big way when Matt Lauer fulfilled the Challenge on an episode of The Today Show in July of 2014. Then for the rest of the summer everyone’s Instagram and Facebook feeds were dominated by celebrities and common-folk alike either dousing themselves in freezing cold water or donating money to ALS research. The amount of money and number of views generated is a truly stunning example of what it looks like when philanthropy achieves viral success.

The above visualization uses data from Google Trends to show the global spread of the Ice Bucket Challenge over a 30 day period (August 6th - September 7th).

Music: Mono/Poly - "Queen of Cups" -
Produced & Directed by Gabriel Reilich
Data: Max Einstein -
Visuals: Strangeloop -
The 30 countries with the the most search traffic related to the term "Ice Bucket Challenge" are shown. Of course, many other countries participated in this viral phenomenon, but the 30 portrayed in this video made for the bulk of Google queries during this specific time period.

The bottom numbers and charts track the daily volume of three primary hashtags associated with the challenge, as well as the top tweet associated with that hashtag for any particular day. On August 15th, #alsicebucketchallenge overtakes #icebucketchallenge. This information was gathered using analytics from

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Total Video Shares & Views from

Julian Meehan

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