Gone viral: on being internet-famous for a day

Have you seen the Hey Jude Flowchart?

I made that. And it made me internet-famous for a day.

In May 2009, Tumblr introduced a feature called “tumblarity”. A blog’s tumblarity was a number calculated from some combination of likes, followers, and reblogs. My tumblarity was around twelve all summer.

Note to reader: “Tumblarity” is an incredibly stupid made-up word that makes me feel dumb to say. I apologize in advance; you’re going to read it four more times here. After that, we can hope, never again.

In August 2009, I was inspired by the nerdy artistry of the Total Eclipse of the Heart flowchart created by Jeannie Harrell. I threw together a flowchart of the first parallel-structured song I could think of using the copy of OmniGraffle on my computer at work.

I posted it on my then-six-month-old Tumblr blog. It got a few likes; a few reblogs, then… nothing more. Oh well.


My tumblarity, on the morning of October 28, 2009, was around 60. Someone triggered the avalache of attention, though I never figured out exactly who. But once it started, it was dramatic: at 9am that day, my score had jumped to 400. At 10am; 630. At noon, 1500. By the time I left work at 7, my tumblarity had hit 6000.

The next morning, it had doubled.

Then my coworker pointed out that I was on the front page of Reddit,

and Buzzfeed declared it “viral”,

and then a humorist whom I adore, Lore Sjöberg, tweeted about it.

(Even internet wünderkind Merlin Mann posted it.)

Meanwhile, my tumblarity had hit 14000, which made my little blog, for a brief moment, the #71 blog on Tumblr; #31 in the United States.

It was amazing to see the thing I made touch so many people.

There’s not a dramatic end to this story: no Good Morning America appearance, no book deal, no getting sued by Apple Corps (yet!), no smashingly successful follow-up chart of The Stones or Radiohead.

I am delighted, though, when strangers post the flowchart on my friends’ Facebook walls. It bubbles up on Reddit or The Huffington Post every once in a while, and it seems to already be on any social network I join before I get there. (It was fun to see a lot of crappily-sepia-toned Hey Jude flowcharts welcoming me to Instagram.)

The original post continues to collect likes and reblogs on Tumblr at a modest pace — we’re now at 16568 notes, the flowchart and I. I’m glad tumblarity died before the flowchart’s popularity did, though: my number would probably be back down near twelve, now.

I’ve made a bunch of similar stuff in the years since. I sell prints of my music typography work, and the Hey Jude flowchart is the most popular of the bunch by a wide margin.

It remains to be seen if I can create some new thing that will capture the internet’s collective imagination quite like the flowchart did. And if not… at least I’ve made the front page of Reddit.

Not bad at all.

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