Sometimes I blog about something and it goes nowhere, much like this girl’s domino:
Sometimes I blog about something and it continues to weave its way to the many corners of the internet, much like this:
But, sometimes I blog about something and it starts a chain reaction that looks more like this (I looked for a domino video that featured fireworks and confetti but came up short):
In other words, it goes viral. Now, on November 11, I blogged about Tim Klein’s “puzzle montages” and I believe it’s the most-viral post I’ve written in my over-seven-year professional blogging career. While I don’t have the exact numbers, I have been watching it quickly spread across the planet and I feel certain that it is. Today, I thought it would be fun to pull back the curtain a little to show you what “going viral” looks like from “backstage.”
[TL;DR version (and, warning, this post IS entirely TOO LONG): The post I wrote about Tim Klein’s puzzle montages went nuts! Media outlets from around the globe picked up the story (digital, print, TV), some linked back to Boing Boing, some didn’t. Tim got TONS of fan mail, all of his art sold, and now he’s being offered gallery shows. Well… he and I talked and we plan to take it to the next level together (note: we didn’t know each other before all of this). We first want to build a community of people who love puzzle mashups. Want to learn more? Subscribe to our brand new (monthly?) e-newsletter called Pigjaw Suzzles!]
Still here? Good. Tim helped me build this chronological timeline of how the “viral explosion” (his words) happened.
Friday, November 9
A new friend, Marcia Wiley, shows Tim’s artwork to me on her phone during a visit. I am immediately blown away by it. I know that, from experience, if I get really excited about something, so will others. Well, I was so excited about this that I could barely wait to start writing it up. But it’s late, so I start researching cool puzzles on eBay instead because I’m inspired to make my own puzzle mashups. I also check to see if Tim’s ever been written about (he hasn’t) and I look to see if anything similar has been written about before (there has, though not exactly the same way: 2008 and 2011).
Saturday, November 10
9:16 AM: Marcia introduces Tim and me via text. We are soon communicating and he’s great (one of us! one of us!). We learn we have mutual friends in the art car world.
2:16 PM: He grants me permission to use his photos and share his story. We then connect on Facebook and realize we have even more mutual friends. I then spend my afternoon writing the post.
Sunday, November 11
7:38 AM: The post goes live on Boing Boing.
8:26 AM: I text both Tim and Marcia to tell them that it’s up. Tim texts me back (“Woo hoo!”).
11:19 AM: Tim texts me again to say that he’s already getting “a few happy fan emails” from people he “doesn’t know.” I tell him that it’s likely that other blogs will pick it up too. He replies, “I hadn’t even thought of that!” [Insert foreshadowing]
3:07 PM: John Overholt, a curator at Harvard’s Houghton Library, tweets the image of Tim’s “Iron Horse” and it starts blasting off:
Monday, November 12
Morning: Nag on the Lake is the first blog to pick it up.
4:18 PM Miss Cellania of Neatorama is the second.
Sometime this day: THE Stephen King retweets (to his 5M+ followers) John Overholt’s tweet.
Sometime this day or the next: John Overholt’s tweet becomes a meme:
The meme starts spreading on Facebook and Twitter through various “viral” sites with no ties to Tim whatsoever. The one started on the “Texts From Last Night” Facebook page currently has over 23K shares. Because Tim is not mentioned in the meme, people start thinking John Overholt is the person who discovered that you can mix-and-match pieces of puzzles from the same manufacturer.
Then, someone creates a meme that strips out John Overholt’s name. Tim writes about that,
“Later I started seeing an even more highly edited image with Overholt’s name also edited out. And that version got shared around ad infinitem as well. Maybe that’s when full “memehood” is reached — when there’s no attribution whatsoever, just an eye-catching picture along with an anonymous caption.”
Tuesday, November 13
Morning: Pee-wee Herman posts it on his blog, commenting Tim’s art is “SUPER COOL.”
Later: Hacker News.
10:22 AM: MetaFilter.
Sometime the same day: A redditor posts the image of Tim’s “Iron Horse,” but does not link to his site or Boing Boing. As of this writing, that post has 74,200 upvotes (!). It gets posted in a different subreddit this same day with only 608 upvotes.
11:26 AM: Tim writes me, “I’m getting fan mail and purchase offers from faraway lands, from Turkey to Trinidad.”
3:26 PM: A reader of my inbox zine sends me a tip. He’s seen something cool in Dan Lewis’ Now I Know e-newsletter and is sharing it with me because he knows I’m “always on the lookout for new interesting art.” The “something cool” is Tim’s puzzle montages and the link in Dan’s newsletter goes to my post. I tell Tim. Turns out he’s a patron of Now I Know. I also know Dan, so I remark, “Small world!”
8:07 PM: Tim writes, “Meanwhile, a number of friends have told me they encountered a post about puzzle art and thought they should forward it to me… only to discover that it IS me. :-)”
Wednesday, November 14
First thing in the morning: I share the story of me learning about Tim’s montages in my inbox zine.
Later this same day: Kottke picks it up, using John Overholt’s tweet as its source. Then, Facebook page “Nerds with Vaginas” posts a grainy version of the Overholt meme and gets almost 11K shares.
Thursday, November 15
3:43 AM: Archaeologist David S. Anderson tweets Tim’s “King of the Road” as so:
Later the same day: Tim’s puzzle montages land on the much-coveted Twitter Moments. To this, I email Tim, “Wow. Your montages went mega-viral. This is MY top post…ever. Very cool to experience this with you :D”
Sometime this day: Bored Panda publishes Tim’s art, with permission, but adds the “clickbait” headline, “Artist Comes Up With Genius Way To Use Puzzles, Sells The Result For Up To $650.” About this, Tim comments:
The author mentions my acknowledgment of Mel Andringa as the originator, and never mentions the prices that I was selling my artwork for. But the clickbait headline, which I’m guessing came from someone other than the author herself, implied that I came up with the idea myself and that I’m doing it in order to make a lot of money. These two implications sparked lots of indignation among commenters.
That Bored Panda Facebook post has over 1K shares.
His art then lands on a Hungarian site called Femina.
12:26 PM: Tim writes me, “I have a few dozen purchase requests to answer, plus journalist inquiries from England and Italy. Something called the Interactive Museum of Games and Puzzlery wants to organize an exhibition.”
5:24 PM: After telling me about the long list of media outlets that want to feature his work, he writes, “Meanwhile, the sink is full of dirty dishes, the cat is hungry, and I haven’t shaved in a week. I gotta walk away from the computer and take a break.”
Saturday, November 17
Tim reports that his images have started showing up in strangers’ Facebook cover photos.
Tim also reports that John Overholt wrote him and expressed remorse for not including his name in the original tweet (“If I’d had any idea 3 million people were going to see this tweet, I would have put your name in it…”).
Sunday, November 18
The Jealous Curator adds Tim’s art to their blog. Later, a Turkish site called listelist runs the story (the first one to use a photo of Tim himself). On this same day: The montages land on a site by psychonauts called Acidmath.
Later: Tim is approached by an agent at a major literary agency headquartered in New York, who writes “I love your puzzle montages and think they could make for an interesting art book!”
Tuesday, November 20
Colossal grabs it. They credit Kottke who, you may remember, credited John Overholt.
Wednesday, November 23
A website called Awkward (they’re somehow related to “Awkward Family Photos” — their post had over 3K shares) posts Tim’s art without permission (many sites did not ask to use his images), does not link to his site AND replaces the titles of Tim’s artworks with titles of its own. They’ve since updated the page to at least link to Tim’s site.
Thursday, November 24
11:00 AM: Japanese site IRORIO grabs it.
Tim comments on Facebook:
“When I was constructing my puzzle montage “Mountain Plantation” from two thrift store puzzles during my limited spare time as a computer science grad student in 1993, the World Wide Web barely existed, even within the USA. So now, in the distant future year 2018, it’s pretty darn wild to find myself looking at an image of it beamed to my home computer from a website in Japan.”
Saturday, November 26
12:26 PM: Tim: “I’ve made the jump from the lightning-fast propagation of online media to the slow slog of traditional print publications.” He’s referring to two newspapers that will cover it soon, the French bi-weekly Society and the British Sunday-only The Observer. They both have promised to send him hard copies in the mail.
6:52 PM: A designer office furniture company in Thailand named WURKON blogs about it on Facebook, after getting Tim’s permission. Tim chuckles at how the translation software on Facebook has changed his name, it “can’t decide whether my name is “Timberlake” or “Tim coli.”
Thursday, November 29
Tim’s montages continue to move around the globe. On this day, a (what looks like a neat) Australian publication called Smith Journal added it to their blog.
Saturday, December 1
Society magazine sends Tim a screenshot of the digital version of the article that features him:
OK, so what’s happening now?
Well… Treehugger.com will soon be publishing their story and a different online media brand wants to do an instructional video. They want to record Tim as he makes puzzle montages in his studio (he notes that he does not have a studio). Additionally, a major magazine (that cannot yet be revealed) has contacted him for inclusion in a future issue.
On top of that, Tim and I have decided to join forces to take all of “this” to the next level. We talked and felt we had a good match. I have some ideas, he has some ideas, and we believe that together we can create something super cool! Again, we’ll start by building a community of people who love puzzle mashups. Is that you? Then, subscribe to Pigjaw Suzzles, our brand new (probably monthly) e-newsletter!
Plus, I’ve been working on a mashup of my own. It’s fun, though harder than it looks. Not only do you have to find puzzles that have pieces that can be mixed and matched, you have to find puzzles that lend themselves to be mashed up together.
Want one of Tim’s pieces? Get in line. He’s sold every single one of his current pieces (he delighted in selling his art to STRANGERS for the very first time) and there is a waiting list for future ones. (Pssst… if you subscribe to our e-newsletter, rumor has it that you’ll be the first to know when new puzzle montages are available.)