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What are Viral Videos?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 March 2014
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A man demonstrates the evolution of modern dance, two slackers rap about their Sunday afternoon activities, and an overweight teen practices with a fake Jedi sword: this is the world of viral videos. Viral videos can best be described as short video clips with unusually shocking or humorous themes often shared on social networks, video sharing websites and personal emails. Viral videos get their name because of the seemingly virus-like way they explode across the Internet landscape. What may start out as a private family video in Idaho could easily be featured on a Japanese website in literally hours or days.

In the days before Internet sharing and digital video uploads, the only way most people saw "viral videos" was through local television station feeds. Filmed footage of an unusual or humorous news event might be shown at the end of a local news show, and sometimes that same footage would be shown again and again on other stations receiving the same feed. Because there was no feasible method short of videotape to repeat those stories, there was little chance the clips would become "viral videos" in that sense.

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With the advent of the Internet and the ability to record, edit and publish videos from a home computer came the rise of viral videos. Short video clips could now be sent through email attachments or even posted on websites. A number of would-be movie producers and actors took it upon themselves to create original content destined to become viral videos. Even established sketch comedy shows such as Saturday Night Live jumped on the viral videos bandwagon, producing several classic viral videos as "Lazy Sunday," "Laser Cats" and "Shredders," a mock commercial about lettuce.

Video file sharing websites such as YouTube have become well-known for their hosting and presentation of viral videos. Many of the highest-rated videos on YouTube are considered viral videos, including the "Evolution of Modern Dance" performance and the original "Mentos and Diet Coke" experiment. Some viral videos have a very short but memorable shelf life, while others continue to be popular for years. It can be hard to tell if a particular video will become viral or not, but there is no shortage of amateur and professional videographers willing to take the chance.

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