How a Research Project Became a YouTube Hit

How a Research Project Became a YouTube Hit

How a Research Project Became a YouTube Hit

I’d like to tell you a story about being successful in getting information across. It’s a story that doesn’t have, as it’s hero, some millionaire entrepreneur, like in the gay old days of the bubble. On the contrary – the successful entrepreneur does exist, but he prefers to remain anonymous. Nonetheless, it’s sometimes worth singing the praises of a project, even if its hero shuns the limelight, and even if he didn’t earn a penny from his work.

Have you heard of Professor Dan Arieli? No, he’s not the hero of this post. But I’m a regular follower of Arieli and his researches into our irrational behavior, and two years ago I noticed some interesting research which he helped to conduct, along with Prof. Michael Norton from Harvard. In this research, thousands of Americans were asked to respond to simple, non-scientific, questions: what, in your view, is the current distribution of income in the United States, and how should it appear? They weren”t asked why it was so, or whether this was a good or a bad thing – just about their subjective perception and the desirable situation from their point of view.

The first surprising thing in the research findings is that the Americans’ subjective impression of their economy is that it is a lot more egalitarian than it is in fact. The best online casino australia second thing is – that they would want it to be even more egalitarian. The third thing – that this perception transcends demographic and political boundaries. In fact, it appears that Americans – both those who vote Democrat and those who vote Republican – all aspire to a situation in which the social gaps would be like those in… Sweden.

Okay, but apart from professors of psychology, who’s going to get excited over such things? People who like tables and graphs. And, indeed, this research didn’t make waves. But at the end of 2012 – almost two years following its publication – it got to a video maker in Texas. As someone with a strong visual perception, he saved the table with the research findings on his smartphone, looking at it from time to time in order to – in his words – “absorb it.” Prior to this, he had never made a video with a social message, but in this case, in his spare time, he put together a clip that concretizes Arieli and Norton’s research. He uploaded the animation to YouTube anonymously.

For some months, the animation garnered relatively few views. But then it suddenly turned into a viral hit, getting over a million views per week. The video got to me this month, from a number of sources – on the one hand, from social activists, and on the other hand , from a corporate meeting. Because of its viral success, journalists sought to find out who the producer was. Nothing doing – he still wants to remain anonymous. “As a videographer in Texas,” he says, “I don’t want to lose clients who don’t like my politics.”

The video is particularly interesting because of its ability to present research findings that are not at all intuitive. Also, pay attention to the soundtrack: the speaker uses an everyday tone, not an obsequious one, or the kind you would hear from a professional narrator. The quiet background music adds to the drama, but almost subconsciously. The text, too, is a masterful example of screenwriting. Is it, in fact, a commercially produced clip?