16 Apr

letter I made a deal with myself when I started blogging: If I ever blogged about blogging I was going to hang it up. Surely that would be the harbinger indicating I no longer had anything interesting to talk about, at which point I should graciously bow out of the game entirely and fade into history, as opposed to joining the Kansas City Chiefs for a couple lackluster final blogging seasons *coughjoemontanacough*

20thingsdaughterRecently the “20 Things A Father Should Tell His Daughter” post from a few months ago went completely (and unexpectedly) viral, and some pretty rewarding things happened as a result. Just this once I’m going to break my blogging-about-blogging rule and share a little about the experience. There’s a really cool family-related story at the end, so I hope you’ll stick with it.


I’ve always wondered what it would be like to create something that went viral (shout-out to my buddy Ron Fugelseth, who’s “A Toy Train In Space” set the standard for dorky-dad virality) – not out of some self-centered egomaniacal trip, but because the mechanics of virality (is that even a word?) fascinate me. If I was a sociology or media-studies grad student I would make that the topic of my thesis (tip-o-the-hat to fellow dadbloggers Ande Davis and Zach Rosenberg who have strong feelings about the value of a liberal arts degree).

Using my blog as a vehicle I’ve made a few half-hearted, cartoony things that in the back of my mind I thought had the potential to go viral. Over the 2012 holidays I put this one out there, quite impressed with myself and my own cleverness:

Know your Elves.

Know your Elves.


How could I forget Dobby?

…until I realized what an epic fail it was because I neglected to include this culturally-critical elf. Virality-factor: zero.

When Muppeteer Jerry Nelson (Count Von Count) and Neil Armstrong died in the same week, I pushed my graphics skills to the max and put this one out there in cyber-space.

RIP Jerry Nelson, Anakin Skywalker, Yoda, Ben Kenobi, Neil Armstrong

RIP Jerry Nelson, Anakin Skywalker, Yoda, Ben Kenobi, Neil Armstrong

Perhaps the Jerry Nelson reference was too obscure. Again, virality-factor zero.

Over the holiday, while blogging about how I ordered my children’s Xmas gifts from the Skymall catalogue from the back of an airplane seat, I riffed off of the latest James Bond movie with this little ditty, again completely impressed with myself and convinced that other people would be too:

James Bond in "Skymall"

James Bond in “Skymall”

Virality-factor, 00-nothing.

Of course you can’t will these things into virality. It has to happen on its own – organically. has had a few brushes with virality in the past. The first was January last year when Adam Savage retweeted a tweet I sent him about a post I wrote talking about science programs on TV. 1,700 hits on the blog that day. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Then, earlier this year, featured (freshly pressed) my post “It’s Just Sex, Dammit!” on their home page and suddenly my iPhone exploded with a constant stream of comments from dawn to dusk. Just under 3,000 hits that day and I was sure my little blog would never pass those numbers. Then last week, this happened:


Before this week the range on my hit-counter graph never needed to go above 3000 before. On Monday, a day when I published absolutely no new material, topped out at over 6,700 hits – completely blowing its previous record out of the water. As the graph shows, most of the hits were happening on “20 Things A Father Should Tell His Daughter”.

To be honest, I knew that post had legs shortly after I published it. Within days it had been shared more than 200 times from this blog’s Facebook page. I was getting notifications that it was moving all over Pinterest and it got all sorts of attention when I published it on Good Men Project along with the companion piece “20 Things A Father Should Tell His Son”.

Then something odd happened. The Facebook page “Ace Your Figure” posted it to their wall, and from there it exploded (Ace Your Figure has significantly more followers than’s Facebook page). Suddenly I was getting messages from friends who’d seen the picture/post months and months ago when I originally posted it “Hey. Check out what came back around the other end of Facebook!!” The picture itself isn’t some stock photo I stole from a google image search. It’s actually a picture of me and Episode IV. Friends of mine who don’t follow the blog recognized the picture from someone else’s news feed and asked me “Hey. Isn’t this a picture of you and your daughter?”

The post had gone completely beyond my sphere of influence and was now freely circulating, completely organically, through the Facebook ether. Even as I write this I just fielded a phone call from my wife. A girlfriend texted to tell her that an old college friend just posted the picture on her Facebook wall, and my wife’s girlfriend recognized me and my daughter in it.

It had gone viral.


Now the fact that something I made went viral is nice and all, but here’s the cool story where it all comes home.

Part of the miracle of Facebook is connecting with distant friends and relatives who in the past would have been completely lost to the fog of time and distance spent apart. My mother’s recently been very excited about reconnecting with some distant cousins of hers. It’s opened up a floodgate to wonderful childhood memories and emotional connections to long-passed loved-ones, memories that were heretofore packed away and almost forgotten. My mother looked forward to seeing news from her long-lost distant cousins show up on her laptop when she opened up Facebook.

And then, last week out of nowhere, the “20 Things” picture showed up on my mother’s newsfeed, shared by her long-lost cousin who she hasn’t seen in 30 years. My mother commented on her cousin’s post, “Where did you get that picture?”

“A friend posted it” the cousin replied.

“Do you know who that is in that picture?” asked my mother.

“No. I just liked the message, so I shared it.”

“That’s my beautiful granddaughter and her father, my handsome son.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“No. He’s the dorky dad who wrote that. He blogs about being a dorky dad and that was one of his posts.”

Promptly thereafter’s Facebook wall received this message:


In what universe does your 2nd cousin once removed, someone you’ve never met or even heard of before, contact you over the internet because of a picture you posted of you and your daughter more than 4 months earlier?

It’s a brave new world. Welcome to the age of social media.

-Dork Dad

14 Responses to “Virality”

  1. Kimberly April 16, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    Glad to see this happy story. It does hint at the dark side of virality. I hope my children never experience the power of the internet for evil purposes.

    • dorkdad April 16, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

      It’s been a concern since the moment I decided to launch this project (even blogged about it in the early days), and it’s why I go out of my way not to identify myself or my children by name.

  2. April 16, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

    Pretty darn cool story.
    Awesome work with the post.

    • dorkdad April 16, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

      There would be no post without the awesome kids…

      …but my wife did all the work there.

      • April 16, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

        Wow impressive speed on the reply considering the uptick in traffic.

      • dorkdad April 16, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

        Don’t be impressed. Between patients I just sit here with nothing to do but stare at my blog stats. It’s pathetic, really.

      • April 16, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

        Not really – now if you did it while you were with patients that would be a little much.

  3. The Waiting April 16, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    That is so cool! There is something so delicious about Internet success, especially when it brings a family together. Congratulations!

  4. Charlotte April 16, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    Facebook lets all of us keep in touch even while in Lima, Peru

  5. my27stars April 16, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

    How wonderful! 🙂 The viral factor AND the awesome ability to find family members you didn’t even know you were missing. It was a wonderful post, and I’m super glad that enough people realized that to share it with enough other people to get it to reach so many more. A lot of people should know what you wrote, and apparently now a lot of people do.

  6. bernicky April 17, 2013 at 6:27 am #

    Take heart you didn’t blog about blogging you blogged about the after effects of seeing fame and then finding it accidentally. It is a message, after a fashion, that if you do what you love and you are good at it others will notice. Trying to get noticed is not so satisfying as being recognized for being good at what you do. The power of social media is formidable especially when it is used for good.

  7. kjystenKjysten April 17, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

    It’s a small world, Sam. When I was able to travel overseas, I often met someone from Salinas, or Monterey, or Gilroy. BUT – now I can be with cousins in Sweden and friends all over and STAY HOME! What a real boon the Internet is for people who are “traveling-challenged.” Now if they’d just invent touch-o-vision. There’s still nothing better than a face to face good HUG! Consider yourself hugged. I am so proud of what you are doing. :>


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  2. Terrible Twos | - June 25, 2013

    […] go viral itself, but some pretty fun things came from the viral experience. You can read about them on the post “Virality”. Of interesting note, the “Father/Son” post hasn’t enjoyed nearly as much attention, […]

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