Cracking down on massive hide-and-seek games in Ikea stores

Ikea in the Netherlands has banned viral hide-and-seek games inside its stores:

Ikea has quashed the dreams and shortened the bucket lists of tens of thousands people, saying it won’t allow several guerrilla hide-and-seek games to take place in its stores in the Netherlands. “It’s hard to control,” an Ikea spokeswoman told Bloomberg. “We need to make sure people are safe in our stores and that’s hard to do if we don’t even know where they are.”

More than 57,000 people were invited to participate in a May 16 game of hide-and-seek at the Ikea in Eindhoven, Netherlands, according to a Facebook page for the event, with about 32,000 people RSVPing. Twelve thousand were invited to a similar event at an Ikea in the Netherlands’ Breda on May 9. Had either game moved forward, it could easily have broken Guinness’ record for the world’s largest game of hide-and-seek, which was set in January 2014 in China and involved a mere 1,437 participants.

While this isn’t the first time Ikea has contended with plans for massive hide-and-seek outings in its stores, it may be the first time the company has banned them outright. A game that took place in 2009 at an Ikea in Sweden reportedly attracted about 150 people and forced organizers to apologize for the “whooping and cheering” that scared customers straight out of the store. And when thousands of people in Melbourne, Australia, signed up to play hide-and-seek at an Ikea the following year, the company said it would “discourage” customers from participating in the event but would not “go so far as to ban them.”

At any rate, the more interesting question here is how many people an Ikea store could reasonably host for a game of hide-and-seek, were the company’s management to get on board. The Eindhoven store, which opened in 1992, is 28,600 square meters, according to Ikea’s website. That’s about the same as four standard soccer pitches, or 5? American football fields. Let’s stipulate that for a really good game of hide-and-seek, you need at least 20 square meters (about 225 square feet, or a 15-foot-by-15-foot spot to stand in). Less than that and you might as well play sardines or blob tag instead. Also, presumably not all 28,600 square meters in the Eindhoven store are usable space, or even accessible to customers looking for hiding spots.

Think of all the hiding places! I’m not surprised that safety was the primary reason for banning the games though I assume the real reason was that this could be bad for business. (Yet, how many of the game players would purchase something – from meatballs to another Billy bookcase) on the way out?) If you think about it, a lot of businesses could be overwhelmed by such viral efforts. (Maybe all those extra parking spots mandated in American parking lots would then be filled.) How far away are we from outright bans on indoor games in multiple countries or from other stores and businesses as well?

At the same time, why doesn’t Ikea turn the tables on this and host some special hide-and-seek events with a lottery system for participants. This could generate good publicity and reestablish the brand’s cool factor.

A video goes viral with 320,000+ views in one week?

This silent newsreel of the 1919 Black Sox World Series is a great find. A news story about the video suggests it went viral with over 320,000 views in its first week online. Is this enough views to go viral?

This is an ongoing issue for stories and reports regarding online behavior. When does something go from being an online object of interest to some people to being a trend? Reporters often find Facebook groups or a few blog posts and turn that into a trend. Perhaps this is better than interviewing a few people on the street – also still done – but there are plenty of online groups, tweets, and posts.

We need some sort of metric or guidelines for making such proclamations. Unfortunately, there is little agreement about this for websites: should we count page views, unique visitors, click-throughs or something else? Should we just count the number of Twitter followers even though they can be purchased? Other mediums have agreed-upon metrics like Nielsen ratings or book sales or digital downloads.

In the meantime, I would suggest 342,000 viewers is not quite going viral.

The difficulties in creating viral audio clips

Why listen to audio on the Internet when you can read an article or watch a video? This is the problem in creating a viral audio clip:

In a provocative piece for Digg on viral sound, reporter  Stan Alcorn asked Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian: “Why does the Internet so rarely mobilize around audio? What would it take to put audio on the Reddit front page?”

Since audio is, of course, our business, we asked Stan Alcorn to make us an audio version (listen above). We want our work to be sharable – and so we’ve decided to be proactive…

As Stan reports, there are certainly exceptions to the rule. For instance, the audio I share usually falls into a few different categories: Isolated David Bowie vocals, super-awkward studio outtakes with Art Garfunkel, and angry phone messages to reporters about drones. (As a journalist, I think the last one is my favorite. “DON’T YOU SUPERVISE THE SUB EDITORS WHO WRITE THESE HEADLINES!?”)

There’s also plenty of stuff that Marketplace has done that I would hope could go viral.

The key here is that audio just seems to take more time to get to the point. With an article or video, you can leave it quickly and plenty of watchers do: they check out the first few seconds, see if it catches their attention, and then either engage further or move on. Audio is more of a mystery. What might happen next? This is something that people who love radio talk about all the time, all of the “theater of the mind” stuff. I’m trying to imagine what might have happened if the Internet had been invented during the golden age of radio, roughly the 1930s and 1940s, and if the Internet could have been an audio medium rather than a primarily visual medium.

It will be interesting to see if any of the Marketplace audio clips submitted at the end of this story could go viral…

A new world where weak social ties can spread videos like Kony 2012

The Kony 2012 video has been watched over 65 million times on YouTube. While there has been much commentary about how the video lacks nuance, there is another interesting issue to consider: how exactly did it spread so quickly? One columnist suggests the sociological idea of weak ties provides some insights:

Many years ago, the Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter published a seminal article in the American Journal of Sociology on the special role of “weak ties” in networks – links among people who are not closely bonded – as being critical for spreading ideas and for helping people join together for action.

An examination of the spread of the Kony video suggests that one weak tie in particular may have been critical in launching it to its present eminence. Her name is Oprah Winfrey and she tweeted: “Have watched the film. Had them on show last year” on 6 March, after which the graph of YouTube views of the video switches to the trajectory of a bat out of hell. Winfrey, it turns out, has 9.7 million followers on Twitter…

In this online world of weak ties, famous tweeters like Oprah Winfrey have more influence than they have ever had before. Even though television shows or movies might be larger cultural works, new developments like Twitter and Facebook allow anyone with some influence to reach a large number of people quickly. With Winfrey located closer to the middle of a global cultural network, her suggestion can resound throughout the world.

The same columnist also considers what might happen as the result of these weak ties. In other words, what does it matter that over 65 million people saw this video?

The really interesting question, though, is whether this kind of development will further ratchet up the pressure on democratic politicians. The last two decades have shown how 24/7 media coverage of foreign atrocities can lead western leaders to morally driven interventionism.

We’ll have to see how this plays out. The Kony video itself claims that these sorts of media efforts work as they already pushed the United States to send 100 military advisers to central Africa. Additionally, they say this happened “because the people demanded it.” But they also suggest their viral efforts are not enough: the video talks about targeting a collection of political and cultural leaders, “20 culture-makers and 12 policy-makers.” Take these figures, such as Oprah Winfrey or Condoleezza Rice, out of the campaign and would as many people, in the public or on Capitol Hill, pay attention? Could just the public put enough pressure on governments through social media or viral videos? Also, the video itself is quite a production (a number of people involved in making it, per the credits on the YouTube video) from an established organization. This is a little different from a 10 year making a video in her bedroom.

This is not to take away from the fact that this videos has reached a tremendous amount of people. But if we want to understand why all those people paid attention, the story is much more complicated. Mass numbers can have an influence but powerful people are more centrally located within social networks and have more influential ties. If Kony 2012 is going to have legs and lead to lasting change, weak ties may not be enough.