Even though I’ve only made nine posts on this blog, I’m going to get all self-referential. What happened with the Islands of Seattle map was both thrilling and overwhelming. I went in knowing that it had the potential to go viral, but I wasn’t quite prepared when it did.
I got the idea for the map from Burrito Justice’s map of San Francisco. In his scenario, there was 200′ of sea level rise, creating a fascinating landscape of islands and bays. From a purely geographical perspective, it was beautiful and compelling. The horror of the damage to the city was lightened by the way he named the resulting land forms. Seattle was a perfect subject for this sort of treatment, and I knew how to do it.
I made the map in December, and posted it on a handful of social media outlets. In addition to the dozen or so Twitter followers I had at the time, I tweeted directly to Burrito Justice, to let him know I’d appropriated his idea. He immediately re-tweeted, and I got a small bump in traffic on my Flickr site where I’d originally posted it. I posted on Facebook and LinkedIn, where a few people liked, nobody commented, and it just fizzled into nothing. I knew that it had the potential to go viral, but I lacked the network to really make it happen.
Then I got lucky. I was approached by Robert Lindsley, Director of the brand-new Whole U program. He was looking for University contributors to his website. He was thrilled with the map, and I offered to write up an article to accompany it.
The article was published on January 15. It included a link to Spatialities.com, so I checked the stats before going to bed that night. It had over 200 views referred from the Whole U–I thought that was fantastic, but the trajectory was just beginning to rise. The next day got started when former Mayor Mike McGinn shared the article on Facebook. By the end of that day, there were 4,900 views. The day after that, there were 5,600. Those were just the stats on my site–at the end of the week, my article on Whole U had over 85k views, and ultimately had over 100k. It got over 6,000 shares on Facebook, and hundreds of tweets through the Whole U site alone. It was on the front page of Reddit for several hours. My post on Spatialities was shared on Facebook over a thousand times. I picked up a bunch of new followers on Twitter. Visitors from 53 countries visited my site (I don’t know if they were all human). I got calls from the Seattle Times and KUOW, asking me questions about global warming that I couldn’t answer.
It was all happening simultaneously with the demands of my regular job. I still had work to do! I had some significant deadlines to meet the next day, and all the attention was distracting me from my tasks. I was completely unprepared when the Seattle Times called. Most of the questions weren’t difficult or probing, but I just hadn’t thought about what I was going to say to the media. I hadn’t thought that I would be talking to the media at all. I was slightly better prepared when KUOW called the next day. But when they asked me to do a brief on-air interview, I had to defer. I had too many demands from my job, and I didn’t feel ready for a live chat. By the time I had figured out my talking points, most people had stopped asking.
The media contact issue was minor compared to scale of all the other attention. The map became something of a Seattle icon, I got 96 hours of fame, and I learned a lesson about preparedness.
About a week later, Dr. Kirk Johnson, the Sant Director at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, contacted me. He wanted to use the map in a presentation he was giving at the University of Washington. I was honored to have him include it–it was the highlight of the entire experience. It was like getting a scientific stamp of approval…without all that messy peer review. I’d assumed that in the presentation, he’d show it for a few seconds before moving on to the next slide. It wasn’t until the very end of his talk that he finally showed the map–and it stayed up or he next half-hour as he and Dr. Julie Stein, Director of the Burke Museum, did their Q&A session.
Over the next week, it had calmed down; the virus had run it course. There were still spikes in my stats, little Facebook flareups, as the latecomers discovered it (and it was always Facebook–even at the height of it all, attention on Twitter was relatively minor). I still get a few visitors a day, usually from the Whole U or Facebook.
Thanks to all the posters below, as well as all the folks on Twitter and Facebook who shared it.
And of course, the original post that I wrote for the Whole U: http://www.washington.edu/wholeu/2014/01/15/islands-of-seattle/
I’m looking forward to seeing how all this attention translates into he physical world. I don’t have a firm date yet, but printed maps will be available at Museum Quality Framing and Frame Central shops around Seattle.