Assignment 1: Go Viral

Due: Tuesday, April 9 at 11:59pm. Submit on Canvas.


This kickoff assignment is an exercise in the challenges of designing something that spreads online. Your challenge is simple: create something that goes viral.

You can create any content you want: memes, videos, opinion essays, collective action activism, photoshops, a collective fiction writing effort, and so on. The only rule is that it needs to be spreadable online. Common platforms might include Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs/news outlets. You must create the content, not try to share someone else's content. However, you may remix someone else's content (with attribution/permission as per the norms of the content type) to create yours if desired. Use reasonable judgment as to what content is off-limits, including personal attacks, libel, slander, and bullying; check your idea with the staff if you're not sure.

Collect evidence of its virality. In some cases this is easy, such as retweet, view, or upvote counts, and in other cases it might require more creativity, such as analytics trackers (e.g., Google Analytics) if you created a web page or asking around to find out where your emails got forwarded to.

You are welcome (and even encouraged) to create multiple pieces of content and try to spread them, then turn in the one that was your greatest masterpiece.


Submit the piece of content. It could be a link (e.g., to a YouTube video) or an image. If you send a link, make sure the staff can access the content. We will embed whatever you send us in the crowdsourced grading interface (below).

Please also submit a brief PDF of no more than 500 words containing (1) a reflection on your decisions and (2) your evidence of virality. First, summarize the decision making process: why choose that platform/medium? In what larger context (e.g., current events, online subcultures) was the content created? Who was the intended audience? Second, diagnose what happened: if it went viral, why? If everything you tried failed to go viral, why?


As we discussed in class, virality is not fully a deterministic function of content quality. So, our class will be doing our own judgment of quality! This is a very nonstandard process, so please read carefully.

Crowdsourced evaluation:

The CS 278 staff will launch a site that allows class members to judge each others' submissions via a series of paired comparisons. The decision criteria for each comparison will be, "Which of these two submissions would someone be more likely to reshare?" We will then aggregate everyone's binary comparisons into composite scores via the TrueSkill or AllOurIdeas algorithms.

example submission interface

The comparison interface will look something like this mockup.

The staff will sample some submissions that are spread out in score, and without revealing those scores, present the submissions to the class. The class will then vote privately on grades to assign to each of these benchmark submissions. Grades will be assigned based on where your submission falls relative to these benchmark submissions in the scores. For example, if your submission is ranked roughly next to a benchmark submission that the class calibrated as an A submission, you will get an A.

I am trusting you to take this grading seriously — you are determining who deserves to walk away from this assignment and class with a badge saying they are experts at this! In addition, I will insist on participation: if you do not participate in both phases of the crowdsourced evaluation (paired comparisons, and benchmarking), your assignment will be docked 10%. It's important to hear everyone's voice!

Staff evaluation

The staff will run a parallel assessment that includes only our judgments. Your grade will be the higher of the staff assessment and the class assessment.

Extra credit: virality

Your assignment will get 15% extra credit if the staff agrees that it went viral online, within Stanford or any other online community. Go for it!