So you want to be a viral video star.
Now that web sites like YouTube have created a democratized platform for celebrity, anyone who uploads a video has a chance to become a sensation. And we've seen deals follow with TV networks and record labels.
Sounds easy, right? Except that more than 70 million videos are watched on YouTube daily. In that enormous digital wilderness, most videos fall without a sound.
To reach the pinnacle of YouTube celebrity, your video must generally rank among either the most-viewed or most-subscribed lists, which each include only 100 videos, arranged daily, weekly, monthly and by all-time.
A look at how to rise up the charts:
Nobody knows what will become a hit. The most popular videos ever posted on YouTube include a balding man dancing (39 million views), an impression of a computer bug (6 million) and a dog that seems to hate his left hind foot (7 million).
"It's really about finding out what you do best and putting it out there," says Ben Going, a 21-year-old Alabama waiter who as "boh3m3" is one of the best-known members of the YouTube community.
Then there's the consistent popularity of cute, young girls. YouTube's biggest star _ lonelygirl15 _ probably wouldn't have succeeded as a middle-aged man. In recent months, many have sought to exploit the male impulse to click on anything that has the slightest chance of showing some skin.
One of the week's most-viewed clips has a thumbnail photo of a buxom blonde and calls itself "Chicks Gone Wild!!! 2" And thus more than a million people have clicked on a video of baby chickens.
Last month, dot-com entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who frequently blogs critically on YouTube, wrote: "That's what YouTube has become. Fake porn and commercials."
One good way to make a name for yourself is to parody something that's already popular on YouTube. For example, Richard Stern _ known as "Lazydork" _ became well known after making a rap video titled "LonelyGirl: Lazydork is Better Than You."
Actor Jamie Kennedy's recent parody "How To Blow Up on YouTube" recomended mixing Mentos with Diet Coke, playing with cats, singing into the camera or pairing yourself with a teenage girl.
Once you've uploaded your video and tagged it with relevant subjects, your work has just begun. Some people may stumble on your video and maybe your friends will share it with others, but you've got to create your audience just as you created your video.
"One of the things that we always recommend is to build a YouTube channel and be an active part of the community," says Aaron Ferstman, a spokesman for YouTube. "It's really about producing creative content, contributing it, getting comments and just participating with other people."
Francis Stokes, a 34-year-old independent filmmaker, spent years at film festivals with his movie "Harold Buttleman, Daredevil Stuntman." Now his "God, Inc." series on YouTube has brought fame and industry notice in a matter of weeks.
The first episode of "God, Inc.," which presents heaven as an office, has received nearly one million views since being added in early December _ but it didn't happen overnight.
"I uploaded the video thinking, `Oh, people will find it.' And then after a while, I started getting to know YouTube and getting to know who was popular, so I sent out some e-mails and made some comments," he said.
To infuse yourself into the community, you can post video responses and comments to the videos of popular YouTubers.
Damien Estreich has become a unique presence in online video with his channel, YourTube News. His videos _ sometimes hosted by a professional broadcaster _ report what's happening on YouTube and profile notable contributors. But he also had to fight to become relevant.
"I just marketed my heart out on people's pages and got social networking going," says Estreich, who lives in Australia. "I got popular members doing video responses _ got the name in there."
Going, however, is reluctant to lend his spotlight to those who approach him: "That's not what it's all about."
Occasionally, suspicion arises that a video has become artificially inflated by "gaming" the system _ repeatedly posting comments on one's own video to make it one of the "most discussed" videos, or by using multiple user names to increase subscription numbers.
YouTube spokeswoman Jennifer Nielsen notes that to make a YouTube profile, you need to have a unique e-mail address, which would make dummy accounts time-consuming to create. For security reasons, she won't discuss YouTube's anti-gaming software that prevents repeated refreshing of pages to falsely drum up view counts.
Some viral videos spread of their own magical volition, but many get help. One of the best boosts is to become featured on the home page of YouTube.
It's possible to e-mail your video to these editors and hope it catches their fancy. Going first gained a large number of subscribers after his video appeared on the front of YouTube, and it was the key to Stokes' jump in popularity.
"I woke up the next morning and we were up to 300,000 and my e-mail inbox had 50 e-mails _ people all over the world," says Stokes. "Somebody was translating it into Spanish."
Inward-looking vlogs like Estreich's YourTube News and a similar channel called UTubeUrTube can also bring attention to your video.
Estreich was one of the early YouTubers to promote a singer named Mia Rose. That got the ball rolling for the 18-year-old, who over the past month has become the most-subscribed musician ever on YouTube. Estreich is now working as one of Rose's representatives, and the young singer says she has offers from several music labels.
On YouTube, popularity breeds more popularity. Once you've made it to the most-viewed list, more and more people will click on it; growth can become exponential. The most popular YouTube clip of all-time, Judson Laipply's "Evolution of Dance," has now been seen by more than 39 million people.
Like many others at the top, Laipply has frequently been profiled by traditional media, including The Associated Press. And that media attention represents the final rung of the viral video ladder.
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So you want to be a viral video star.