The Day After The Lolcats Died

Why, why are laws a thing you can buy?
They got paid off, should be laid off, re-election denied
Our web means more than lawyers, lobbies and lies
So speak up before the internet dies

Thursday, January 12th.
Six days before tens of thousands of websites blacked out, before thousands would take to the streets of New York and San Francisco, and before the biggest online protest in history. SOPA and PIPA were being rammed through Congress, and it threatened to restrict freedom of information and destroy the Internet as we know it.

I was spending a lot of time on this fight. I had spent the week juggling my full time job and planning a protest rally in Seattle (which ended up getting snowed out), when a line to a song suddenly popped into my head. Sung to the tune of Don McLean’s “American Pie,” it went “the day the lolcats died.”

I’m part of Laughpong, a Youtube channel where my circle of friends make viral comedy videos about popular topics like Kinect or Siri. Most of our videos break 100,000 views, several have broken 1 million. Cumulatively, we have over 10 million views.

As soon as that line popped into my head, I knew we had to make this happen. I sat down, wrote a rough draft of the lyrics, and forwarded it to Rob and Alexander, two of our writers, with the instructions “DROP EVERYTHING AND WORK ON THIS.” We went from idea to final script in less than 24 hours.

Friday, January 13th.
While Rob and Alexander were writing, I contacted Forest, the director. We recruited our friend Chris Parker to sing and play the song, secured a cameo from Ben Huh, CEO of The Cheezburger Network, and set up a shoot for the next day,

Saturday, January 14th.
Chris, Forest, our cameraman Gabe, the assistant Molly, and I arrived on set at 9am to start shooting. It was a cold, rainy, miserable Seattle morning, and we were shooting in a garage. We got there and while Chris was warming up we experimented with the camera, sound, and lighting setup. By 10am we were finally ready to do the first take.

Watching Chris play gave me the chills. We finished the first take, and everyone on set was stunned in silence. We looked around and just thought “Oh my god… this is phenomenal.” It would later be called “The official Protest Song of the SOPA/PIPA Movement,” and remembering how I felt in that moment, I’m not surprised.

We shot a few more takes with Chris, and then we were done with the musical portion. Forest, Gabe, Molly and I then drove down to our “Office” set to get the other shots we needed (Ben Huh and the calendar, Molly tearing up paper, Forest and I on the computer). Ben Huh actually BROUGHT a printed out copy of SOPA (which was MASSIVE), and we decide to have Molly ACTUALLY rip up the bill. It took a little while to get the shot right, but we were pretty satisfied with the final result.

We wrapped shooting for the day around 5pm. Subtracting transit time and lunch, we spent about 6.5 hours shooting the video.

Sunday, January 15th.
Forest locked himself in his room and edited the video together. I recruited our friend Tara to join me as the marketing team, and we made a list of all of the news sites, blogs, and influential people we wanted to reach out to and have promote the video.

Monday, January 16th.
More research, and we started crafting the messaging to use in our outreach., and we started planning the launch.

Tuesday, January 17th.
Launch. The next two days were two of the craziest days of my life. LaughPong has had big launches before, but nothing like this. The video was successful and was picking up steam on a lot of smaller blogs and websites, but then it hit TechCrunch. And that’s when ALL the other sites picked it up. Wired. Fark. The Huffington Post. The Washington Post. The Wallstreet Journal. MSNBC. (Twice) We were trending globally on Youtube and on Twitter. Youtube’s Autocomplete was even suggesting us for “The day the-”. At one point we were getting 30 to 40 tweets a minute.

Wednesday, January 18th.
This was the day of the big blackout. Wikipedia was down, Google’s logo was censored, Craigslist was redirecting. The Internet had gone nuclear, and so had The Day the Lolcats Died. The viewcount was exploding. We were getting requests for interviews internationally. The organizers of the New York City rally wanted to know if Chris could come and play the song at the event for the protestors.

This is the day that our video was played on The Today Show, and the song was played throughout the day on national NPR. It was also the day that College Humor downloaded our video and reuploaded it to their site without permission, linkback, or attribution (under SOPA, we totally could have taken College Humor offline!). When College Humor steals your stuff, that’s when you KNOW you’re successful!

The Next Week:
The Day the Lolcats Died burned across the Internet, breaking 800,000 views in just a few days. There was a never ending stream of tweets, articles, blog posts, and comments saying “This video drove me to call my Congressman.” There were even positive Youtube comments – WHEN HAS THAT EVER HAPPENED BEFORE!?

Many amazing organizations were creating incredible content detailing why SOPA and PIPA were bad and why people should fight it. For the people who are passionate about this and recognize the importance, it was perfect. But for the masses who aren’t in the tech industry or didn’t understand the importance, our video was the catalyst to get them to act. It was video content, it was short, it was funny, it was damn catchy, it was easily sharable, and it had a strong, but simple, call to action.

The video was extremely topical, so as expected once SOPA and PIPA were declared dead and the blackout was over, views dropped off rapidly. But that’s fine - the video served its purpose.

It showed that nine people (Zachary Cohn, Forest Gibson, Molly McIsaac, Gabe Conroy, Chris Parker, Alexander Theoharis, Rob Whitehead, Tara Theoharis, and Ben Huh) could come together in five days with a budget of zero dollars and create something that had a significant impact on the future.

I’m proud of my friends for what we created together, and I’m proud that in 50 years I’ll be able to pull up “The Day the Lolcats Died“ on HoloTube and show my grandchildren that I fought for what I believed in.

Oh, and just wait until you see what we’re doing next.

Written on January 6, 2012