How I made the Manchester New Year's Eve photo go viral

  • 2 January 2016
Photo of revellers in Manchester Image copyright Joel Goodman

It's already been billed as the image of 2016 in some quarters. It's been called art and hailed for its beautiful composition. Others have singled out how it depicts 21st century Britain.

If you have not yet seen the image in question, it shows drunken revellers on a Manchester street and was taken by photographer Joel Goodman on New Year's Eve.

And it's my fault he received all the world's attention on Friday. Sorry, Joel.

Mainstream UK websites chose to lead with the image. Le Monde ran a piece on it. Other websites in France, as well in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere, discussed it.

The original post has been retweeted more than 23,000 times.

So what happens when you unexpectedly go viral? So far, I've identified five key stages.

Naivety

The photo was initially buried deep in a gallery posted by the Manchester Evening News.

It immediately jumped out - it had so much drama in one place I couldn't stop staring at it. So I posted it, crediting the newspaper (more on that later).

My starting position whenever I post anything is to assume not many people will read it.

But I underestimated a few things - it was New Year's Day, so people were at home not doing much. There are a lot of art lovers out there. And people really, really like to laugh at other people.

Image copyright @hughesroland

Shock

Within minutes the tweet had gained some momentum - in the Netherlands of all places, thanks to a Dutch follower. At some point, the interest moved over the Channel.

Soon afterwards, one follower pointed out the photo's real aesthetic value - the fact that it complied with the so-called golden ratio rule.

A meme was born.

At that point, it all became a bit overwhelming - comedians reposted the image, major news networks paid attention to it, people spent their time making detailed artistic recreations.

Out of everything happening across the world on Friday, Twitter decided it was the most important "moment".

Was there nothing else going on in the world?

Acceptance

As soon as the disbelief wore off, abnormal became the new normal.

I started getting bombarded by Twitter users pointing out similarities with the paintings of Hogarth, Caravaggio, Gericault and Lowry, as well as the tapestries of Grayson Perry (I now know more about art than I did in school).

Some more creative types went as far as adapting the image in the style of Van Gogh, Georges Seurat and Michelangelo - often adding the reclining man with the beer from the original photo.

Image caption Some used specialist apps to recreate the image

But more interesting was seeing just how proud Mancunians were to see their hometown depicted in this way.

It's fair to say that the scene is one many people in Manchester have seen before, judging by the amount of times people posted it saying, "I love my town".

Guilt

My immediate pang of guilt came from the fact I hadn't credited Joel on the initial tweet, something I tried to quickly rectify.

But it made little difference - my initial tweet didn't say who took it, so he didn't get all the credit he deserved.

From now on, I'll be crediting the photographer wherever I can.

Joel and I have since been in touch - he is thrilled with the attention and it's been good business for him.

But a campaign started to get one of the most prominent retweeters - sci-fi author William Gibson - to acknowledge who took the photo.

And people power worked.

But my guilt also came from knowing that these were people who, although out celebrating New Year, were not in any position to consent to a photo being taken - and they would certainly not have expected to see themselves become a meme.

Image copyright @kapowaz
Image caption Others turned the photo into a digital watercolour

A small minority of commentators attacked the image and the debauchery it portrays.

Some thought it was invasive. One man said the initial photo gallery was "irresponsible and voyeuristic" and I would be upset if anyone in the image has taken offence.

It certainly raises issues about how much duty of care you have in posting something - whether it goes viral or not. It's not a question I'm capable of answering here, but it has made me rethink the nature of what is put out there.

On the other hand, I would just love to know who the guy lying on the ground is. Anyone?

Fatigue

I am close to the point of fatigue now.

My family were probably at that point at 16:00 GMT on Friday when I was pointing out in which country I was trending at that time.

And yet the tweets continue.

And the requests to buy Joel's prints continue - the latest from Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia.

While Joel and I might be still shocked at the response, we are also very lucky - that the photo trended for a positive reason.

People, for the most part, liked it. I hate to think what happens to those who find themselves on the end of Twitter hype for all the wrong reasons.