Head of Storytelling, NZZ

#YouDontKnowAfrica: Learnings from an accidental worldwide internet hit

December 1, 2013 (updated on January 22, 2017)

Little did I expect when, during my latest holiday, I decided I wanted to create some sort of news game. Like with all my coding experiments, it was all about the process of creating it, rather than what happens with it afterwards.

screenshot3

Turns out a lot of people liked «You Don’t Know Africa» and played and shared it like crazy. Which, for me, turned the project into an interesting case study of how content gets distributed and discovered on the web.

What makes «You Don’t Know Africa» an interesting example to study is the fact that it was launched as a standalone project with no existing site as take-off ramp. In other words, all traffic to the site was so called «earned traffic», there was no regular audience that would have pushed reception into a certain direction from the start.

Well, to be precise, not exactly no regular audience, but very little. I «seeded» the site with one post each to my Twitter and my Facebook account, on Tuesday, November 26 (both, incidentally, in German and highlighting not what the site is, but that I’ve been tinkering with code again).

Five days after launching «You Don’t Know Africa», 140’000 people have visited the site and played for a total of more than 500’000 minutes. The site has been accessed from 211 countries (by the way Google Analytics counts them, which for example lists Greenland as a separate country), the largest missing one being Tajikistan.

worldmap

I’ve been asked what I consider the reason for the game’s success. I think there are three.

  1. The game «Click That ‘Hood» as developed by Code for America is highly addictive already. They did a great job both on the idea and the execution (and thanks, of course, for making it open source and allowing me to modify it).
  2. I challenged the people with a thesis: You Don’t Know Africa.
  3. Unlike «Click that ‘Hood», people didn’t have to decide what to play. Everyone played Africa, everyone played the same game and thus shared an experience. This was especially crucial for the social sharing aspect of it.

What I hadn’t expected, only suspected, was that people would be so willing to share their usually rather embarrassing results. I guess what helped here is that, after all, it’s not really that embarrassing to know little about Africa’s geography, since (sadly) most people don’t. It’s similar to admitting that you’re bad at math among journalists, but don’t get me started on this…

Let’s have a look at how it all unfolded. These are the hourly visits to the site from its launch until five days later, Sunday noon.

visits

The first 24 hours accounted for less than 10% of the total traffic, which seems unusual, but makes sense given the absence of a take-off ramp. What fuelled most visits during that period was a blogpost on swiss-miss.com and already quite a number of shares on Facebook.

Interestingly enough, traffic skyrocketed on day two when the Italian news site internazionale.it mentioned the game in its visualisation blog. It was also around then when the multiplication effects of Facebook (and to lesser extent: Twitter) really kicked in.

After five days, social networks account for 59 percent of the visits, referrals for 23 percent. Strikingly absent is search, which drove only 0.5 percent of the overall visits to the site. This would make for a more interesting finding weren’t it for the fact that for some reason, Google has yet to index it (Bing has it, but as you can guess, this doesn’t really show in the metrics). Those who searched for it, will have come to the site via another site and are thus counted as referrals.

A closer look at those people who came via social networks reveals the staggering dominance of Facebook. 94 percent (yes, ninety-four) of all social traffic came from Facebook. It should be noted, though, that after playing the game, sharing the results was explicitly encouraged only for Facebook or Twitter (for the numbers of shares on different sites, check Likeexplorer). Nonetheless, the take-away comes through: For general interest content, Facebook is in a league of its own.

While social networks drove most of the traffic to YDKA, other sites contributed significantly, too, most notably internazionale.it, which brought more than 10000 visits, almost four times the amount that came via Twitter. Three other sites, 444 from Hungary, taz from Germany and aforementioned swiss-miss.com from the USA generated more visits for YDKA than Twitter.


One more thing: mobile. «You can’t go viral if your content can’t be viewed and shared on the mobile web.» I had this Jonah Peretti reminder in mind when I launched YDKA with a blacked out screen on mobile devices, saying «Please use a bigger screen».

I had tried to make the game work on mobile (meaning: smartphones, it works like a charm on tablets), but failed. Tapping any but the largest countries with your fingers didn’t work and would have been a terrible overall experience of the game. I made the bet that at least some people will try later on a bigger screen, then like the game and share it (whereas hardly anyone would have shared the game after experiencing the bad mobile version of it).

While I can now say it did go viral although it could neither be viewed nor shared on the mobile web, I cannot know if it had spread even more if it did.

Anything I’m missing here? Let me know.

Update Dec 14th:
onemillion

Update August 2015:
The game has now been played more than 1 million times.

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