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The Internet Hits the Copy Button on Viral Nova

Imitation on the Internet may or may not be, as the old saying goes, the most sincere form of flattery. But it’s most definitely something else: relentless, inescapable, and prone to overkill. Witness the rise of Viral Nova and the sudden ravenous swarm of similar sites that are now following in its wake.

To recap: Since launching in May 2013, Viral Nova has attracted a huge audience in a short time by expertly repurposing trending photo-based stories from websites such as BuzzFeed and Reddit, finding mass audiences from Facebook (FB) by deploying Upworthy-style headlines.

A report on the Wire revealed that Viral Nova is the work of Scott DeLong, a 31-year-old entrepreneur working out of his home in Ohio. Business Insider reported in January that he was shopping the website to potential suitors by touting an audience of 100 million monthly visitors, a lean cost structure (DeLong runs the site himself with the help of a couple of freelancers), robust Facebook page (now up to 1.3 million likes), and its steady influx of ad dollars from Google AdSense (possibly in the range of $400,000 a month).

All of which (how much? how fast? whaaaat?) has since stoked the Internet into a frenzy of imitation, complete with handy guides explaining how you, too, can get in on the gold rush. Now everywhere you look on Facebook there’s a site called Viral [Fill-in-the-Blank] pushing “amazing,” “awesome,” “unbelievable,” “unreal,” “hilariously epic,” and “shockingly brilliant” content that “will blow your mind.”

Herein are just a few of the examples of sites I’ve noticed on Facebook of late that traffic in said material:

Viral Forest: described as “trending stories on the web,” and whose Facebook page has 44,000 likes.

Viral Circus: “high quality viral content,” 116,000 Facebook likes.

Viral Viral Videos: “so viral we named it twice,” 15,000 Facebook likes.

Slightly Viral: “stories you just can’t miss” 37,000 Facebook likes.

Absolutely Viral: “viral stuff—just for you!” 211 Facebook likes.

As far as I can tell, nobody to date has launched Viral Spirogyra. But … just wait. There also appears to be no shortage these days of sites like Distractify (322,000 Facebook likes) that, while lacking “viral” in their names, play around in the same arena with the same palettes.

How Facebook ultimately reacts to this deluge of shocking-civic-balloon-mishap photo stories remains to be seen and is shaping up to be one of the more intriguing media stories of 2014. In the meantime, aspirational virality has never run higher.

Gillette is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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