Virality is kind of a white whale in the Internet world. It's hard to engineer — though many have tried — and it often smiles on those who least expect it.
Take Ben Pack, for instance, the 6-foot-10 San Francisco State journalism student whose claim to fame is, well, that he's 6-foot-10. Three weeks ago, the 23-year-old senior made a Tumblr about it after walking into a parking lot and realizing that he was tall enough to stand eye-to-eye with the "clearance" sign. Clearly, he had something to show the world.
Pack enlisted a few friends to take pictures of him standing next to, under, or above things — a rooftop awning that grazed his hairline; a woman whose head only reached his elbow; a bathroom stall door that ended well below his chin. Friends crunched Pack into too-small car seats and wedged him into bathtubs that barely fit his giant legs. He stood and mugged for the camera, looking sullen. It seemed like an easy enough gimmick.
Within a few days, Pack's Tumblr, "Ben Standing Next to Things," had 60 followers — mostly friends and family members. Then a friend posted it on Reddit and it exploded. By April 19, Pack's Tumblr was the second most popular post, right beneath Reddit's botched Boston Marathon bomber manhunt. He rose to the top of a Subreddit forum called "Funny," garnering more than 2,000 comments in a few hours.
Within two days, 3,200 people had subscribed to his blog, and scads more had subscribed to his podcast. He'd earned hundreds of new Twitter followers. People recognized him at an Off the Grid food festival. Someone asked to take pictures with him at the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japantown. The fun was just getting more fun.
Not too many people are lucky enough to create an Internet meme, much less become one, and Pack quickly realized that if the stars align, it's best to capitalize on sudden fame. He used his Reddit platform to spread awareness about a heart condition called Marfan Syndrome, which hospitalized him in December — it's a connective tissue disease that plagues the freakishly tall. He also started an Indiegogo campaign to send himself to Japan this fall, where he can stand next to many more people and things that are much shorter than he is, and document them.
He says it's a project well worth pursuing. "Most of my blogs are two sentences," Pack explains. "This would be more fleshed-out — half travel guide, half what it's like to be super-tall in Japan."
So far he's raised $254 of the $2,500 goal, which is a really tall order.