Owen WilliamsFormer TNW employee
Owen was a reporter for TNW based in Amsterdam, now a full-time freelance writer and consultant helping technology companies make their word Owen was a reporter for TNW based in Amsterdam, now a full-time freelance writer and consultant helping technology companies make their words friendlier. In his spare time he codes, writes newsletters and cycles around the city.
Somehow, over the last 24 hours, I have become the world’s leading expert on toilet paper orientation. Allow me to explain.
It all started when I found this patent on Google Patents and made a tweet about it:
The patent for toilet paper should settle the over vs under debate pic.twitter.com/arZl6l6ALn
— Owen Williams ⚡️ (@ow) March 17, 2015
A bunch of us argued about which way was the true way for a while — some people seem to think it should face the wall to stop your cat from pulling it all down — but I quickly discovered people are quite passionate about their toilet habits.
The tweet didn’t really go anywhere fast at first, but after I went to sleep, I woke up to it appearing on a few news sites like Australia’s SMH and The Huffington Post. This was pretty insane, to me. How had my joke tweet hit the news?
If you’ve ever had something go mildly viral, you’ll know that your Twitter mentions quickly become full of people discussing their side of the argument.
Later that day, it started being shared on my Facebook feed by friends who I have no connection to on Twitter. People started messaging me asking me if I was the same Owen Williams that was quoted in these articles. I started realizing that this is what it was like to go truly viral.
It seems like a bunch of radio stations and sites had seen my tweet and ran with it. Then, more of them picked it up and the cycle kept going.
Somehow, overnight, I had become the leading expert on toilet paper and had sparked an international debate on which way your toilet paper should face in the loo. It was awesome, but totally unexpected.
When I woke up today, I found it on Buzzfeed, NPR, Today and basically everywhere else, including my local radio stations in New Zealand.
Toilet paper expert
ABC radio Australia called me and asked if I wanted to talk on the radio about the patent, so I figured why the hell not. They asked me if I’m a scruncher or a folder of toilet paper on the air and which way my bathroom is configured. It was the weirdest and best radio interview I’ve ever been called in to provide expert commentary on.
Eventually, requests for comment about the patent from news companies working on a story about it were pouring into my inbox. I was happy to oblige! I’ve made it. I’m a toilet paper expert…because of one tweet.
Finally to settle the debate we have all been waiting for! Owen Williams, a technology writer here now to talk about toilet paper!#RedSymons
— ABC Radio Melbourne (@abcmelbourne) March 18, 2015
What’s amazing to me is how far a simple tweet can go; it exploded in a matter of 24 hours, ending up on basically every major news site, a bunch of TV channels and all over Facebook. A joke I made online was suddenly out of my own control and had grown into its own thing, which is really cool.
It’s similar, in a smaller way, to “the dress” that exploded online; when something causes people to divide into two separate sides of the debate, people love to argue over it and it gets shared everywhere.
Virality often follows this same recipe; when you share something that could be controversial and divide people into two camps, it almost inevitably means people will share it on with their own thoughts.
Disagreement makes it easy to argue over something that’s usually considered to be banal; people love to be right about things and secretly enjoy proving others wrong.
If you ever need an expert on toilet paper orientation, you know who to call.
Top image: Shutterstock
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