National Geographic’s ‘7 billion’ goes viral, highlights global issues

Spanish Immigrants, Copyright National Geographic

If global climate change, economic collapse or ancient Mayan prophesies don’t scare you than the National Geographic’s latest viral video will. The video, which went online just before New Year’s, points out that by the end of 2011 there will be 7 billion people living on the planet.

This year the magazine is running a series of reports on the global population explosion and its impact on food, energy, water supplies and the environment. The video highlights that 13% of the world’s population does not have access to clean water, 5% of the population consume 23% of the world’s energy while nearly 40% lack basic sanitation.

The video has been seen on YouTube over 800,000 times so far and has already be revised.

But this is only the start of the problem, the National Geographic points out,

The bad news is that 2030 is two decades away and that the largest generation of adolescents in history will then be entering their childbearing years. Even if each of those women has only two children, population will coast upward under its own momentum for another quarter century. Is a train wreck in the offing, or will people then be able to live humanely and in a way that doesn’t destroy their environment? One thing is certain: Close to one in six of them will live in India.

The series begins from March and will first look and man’s impact on geology.


  1. Piers – This is an important issue, and I’m glad you’re giving it the attention it deserves. One question: What makes a video “viral”? Is it the number of times it gets viewed? Or, is it how a big view count is achieved, esp by “virally” getting passed from one person to another via FB, Twitter, email, Digg, et al? … Put another way: If John Doe posts a video and gets 800,000 views, that’s viral; but is the same true for a major media outlet like National Geographic?
    Would love to hear your thoughts….
    Alan Mairson
    Society Matters

    1. @AlanMairson Hi Alan, I read an interesting opinion piece before Christmas on Google Reader which suggested there was a fine line between content becoming viral or simply ‘sharable’, a trending topic or a meme (I can’t find it at the moment but I will post it in this thread if I can dig it out), .

      I wold say that this is viral – that is: it has spread through word-of-mouth directly from person to person – but has not yet become a meme, which I would say is a self propagating link.

      Personally I dont think that the source of the content should affect its ‘viral’ status, although there is certainly a more cynical effort involved when a company creates something like this which is designed to go viral. As such as a piece of viral marketing the video has succeeded – it has brought the National Geographic’s site (and got us talking). I am glad that you mentioned emailing as a source – it is often overlooked as a link source but it is still a popular medium.

      It is an interesting area of study, we have a large number of words to describe similar acts – does the source, method of sharing and popularity affect the description?

    2. @pdscott Thanks for your reply, Piers. … I guess my question really is: How can you determine how many views for this video were made directly from NG’s Facebook feed (for example)… and how many are “spread through word-of-mouth directly from person-to-person” (e.g., “Hey Piers! You gotta check out this video! <link here>…. “? …

      I realize a FB “Like” is a way to share, and therefore it qualifies as viral. But when video tracking services say “viral,” are they paying attention to how the video spreads, or just that the video has reached a big audience?

      BTW: National Geographic Magazine has a FB page, and they posted the video link on Jan 6, and have received fewer than 70 likes. The National Geographic Society page posted the video on Dec 31, and it has received 3,963 Likes.

      Thanks in advance….

    3. @AlanMairson In real terms it would be impossible to determine how many views a video has had, downloads, reposts, analytic blocking addons etc will always prevent us from getting an absolute figure – I suppose your question comes down to the difference between a meme and a viral.

      Interesting bit.ly reports that the email services have been responsible for most of the ‘shares’ of the NatGeo site for the series (from the link posted on their Facebook page) – the actual number is likely higher if we were to include links from other links shortner services as well as direct links

      Email really is the hidden social network when it comes to viral marketing, perhaps in this case due to the age of NatGeo’s likely audience.

      I know that TV audiences figures are never absolute, they can judge broadly how many sets have viewed a programme but not the number of people sitting around the box – and until reciently the number of video-on-demand viewers.

      It is of course likely that Jakob Nielsen’s rule of participation inequality would have some baring on the viral-ity (to coin a phrase) of the video

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Piers Dillon Scott
Piers Dillon-Scott is co-editor of The Sociable and writes about stuff he finds. He likes technology, media, and using the Oxford comma (because it just makes sense).