What makes certain content bingeworthy? Why is some content so much better at getting itself spread around by word of mouth? How do certain packets of information get themselves copied from brain to brain? From book to brain? From tweet to brain? From brain to youtube to brain?

In other words, some content not only survives but flourishes while other content, no matter how valuable, worthy or true, just dies in a day like a Mayfly.


As a cognitive scientist I’ve been interested in this for over 40 years—before the rise of the internet and since. My first interest was in the context of the brain. Why are some thoughts infectious? Why are some ideas more interesting than others?

In the days when jokes were told I used to marvel at how some jokes had great ‘pass-on value’ and thrived but others fell flat.

In advertising, marketing and selling—an important part of business—I was keen to observe the commercial success of some campaigns compared to the failure of others. I wrote about WOMBAT Selling (2006) (Word Of Mouth Buy And Tell) and how some offers got themselves spread around by word of mouth and yet most offers were never passed on or recommended to friends.

In culture, religion, politics and art we can see the same selection pressures. Some religions (or variations) survive and claim adherents by the millions while others don’t make it all. Even some gods don’t survive, by Jove!

Political fads, preferences, poll results, and politicians come and go with such monotonous regularity that the whole show is largely ignored by the majority of people most of the time. Some political fireworks flare up and fade away quicker than others. Some endure.

Entertainment has its hits, superstars, bombs and extinctions. Heaven’s Gate is a 1980 American Western film. It’s notable for being one of the biggest box-office bombs of all-time, losing the studio well over 100 million dollars. Did you see it? Once? Twice?

In the late 50s and 60s, the bossa nova emerged among a small group of middle-class, non-professional Brazilian musician-composers—hobbyists–playing for enjoyment in their home lounges. It was an intimate, sophisticated sound. They took to playing their guitars and singing their songs on the beaches of Rio. Tom Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes, Leny Andrade, Roberto Menescal and friends. Today, every day and everywhere, you can still hear The Girl from Ipanema playing in cool cafes and high-rise elevators around the world.

In 2020 Netflix will spend around $10 billion on buying streaming rights for certain content. How does Netflix decide which content will be bingeworthy and which content, no matter how interesting, to ignore?

In most discussions about content the topic is discussed from just three points-of-view: the creator (writer/producer), the distributor (publisher/media) and the consumer (shopper/subscriber).

In Binge! we will do some lateral thinking and approach the topic from outside the box. We will explore a fourth viewpoint. We will look at content from it’s own point-of-view. From the content-eye. From the way content, itself, behaves. We will say things like, “This content was clever at getting itself copied here”. “Wow! This content has already acquired 4 billion brains!” And, “Sadly, this content was never able to survive its birth”. And so on.

I first wrote about this fourth viewpoint in The x10 Memeplex: Multiply Your Business By Ten! in 2000. It was based on research into memes and memetics and the viral or epidemiological behaviour of content in the information revolution and the internet. In particular, it was a practical book on how to apply these insights to business growth.

The bottom line is this: of the vast array of created content only a small selected amount ever survives long enough to get itself replicated, recommended and repeated.

So, with all this in mind, it will be interesting to observe the burgeoning bingeworthiness of Binge!

– Michael Hewitt-Gleeson,

Melbourne, 2019

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