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Welcome to Night Vale and the Power of Crowd Influence Through Social Media

Welcome to Night Vale is a bi-monthly science fiction horror podcast that first released on Jun 15 2012 to little notice or acclaim. The podcast remained a well reviewed and moderately successful if mostly unheard of niche-story until August 1 2013, nearly a year after its first release. Out of almost nowhere, Welcome to Night Vale exploded into popularity, achieving an incredible spike in interest (according to Google Trends), and seeing record download levels. The podcast’s episodes went from being downloaded a couple thousand times in a year to being downloaded nearly ten million times in a single summer. Welcome to Night Vale has released several books, gone on numerous national and international live tours and continues to maintain strong levels of popularity and interest?



How could an obscure podcast suddenly see such a huge spike in popularity? The answer lies in Crowd influence and the power of Tumblr, a popular online micro-blogging platform.

In the written collection of podcast episodes, The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe, Night Vale Co-Writer Jeffery Cranor describes how the podcast went from being downloaded a couple thousands of times over an entire year to being downloaded almost 10,000,000 times in two months. At first, the enormous spike in popularity seemed completely random, there had been no sudden endorsements by famous celebrities or writers or newspapers, nothing that would traditionally act as such a positive promotion. Instead, as Jeffrey Cranor described, the bulk of attention for Welcome to Night Vale seemed to spread entirely from Tumblr.

Tumblr is a popular social media sight often associated with “fandoms”, large groups of people who share posts about specific television shows, games, movies, or celebrities. People follow blogs that typically post things they like (a star-wars fan might follow a few star wars blogs), and are typically followed by other bloggers. This naturally creates a directed Network with blogs as nodes and paths of who follows who as the edges. Imortantly, blogs don’t always create their content, they openly re-share other posts created by other blogs, they “reblog”. What then happens is an artist might have only 100 followers, but if those same followers think their followers would like to see that piece of art,the can “reblog” and spread that art around tumblr. In this way, an artist with 100 followers can get 100,000 people to see and like and share their art.


In the same sense that people make the decision where to eat dinner when going out with friends, people choose how to spend their time, what shows to watch, what movies to see, what podcasts to listen to. In the same sense that the presence of crowds of people outside a previously unheard of taco restaurant might influence a wandering couple looking for a bite to eat, the sudden presence of a large online fandom for some random podcast like Welcome to Night Vale can lead to an incredible cascade effect. In this way, the rise of Night Vale’s popularity provides an interesting exploration into both the networked nature of Tumblr and the profound impact of crowd influence.



Fink, Joseph, and Jeffrey Cranor. Mostly Void, Partially Stars: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 1. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Fink, Joseph, Maureen Johnson, Jeffrey Cranor, and Jessica Hayworth. The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 2. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.



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