The first ever viral video.

Back in 1991 in the Computer Lab at Cambridge University, there was only one lone coffee pot. The coffee pot lived in the corridor outside ‘The Trojan Room’ and this is the tale of how it became the star of the first ever viral film.


“Some members of the ‘coffee club’ lived in other parts of the building and had to navigate several flights of stairs to get to the coffee pot; a trip which often proved fruitless if the all-night hackers of the Trojan Room had got there first.” Quentin Strafford-Fraser – co-creator.


Then, Strafford-Fraser, decided to fix a camera and point it at the coffee pot. He made the images available on the internal computer network for students to check if the coffee pot was full. Genius.

The first ever viral film

The Trojan Room Coffee Pot


At the time the image was only able to be updated about 3 times a minute:


“But that was fine beacuase the pot filled rather slowly, and it was only greyscale, which was also fine, because so was the coffee.”  Quentin Strafford-Fraser.


The coffee pot became father infamous in Quentin’s expert field but it wasn’t until November 1993 that Daniel Gordon and Martyn Johnson connected the camera to the internet and it became available to watch across the world (original site).



By 1998 the coffee pot site was getting 1,000 visits a day and had clocked up over 2 million views (it was even mentioned on The Archers). The original team who built the camera including Quentin and Paul Jardetzky have been cited as the inventors of the web cam.


Why did this happen?

Thales Teixeira, Assistant Professor of Business Administration (Haravard Business School), explains that the phycology behind video sharing is often a selfish one  – we share because we want to “gain social capital in the process” – it’s got very little to do with giving a gift to a friend, it’s more to do with gaining kudos.


In the case of the Trojan Room coffee pot ‘web cam’, people wanted to share that they had found this amazing new innovate idea.


How do you create a viral film?

The Trojan Room coffee pot ‘web cam’ was never intended to be a global fascination and nor are most famous viral videos – take for example Double Rainbow and Charlie Bit my finger.

The fact is you cannot predict a viral.

I read a tweet the other day by a production company that claimed they did ‘virals’. This is a very dangerous claim. As Seb Royce, the creative director of Glue Isobar, once said:


“It’s very difficult to say ‘I’m going to create a viral’ because a lot of things become viral by accident. When you make going viral an aim, things can go really awry.”


We had a viral once

We had a viral once


There are many factor that go into the creation of a ‘viral’ (and we will go into these in detail at a  later date). Since the Trojan Room coffee pot ‘web cam’, we have evolved, and so has advertising and it’s platform for delivery.

One of the most drastic changes to date is that traditionally the ‘punchline’ of the advert came at the end. Using YouTube as a platform, it’s important to have at least one ‘punchline’, ‘teaser’, ‘explainer’ or something else within the first 5 seconds in order to grab the viewer and then take the viewer on that emotional journey.


There’s no accounting for human behaviour.

I remember we created an accidental viral once – it was huge in Korea – did you see it? 50,000 hits in one weekend. What you missed it? This was just a spur of the moment idea by the client which made us all laugh but it was no Trojan Room coffee pot ‘web cam’. My point being that there was no way of predicting that this would happen.


On other other hand, we’ve created ‘How to’s’ intended to grab a large audience and they did exactly that.



And what became of the coffee pot? 

The coffee pot became so famous that it sold at auction for £3,350 (and that wasn’t even the original pot – just the longest serving!).

If you fancy grabbing a coffee and watching a few of our video productions, it would be our pleasure.

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