He's right up there with Nora, the piano-playing cat.
A Kansas State University professor's video on the history of the Internet - originally begun as an academic paper - has caused a sensation online. As of Monday, it had been viewed more than 900,000 times and was the fourth highest-rated video of the past month on YouTube, behind only a pair of episodes of the cartoon "Yu-Gi-Oh" and a "Meet Barack Obama" video.
"It's on almost 5,000 blogs now," said the video's creator, K-State assistant professor of cultural anthropology Michael Wesch. "It was a surprise."
The 4 1/2-minute video, titled "Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us," uses images Wesch captured on his computer screen to demonstrate how the Internet has evolved to allow users to generate and share their own content. The video, complete with a techno-beat background, also suggests that we're feeding computers billions of bits of revealing information about ourselves.
"When we post and tag pictures, we are teaching the machine," a typed message in the video reads. "Each time we forge a link, we teach it an idea."
Wesch said the idea for the video came as he was writing a paper about Web 2.0, a term used to describe the second generation of the Internet, which is full of user-generated content and social-networking sites such as MySpace.
"The irony I kept confronting was that I was using the old medium to explain a new one," he said.
The actual video only took about three days to create. When he posted it on Jan. 31, he sent an e-mail to about 10 people, he said. From there, it snowballed. Eventually, it was featured on popular blogs including BoingBoing.net and TechCrunch.com.
As of Monday, it was featured as one of the "Popular Videos" on the blog-tracking site Technorati.com, right above a video of "Nora, the Piano-Playing Cat."
Kansas University associate professor Nancy Baym, who studies online communities, says she first watched Wesch's video early last week.
"By that point I'd been hearing buzz about it everywhere I turned for several days before that," she said. "I think it's beautifully done."
Still, Baym said she doesn't believe that Web 2.0 has changed the fundamental nature of online communication.
"The whole premise of Web 2.0 is that it's people getting connected to each other, but that's what the Internet has always been," she said.
Baym said professors have an obligation to weigh in on subjects such as the Internet and how it's changing society. But high-profile, new media efforts such as Wesch's don't always play a role in how universities evaluate and promote faculty.
For her part, Baym writes a blog called onlinefandom.com, but there's nowhere to mention that on her merit-evaluation form.
"Universities all over the place are grappling with, 'What do we do with a blog?' It's not peer-reviewed," she said. "There's no category for it."