Contrary to what you might think, the term "viral" has nothing to do with computer viruses. Instead it refers to a digital video, image, or article that has spiked in popularity and has reached a large number of users in a short period of time. While there is no exact number of views that makes something "go viral," most viral media is viewed by more than a million people in less than a week.

Viral videos are the most common type of viral media. Most viral videos are posted on YouTube, which provides free video hosting. Since YouTube has become the central location to view videos on the web, homemade videos have the potential to be viewed by millions of people around the world. While some users have success promoting their YouTube videos from other websites, most viral videos gain popularity by word of mouth. For example, if someone comes across a video that he thinks is especially amusing or shocking, he might forward the link to his friends. If his friends also like the video, they might tell their friends, who may tell other friends, etc.

For a video to become viral, it needs to reach a certain threshold that might be considered a "tipping point." Once it reaches this level of popularity, the number of views or "hits" spikes upwards and the video becomes viral. This may happen when the video reaches YouTube's "Most Popular" list or is picked up and shown by a national news network. Once this happens, the already popular video gets even more publicity and goes viral.

Updated February 9, 2011 by Per C.

quizTest Your Knowledge

Technology that helps generate higher crop yields might be categorized as what?

Correct! Incorrect!     View the Biotech definition.
More Quizzes →

The Tech Terms Computer Dictionary

The definition of Viral on this page is an original definition written by the team. If you would like to reference this page or cite this definition, please use the green citation links above.

The goal of is to explain computer terminology in a way that is easy to understand. We strive for simplicity and accuracy with every definition we publish. If you have feedback about this definition or would like to suggest a new technical term, please contact us.

Sign up for the free TechTerms Newsletter

How often would you like to receive an email?

You can unsubscribe or change your frequency setting at any time using the links available in each email.

Questions? Please contact us.