What I Learned from Cat Videos

Every Friday, I send an email to a handful of my coworkers with links to a few animal videos I’ve come across during the week.  These are people who help find information for doctors and researchers in specialties like neurology or orthopaedics, and many of them are former nurses and have subject specialties of their own.  Cat videos are something almost anyone who is on the internet regularly might be able to claim as a specialty, so you wouldn’t think that there’s a lot to learn in “curating” a small collection of them to email out once a week.  But in thinking of them as a “yay it’s Friday” morale and relationship builder, I’ve learned a LOT from committing to sending these emails out and trying to make them as satisfying as possible.

First, don’t assume that since you probably know more about something you can anticipate what people who know less than you might want. Of the people who have expressed interest in this email, I am the only one with an un-orphaned Twitter account, and I believe I can safely assume the only one who might regularly check in on Buzzfeed, Reddit, Cute Overload or Cute Roulette, so I was pretty sure I had a handle on providing a cat video experience that would blow these people’s’ minds.  Maru was a big initial hit, but I experienced declining returns with other popular internet cats – keyboard cat, for instance, was a complete dud.  That’s when I stopped assuming I knew what was going to make someone’s Friday morning awesome and started asking.

As it turns out, only one recipient was a true cat person (weird for a library, I know) – other people had dogs or no pets at all, and weren’t interested in the cat-internet community.  So I branched out and started including other species – I try to include one cat video every other week because one person REALLY loves them, but also one dog video and one video of a more exotic species, which always ends up being a great “I didn’t know!” conversation topic (last week’s red panda video led to some research on whether red pandas are more closely related to pandas or raccoons [raccoons, although they haven’t been close in a very long time]).  I’ve also gotten very positive feedback about videos that include more than one species, so I try to mix it up a little that way too.

The other major realization for me has been about quantity and the time it takes to absorb it.  Animal videos are awesome, right?  So an email FULL of animals will be amazing!  Except someone sitting at the circulation desk trying to field walk-ins, telephone calls and whatever other desk tasks they’ve been assigned is not going to have time to watch half a dozen animal videos, even if they really want to.  In fact, one woman told me she forwarded it to her personal account and watched them over the weekend! The last thing I wanted was to inadvertently assign homework, so I knew I had to change my methods immediately; I limited myself to three links, two videos under two minutes and an image or slideshow.  When I learned that people were still struggling to figure out when in the day they would watch these videos, I started including notes about the media type – “3 minute video,” “8 slides” – along with the little blurbs I wrote about them.

So here’s my ultimate formula – three links.  Two videos of cats and/or dogs, bonus if they include other species (goats have been popular lately, and I recently had a special request for otters), one image or slideshow.  A little blurb about each, mentioning a specific recipient if there’s been a special request or we’ve developed some kind of inside joke, and a short description of the medium.  I’m happy to report today that everyone looked at/watched everything in the email and we all had quite a few laughs!  Here is today’s tiny collection:

It strikes me that 1. usefulness and 2. minimal content are both things we covered in my web design and information architecture course, and would be two of the first things I would be mindful of if I were designing a website or interface.  But I had to learn them all over again over cat videos!  The truth is, I think I thought I knew all I needed to know because I knew a lot about cat videos, but that had nothing to do with making my coworkers happy on Friday mornings.