Infographic: Microsoft Charts The Viral Spread Of An Indie Album

THe XX scores a collaboration with one of the world’s largest technology companies.

The xx is a London indie pop band that had a huge debut album in 2009. Just this month, they released their hugely anticipated follow-up, Coexist. Now, there are a lot of ways bands try to guarantee that these launches are big. They send out prerelease albums and arrange several media appearances. But how do you leverage your digital fanbase in an equally compelling way?


For Coexist, The xx teamed up with designers at 9elements and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer team to release a new kind of album promotion…and built it in a mere four weeks. The album’s new site allows you to listen to songs from Coexist, all while sharing them via Twitter, Facebook, or email. But when that sharing happens, something else happens, too.

Each share generates a unique URL. This URL is tagged with a randomly assigned ID along with a location. When a friend or random Twitter follower opens the shared link, the site draws a Bezier curve that tracks the album’s spread. The result of a single tweet can become an intercontinental ballistic assault on pop culture, and as these missiles stack a thousand flight paths high, we can actually watch as trends go viral across the globe.

“My personal opinion is as a culture, we are extremely visually oriented. As such, we consistently look for ways to experience the same old things in new and exciting ways,” Microsoft senior product manager Bryan Saftler tells Co.Design. “What Coexist does with visualization is that it makes fans of the band feel connected in a way that just having a music player and a link could never have dreamed of accomplishing.”

This isn’t the first project in which 9elements has visualized the global spread of social media. In an experiment with the photo service called Live Is Beautiful, they track the images people are looking at around the world. A person in Houston is connected by a line to an image they’re looking at from Tokyo.

But what’s particularly interesting about the site for Coexist is that this visualization has made its way into, not just an online experiment, but a fully articulated commercial product that’s reaching the masses.

“We wanted to challenge people’s expectations for what you can do on the web–particularly with an album release,” Saftler writes. “Do I think there is a future for such visualizations? Absolutely–my hope is that we inspired others to take this to an even greater level. Do I think the public wants this sort of interconnected responsive visualizations? I’d point to the millions of shares on every continent on the globe in less than seven days as pretty good proof this idea has some legs.”


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.