So you want to be a viral video?

December 23, 2010: 3:00 AM ET

A look at Xtranormal, the company that makes those sardonic robot videos, and how they plan to be the Zynga of intentionally bad online animation.

By Chadwick Matlin, contributor

Screengrab from the Xtranormal Geico commercial

Screengrab from the Xtranormal Geico commercial

You've likely been sent an Xtranormal video by now. You know the one—it probably skewers your profession, government, or general outlook on life. They usually feature two 3-D characters—animals, robots, or people, usually—talking to one another in voices that sound like Stephen Hawking's. Flat, monotone, and glitchy, the two characters speak a script while standing completely still. Xtranormal doesn't write any of the dialogue itself; users feed Xtranormal's website the text, and Xtranormal makes it come alive. If you're willing to call the stiff, dry drawl of Xtranormal's characters "alive."

It's that dynamic—human dialogue scraped of all emotion—that has made Xtranormal videos a remarkable success online. The company says users have made 9.4 million videos, and those videos have been watched hundreds of millions of times. (Xtranormal doesn't have exact numbers because the videos are played offsite, where Xtranormal can't always obtain viewership stats.) The videos have become an emergent genre of web video, a way to offer an anonymous critique of a slice of life that, when one stops to think about it, doesn't make any sense. And as a result, Xtranormal is convinced it can also become an emerging business, one sardonic quip—and virtual good—at a time.


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