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Vonage Challenges U.Va. Faculty To Probe the Concept of ‘Virality’

What makes something “go viral” in the era of instantaneous global communication?

The rapid sharing of information in today’s media world – whether it be a South Korean rapper’s music video taking the U.S. by storm, or the images and messages that sparked the Arab Spring – is the subject of a new research challenge that Vonage is issuing to University of Virginia faculty and graduate students through OpenGrounds.

Vonage will fund two or three multidisciplinary research projects at $15,000 to $25,000 apiece beginning this summer to study the phenomenon of virality. The project teams will be expected to work independently and in collaboration with one another and Vonage.

The call for proposals arose from a two-day, multidisciplinary gathering of U.Va. faculty members and Vonage executives last summer, according to the call for proposals.

The deadline for proposals is April 20. Selected projects will be announced on or around May 1. Teams will meet approximately every three weeks, with an interim report due Aug. 15. A draft report is due Oct. 1, with final reports to be presented Dec. 1.

“The rapid acceleration of information flows through contemporary communication channels gives rise to phenomena that both accelerate processes of globalization and threaten to destabilize existing relationships,” the call for proposals says. “The triggers and accelerants that cause some information to spread are a primary subject of this initiative.

“Understanding the triggers, motivations and mechanisms for virality may have important implications for understanding human behavior and developing effective communication strategies.”

“We are excited to explore a new type of research collaboration with Vonage,” said Bill Sherman, associate vice president for research and founding director of OpenGrounds. ”It represents a model for corporate/university engagement with benefits for both organizations in an open culture for exploratory research.”

For information, contact Sherman at opengrounds@virginia.edu.

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