Finding the 20 biggest things that happened online in 2011

Dom Waghorn explains how Syzygy took key techie and online events from 2011 and created 20things, a unique combination of art and riddle.

Finding the 20 biggest things that happened online in 2011

The concept of 20things was pretty simple: create a single piece of art that weaves together 20 specific acts or events from the previous year. The only rule for inclusion was that they needed to have happened on the internet or have a technology angle.

The French artist McBess illustrated the 2010 edition; 2011's design was by Peter Jaworowski, the executive creative director, and Michal Lisowski, the lead artist at Ars Thanea, a Polish agency within Syzygy Group. The work itself is beautiful, but the "game" is to try to spot all 20 things.

It is this combination of art and riddle that underpins the idea of 20things. We figured that if the content was good enough and the challenge just on the right side of difficult, then the social web would help with the sharing.

After all, stripped back, 20things is really just a single jpeg - which makes it super-easy to paste on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, your blog or a forum. But we also didn't forget traditional media - we knew the leading design and technology magazines and sites would have huge influence and reach.

Although we never saw 20things as a competition, a lot of people did, spending hours trying to solve all 20. For some, it was a badge of honour to recognise both Dennis Ritchie and the Honey Badger; and for these committed, rounded individuals, we provided printed, signed posters of the artwork.

For the less dedicated (and less geeky), we offered clues over the course of a week via Twitter and the 20things website.

How successful has it been? Sysomos tracked 2.4 million Twitter impressions in the first four days and half-a-million Facebook impressions. More than 300 blogs have covered it and it has been discussed on more than 100 forums. Gizmodo, Laughing Squid, the Daily What and MSN Digital Life all wrote about it and Tweeted it, sending a lot of traffic to the site.

Interest in 20things bypassed borders and languages - the beauty of a single, copy-free image is it doesn't need translation. Tweets would come in waves from certain countries as the link circulated across national networks.

Beyond the numbers, we got really excited when people "in" 20things discovered the picture. Greenpeace Tweeted about the Rainbow Warrior reference to half-a-million followers. The Nyan Cat creator and the Sword & Sworcery developers both said how chuffed they were to be included, and they requested posters.

Rebecca Black hasn't been in touch yet, but maybe that will happen on Friday, Friday, Friday ...

Dom Waghorn is the customer experience director at Syzygy Group.


1. Chris Milk's gorgeous HTML5 Google Chrome experiment (featuring buffalos rampaging).

2. The groundbreaking game Sword & Sworcery is released in all its visual beauty on the iPad.

3. Nyan Cat, the half-feline, half-Pop Tart creature, leaves YouTube in a rainbow-coloured wake, and captures more than 60 million views in the process.

4. A new version of the Linux Ubunto OS is released. It's called Oneiric Ocelot. Obviously.

5. "Two turkeys don't make an eagle": Google exec's quip on the marriage of Nokia and Microsoft in the smartphone wars.

6. The Anonymous attacks the PlayStation Network after Sony takes legal action against hackers who jail-broke the PS3.

7. Greenpeace uses the internet to crowdsource the funding of the new Rainbow Warrior vessel.

8. The computer scientist Dennis Ritchie, the man behind the C programming language and the co-creator of Unix, dies, aged 70.

9. Fifteen years in development, the first-person shooter Duke Nukem Forever finally launches - to critical disappointment.

10. Google plays an April Fool's Day joke on typography nerds by serving search results for "helvetica" in comic sans.

11. Volkswagen uses the Force - the "Darth Vader kid" TV ad clocks 40 million-plus views on YouTube.

12. Worst song ever? Rebecca Black's YouTube vanity project turns a teenager into a net superstar.

13. The New Yorker Casey Neistat shows that bike lanes can be a dangerous place - for bikes.

14. The hacking collective LulzSec claims responsibility for high-profile attacks on sites belonging to Fox, Sony Pictures and the CIA.

15. Google made its latest and largest attempt to catch Facebook with Google+.

16. The Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dies, aged 56.

17. Facebook moves from just documenting your current life to recording your past as well, with the release of Timeline.

18. WikiLeaks continues its publishing campaign by releasing files related to prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.

19. The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger, a nature film with an unusual narration. And 35 million YouTube views.

20. Old Spice Mano a Mano - the hardest one to pick. It brought together the Sphinx and Pong from its latest campaign.

What didn't make it? Fenton (Richmond Park's runaway dog), Pottermore's beta site and the Skittles rainbow finger.