On March 7, YouTube administrators removed it from its #1 spot on the rankings while they investigated it. Apparently, no foul play was detected and it was reinstated. Stephen Hutcheon from the Sydney Morning Herald has more on the story, including a screenshot from the leaderboard on the day it was removed.
It's hard to get a sense of the scale, which roused suspicions in the first place. To put it in perspective, in the seven days from March 7-13, the CSS video gained 17 million new views. That's more views than this week's top 20 videos received, combined.
In one week, the CSS video got nearly as many views as the insanely huge Crank That (Souljah Boy) received in 7 months. It was six times as popular as Mariah Carey's new video, in half the time. More popular in a week than the all-time views for Amy Winehouse's "Rehab," Tay Zonday's "Chocolate Rain" or Chris Crocker's "Leave Britney Alone."
Assuming YouTube's numbers are accurate, what was the mystery source of traffic? Now that the video is gone, I don't think we'll ever know. There have been a number of theories, but none of them really pan out.
- Popular search terms like "hot sex" and "obama." Unlikely, since the video never ranked well with those queries. Searching for "sex" or "hot sex" didn't return the video anywhere in the top 100 results.
- Social network embeds. It's still possible that there's a single source of traffic from an embedded video on an extraordinarily popular website on autoplay. If so, it's managed to evade YouTube's referral tracking, while still getting counted in views.
- Leaderboard traffic. Once in the top 10, could traffic have snowballed from people clicking from the all-time most viewed page? No, since the video gained an additional 25 million views in the week it was removed from the leaderboard. Also, other videos in the top 5 only saw a small fraction of the growth.
- Chinese users. Someone noted that Chinese users watch YouTube, but won't (or can't) sign in to rate/review/comment. Could they be coming from China?
- Buzz from the iPod Touch ad. That might make sense in the days following the original commercial's release last October, but the video's growth was highest in the last two months.
Rajeev Kadam from Divinity Metrics, a company that provides video metrics for media companies, got in touch with me and provided these historical stats for the CSS video for the last five weeks. Here's a chart of that data, or you can see the spreadsheet.
Philip Rogosky asked Clarus Bartel why he removed the video. Clarus reminded Philip that he'd contemplated deleting it before, but his friends advised him to wait to see if it would reappear on the leaderboard, clearing his reputation. At that point, he decided to delete it only because of the critical comments he was receiving on his other videos.
Asked how he felt when he pressed "delete," Bartel responded, "Sad but relieved! If only I'd earned a buck or two or a job offer, I'd feel different today."