Culture

The numbers don’t lie: Dogs are the internet’s favorite animal

As the internet has changed, so have its animal habits.

Culture

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Culture

The numbers don’t lie: Dogs are the internet’s favorite animal

As the internet has changed, so have its animal habits.

A notable change in the way that I experience the internet these days is the amount of dog content I’m presented with. Everyday, a new viral picture, .gif, or video of a dog arrives in my social feed and on the front page of my favorite websites. Late last year Merriam-Webster listed “doggo” as a word they are “watching.” Google tells me that 2018 is literally the year of the dog. Recently, there was this:

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Dogs are having moment online. This, of course, is good. But it’s also strange, because throughout my entire online-life I have been led to believe that cats, not dogs, are the internet’s premier pet. The headlines speak for themselves:

However, I’ve had a growing suspicion, along with other commenters recently, that lolcats have given way to doggos. “Internet doggos are supplying a much needed diversion from the humourless drudgery that makes up much of the modern social web,” the BBC’s Dave Lee wrote. Salon’s Keith A. Spencer broke down some of the numbers and pegged the rise in dog popularity to the rise of Trump, and the need for more comforting animals. But suspicions be gone, let’s look at the data.

First, there’s Instagram. According to data provided by a spokesperson from the app, 22 of the 50 most followed pet accounts are dog-related. That’s compared to only 18 that are cat-related. “Based upon the data, looks like dogs are the new favorite :),” Instagram’s spokesperson emailed me.

Instagram data alone is not enough to justify writing this post or to conclude that dogs are more popular on the internet. After all, it’s possible that dogs are just more popular on social media. To find out if dogs are as popular on other corners of the web, I checked Reddit. It turns out, that dogs rule there, too.

The /r/aww subreddit, where users post and comment on content that make you go, well, “aww,” has over 16 million subscribers, making it one of the most popular online destinations for images of dogs, cats, babies, and all other kinds of cute stuff. I used Google’s BigQuery to download the top 100 posts from /r/aww from each year between 2008 and 2017 — a total of 1,000 posts. I manually classified each post as either about cats, dogs, both, or other (lifehack: You don’t have to do yoga to feel good. You can just look at exactly 1,000 cute things). If dogs really are more popular than cats on the internet then more of the top posts on /r/aww should feature dogs.

In 2017, more than half of the 100 most popular posts on /r/aww featured dogs. Since 2008, when the subreddit was created, the share of the top 100 posts featuring dogs has tripled. Meanwhile, only 12 percent of the top 100 posts in 2017 were about cats, an all-time low.

N8theGr8, one of the moderators of /r/aww, told me over private messages that he thinks that the rise of dog-specific subreddits, in particular /r/rarepuppers, and social media accounts, namely, WeRateDogs on Twitter and DogSpotting on Facebook, are responsible for the growing popularity of dogs online. “I'm not aware of any cat related analogs,” N8theGr8 said.

Perhaps the most damning evidence in the case of dogs v. cats is in the YouTube data. A writer for Gizmodo once claimed, “At this point the phrase ‘cat video’ is practically synonymous with adorable frivolous time-wasting digital diversion.” If true, then cat videos must be more sought out than dog videos. But that hasn’t been the case for a while now, according to data from Google. Searches for dog videos surpassed searches for cat videos in 2014 and has essentially remained higher ever since — although queries for both are down relative to 2008.

The only place online that I could find where cats still reign supreme is in .gifs, but even there it’s close. Tenor, a .gif search engine with over 300 million monthly users, crunched the numbers for me and found that searches for cat .gifs exceeded searches for dog .gifs in 2017. However, Tenor pointed out that the combined search volume for “dog,” “puppy,” and “doggo” .gifs exceeded the combined search volume for “cat,” “kitten,” and “kitty” .gifs last year.

None of this actually matters. But it’s interesting nonetheless because the shifting interest in dogs online is likely a byproduct of the shifting demographics of the internet. N8theGr8, the moderator of /r/aww, explained to me how the internet’s earliest culture came from its earliest users. “The internet used to be dominated by tech-savvy individuals. People who are tech-savvy are also stereotypically poor at social interaction,” said N8theGr8, who has been on Reddit for ten years. “So it seems to me that cats, being seen as aloof and lower maintenance than dogs, would be more likely to appeal to this sort of person.”

In other words, cats once ruled the internet because the web was once dispropriationaly ruled by a segment of society that more easily identified with cats. Now that the web is more open, any ole’ yokel can create a meme, the internet’s preferences look a lot more similar to the preferences of society in real life. It’s no wonder then that while sitting here at a computer in the U.S., where dog ownership exceeds cat ownership, I’m saturated with good dogs.

Correction: This piece has been updated to more specifically credit both Salon and BBC, who covered this subject previously. The headline has also been changed.

Owen Phillips is a data analyst and writer living in Brooklyn. He previously wrote about Church security teams for The Outline.