The Million Dollar Question: Why Does the Web Love Cats?

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If you haven't noticed, cats are big on the Internet. Even though the occasional panda, turtle or slow loris gets a slice of the viral action, cats are, and always have been, the prevalent species to be found online.

So why is it that the collective web is a "cat person," so to speak? Why are there so many kitty pics and videos cluttering up the Interwebs? And what is it about feline-themed content that makes it so weirdly shareable?

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In the quest for answers to these important questions, we've talked to cat-themed content creators, viral experts and other commentators from within the industry to try and solve one of the most pressing quandaries of our time.

Because They're Cute?

Does the popularity of cats really come down to their inherent fluffy cuteness? Images and videos of cute cats were popular before the advent of the Internet, as Elspeth Rountree, the co-founder of Know Your Meme, points out. She suggests we've always adored the feline species, it's just that the Internet provides a modern, one-click way to share such content.

VIDEO: Fatso the cat plays piano.
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"There are a few constants not only on the Internet, but throughout modern culture -- an interest in all things 'cute.' Starting in the 1870s with Harry Pointer and his carte de visite's featuring cats with amusing captions, to our modern day incarnation of LOLcats, popular culture has taken interest in kittens, cats, babies, and puppies," says Rountree.

"They're the perfect distraction from our hectic lives. You don't need any explanation or prior knowledge to understand the slapstick humor that animals provide. Cat videos and images are a quick hit of pure, unfettered 'cute.' They're also entertainment in easily digestible doses."

Because They're Not Cute?

The cute explanation alone is too simplistic, as although many of the cat memes have been cute or funny, there are just as many that portray cats as sinister creatures, plotting against man.

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Cory Alder, the creator of the popular iPhone app CatPaint, modestly describes himself as "mostly just programmer who's into cats." He also doesn't buy into the cute argument.

"I can say it's not just because they're cute. That would be a huge over-simplification. If it was just because they were cute I would have made KittenPaint or PuppyPaint, not CatPaint," says Alder.

"Cats are awesome and enigmatic. They even have a hint of the danger about them. I read somewhere that scientists say cats 'domesticated themselves.' Like, we domesticated dogs, and we made them into what we thought we wanted, but cats made themselves into what we actually wanted."

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Because They're the Perfect Canvas for Human Projection?

"Cats have very expressive facial and body expressions, so they are a perfect canvas for human emotion, which makes them awesome for captioning and anthropomorphization," says Ben Huh, CEO of The Cheezburger Network.

Cats get themselves into all kinds of amusing predicaments, and when there's a human on hand to capture the moment, whether in a photo or on video, that's raw material just begging to be shared. And because lots of people have cats, that's lots of content.

"There are also an almost infinite number of pictures of cats or great bits of cat footage because so many people have them, meaning an abundance of raw material for meme creation," says Matt Smith, director of strategy at The Viral Factory.

VIDEO: A viral video shows a particularly affectionate cat hugging its owner.
Cat Hugs Its Owner

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