On the internet geography of lost cats

By: Rob Corbidge, 21 March 2024

Big versus small is an issue on the internet. What does that mean for publishers?

Are you familiar with the geography-busting social media quirk best described as "the Melbourne Lost Cat Post"? It's a phenomena less seen these days as levels of basic digital literacy rise in the general population, but its existence relates to a cultural current at play on the internet in the form of Big versus Small. 

The Melbourne Lost Cat Post happens when someone posts an alert for a lost cat on a local social media group. One's attention, if one is the cat-loving upstanding citizen type such as I am, is drawn to such pleas for assistance in finding a beloved pet. Let's call her Daisy. 

"What a cute cat Daisy is", you think, looking at the picture on the social media post. A young cat, you surmise, probably roaming or got too curious about something and got lost. But hang on a gumtree-tickling-second, that foliage behind Daisy doesn't look like my country, nor does the licence plate on that car in the background!

Quickly checking the text, it turns out Daisy got lost in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia. That's a stretch on the air fare for even the most committed international lost cat-ist. 

The icing on the cake is when the post is also two years old, making Daisy a proper cold cat case if she hasn't been found.

You can shape this many ways of course, and be in Delhi reading about a lost wallet in Milan, or whatever. The Melbourne Lost Cat Post stems both from a place of kindness - alerting people to an issue - and an utter lack of comprehension of the reach of the internet.

It's also illustrative of the human links between nations, families, work and so on, and applies to anywhere on our intricate world.

It's taken people years to recoil from the vastness of the internet, particularly as it has been harnessed by the public platforms. The vastness they hold is a walled one, designed to keep you there, and is arguably more harmful than a much freer and more random internet, a fact more people may be realising.

The fact that even China, regarded as having the most policed internet in the advanced world, has a problem with online nationalist trolls on platforms tells you that overly-controlling content policies just bring a special form of condensed fury. As the big platforms doing business in our own countries constantly chop and change content policies, they only sow confusion, even among their "own" content creators.

So in this post-platform world, where a great deal of discourse is now shared across more private messaging app groups, and the smaller and more knowable is favoured over the large and public, what advantages can publishers leverage?

Constancy is one. The familiar brings trust, and trust is one hell of a valuable commodity at the present. 

Constancy is a feature of publishing that is too easy to take for granted on the publisher side, and goes unnoticed, ideally on the audience side. That is to say, we don't realise how important constancy is to people, yet if our publication enjoys a place in a person's life then they scarcely notice that fact after a time, blissfully  taking constancy for granted.

Constancy is doing well the basic things your audience expects. Keeping aware and alert of those expectations over time is important, because if you understand your audience those expectations won't change so dramatically quickly that they will shock you. 

As the developed world goes through a tough period for many publishers, then doing the simple things right is part of building the feeling of constancy, or reliability, that can stand in contrast to a more confusing and disconcerting Big Digital World where the lost cats are 10,500 miles away.