Accidentally Viral: how I learned a ton about Undersea Cabling from a single tweet

Cross section of an Undersea Fiber-optic cable

So last week I posted this tweet, which was a photo I found on Reddit (here’s the original post).

At some point over the weekend (and continuing now), a cavalcade of Retweets and comments came in. All in all the tweet generated a a really surprising amount of attention: depending on which metric you choose, somewhere between 2000-6000 clicks and 300-600 Retweets. That’s a lot (for me, at least).  

I haven’t done in-depth research, but it looks like the main RT node was @KateCrawford.  Speaking of which, does anyone know of a good tool for looking at how retweets move through the twitterverse?   What’s remarkable to me is that this random string of comments from the twitterverse and the comments on the original Reddit thread taught me everything I didn’t know about undersea cabling, and it’s fascinating stuff.  Here’s what I learned:

  1. The photo’s scale is a bit misleading: the cable in question is 2.7 inches in diameter (source)
  2. The Metal cables are there to help with strain (keep the fiber optics from snapping) but also for ballast
  3. The plastic core area is lined with Copper netting / wire, which transmits power.  This power is needed to drive signal Amplifiers through a process called Erbium doped fibre amplification.  (source)
  4. There are many different types of these cables, and a 3 strand cable like this is on the light-weight side.  Southern Cross Cable network uses 2 cables of 6 strands each (via)
  5. Here’s a super-cool map of how these cables are connected around the world. (source, via)Map of Undersea Fiber-optics cables that make up the backbone of the internet
  6. UPDATE courtesy of Phillydesign, who asked a question I didn’t even really think about: “where the heck did the photo come from in the first place?”


I suppose this is simply another example of crowdsourced insights from social media, but it sure washes off some cynicism.  I don’t have much more to say than Thanks Twitter (and Reddit), I had a very educational weekend — just because I shared a photo I thought was interesting.  Sometimes you just have to give the internet a hug.