At 21h AND last night Nick Sawhney knew he was in trouble.
Half an hour earlier, still imbued with the afterglow of Joe Biden’s inauguration, Sawhney had live-streamed a website that lets you put a viral image of Bernie Sanders – sitting, mittens, alone – at the top. any Google Street View image. The meme had already come to a head, with Photoshop devotees placing the Vermont Senator in everything from Mortal combat at Nighthawks at Diner. But Sawhney’s creation, born out of a group chat with friends, added layers of personalization, ease of use and absurdity; because he is staring at Sanders in the same coordinates regardless of his location, he sometimes appears to be floating, or sitting on a car, or in an otherwise unlikely orientation.
At first, the site slowly gained traction on Twitter; friends retweet, then friends of friends. A few verified accounts have joined us. And then, as wonderful, perfectly synchronized internet creations do, it snowballed.
“I was freaking out because I was like, oh my god I’m going viral,” says Sawhney, who is a New York University graduate student by day focused on artificial intelligence and the machine learning. “And then I panicked because I had to stop the site from crashing.”
By 9 p.m. ET, it had already passed the free tier offered by Heroku, the cloud platform Sawhney uses to host the site. At 9:27 p.m., as requests piled up, he tweeted, “Oh my god oh god damn google dot com how to quickly scale the heroku app.” A Heroku employee saw it by chance; within an hour, Sawhney was on a video call with one of the company’s engineers, seeking to keep his hastily built ship afloat.
“If I had known it was going to be trafficking, I would have made each decision completely differently,” says Sawhney. “When it blew up, I realized that a website is more than just writing the code and putting it there.”