By 9 pm ET yesterday evening, Nick Sawhney knew he is at trouble.
Just a half hour earlier, still steeped inside afterglow of Joe Biden’s inauguration, Sawhney had pushed live a website that lets you put a viral image of Bernie Sanders—seated, mittened, alone—atop any Google Street View image. The meme had already reached a fever pitch, while using Photoshop faithful placing the senator from Vermont in anything from Mortal Kombat to Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. But Sawhney’s creation, born from a group talk to friends, added layers of personalization, convenience, and absurdity; since it fixes Sanders inside same coordinates no matter his location, he occasionally looks as though he’s floating, or sitting on an automobile, or even in an otherwise unlikely orientation.
The site gained traction on Twitter slowly initially; friends retweeting, then friends of friends. A few verified accounts joined in. And then, as wonderful and perfectly timed internet creations do, it snowballed.
Bernie nearby the Golden Gate Bridge.
Photograph: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/Getty Images; Nick Sawhney; Google
“I was freaking out because I was like, oh my gosh god I’m going viral,” says Sawhney, who by day is really a New York University grad student dedicated to artificial intelligence and machine learning. “And then I was freaking out because I had to avoid the website from crashing.”
By 9 pm, he previously already blown from the free tier made available from Heroku, the cloud platform that Sawhney is employing to host the website. At 9:27 pm, as the requests piled up, he tweeted, “oh god oh fuck google dot com how you can scale heroku app quickly.” A Heroku employee happened to view it; in the hour Sawhney was with a video call with one of the company’s engineers, figuring out the way to keep his hastily constructed ship afloat.
“If I had known this is going to be the traffic, I would make each decision completely differently,” says Sawhney. “When it blew up I realized that an internet site is a bit more than merely writing the code and putting it on there.”
Bernie at Walmart.