Trending: Why we're cool for cats

We give them silly names, love to watch their antics and attach human characteristics to them. What is it about cats that makes them the most popular animals on the net?

In this month's New Humanist magazine, the venerable gonzo illustrator Ralph Steadman describes cats – quite accurately and rather wonderfully – as "purring sycophants with an agenda". Steadman's Book of Cats – out tomorrow – features a selection of Steadman's scabrous portraits of a species he claims to dislike, but clearly, reading the New Humanist piece, admires (he had a cat called Tishy).

His take on moggies is a more cynical one than that of astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, whose recent book Miaow! Cats Really Are Nicer Than People! may well be one of the soppiest things you'll read all year.

If even curmudgeons such as Steadman and Moore are moved by the presence of cats in their lives, then it's no wonder that the rest of us are just as giddy.

The internet is full of the hairy little blighters. Their presence comes in many forms. It can be from cat tragics like me filling up their social networks with pictures of their mog in an unusual position (you can see mine, Yoko, on her green bean-bag, above). Then there are galleries of cute kitties – viral site Buzz Feed recently opened a specialist animals-only site ("Cat Family Portraits", anyone?). Perhaps most famous is Lolcats, the caption + kitty phenomenon that's allowed its pioneers, the Cheezburger Network, to become a company that, in early 2011, pulled in almost £20m-worth of venture-capital funding.

We like cats. Elderly astronomers couldn't live without cats. The internet loves cats. But why have cat pictures and videos become a mainstay of the internet and the default way for us to waste time?

Jack Shepherd, the founder of Buzz Feed – who jokingly announced upon the launch of BuzzFeed Animals that "most sensible people with computers spend their workdays scouring the web for baby-panda slide shows and breaking cat-video news, but this is actually my job" – tried to do the maths last week with an exhaustive piece asking why internet users preferred felines to canines.

Shepherd, who probably knows more than most about this kind of thing, drew several conclusions for online kitty popularity: the self-perpetuating culture built up by the initial rise in Lolcats and how it helped sites such as Cheezburger and 4chan to establish their community identities.

Shepherd also suggested that cats' cool demeanour helps. Dogs, he reckons, "are the equivalent of a 'viral marketing strategist' at an ad agency". Cool cats, on the other hand, get in a cardboard box because "it suddenly felt like the right thing to do".

Another theory – from Cheezburger editor Emily Huh – is that the internet provides a digital dog park for cat owners who can't normally interact to share the delights of their pet.

A University of Sussex study in 2009 suggested that cats are smart enough to know how to make their miaows sound like human baby cries in order to funnel our nurturing instincts into feeding them. A similar – but non-proven – theory was shared with me recently: we like looking at kitties and their big, wide eyes because they remind us of babies. So, next time your line manager leans over your shoulder as you're looking at a gallery of "30 Cats Hanging in Shoes", just tell them you're taking a five-minute break to hone your nurturing instincts. How could they argue?

Watch the 'Cat alarm clock' which went viral last week, above

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
people
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Darrell Banks’s ‘Open The Door To Your Heart’
music
News
Detective Tam Bui works for the Toronto Police force
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Technician

£35200 per annum + Pension and holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Engine...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing specialist merchant co...

SThree: TRAINEE RECRUITMENT CONSULTANT - IT - LONDON

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £50k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 bus...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'