Wednesday 2 June 2010

Virality and it's misuses

The unsustainable geometric progression of a c...Image via Wikipedia
One of the key features of consumer oriented online services is virality. It's the cheapest form of distribution... if you hit it right. Unfortunately it's extremely hard to design, since you never know if something is viral or not.

Americans often recommend three step process: iterate, iterate, iterate! Europans often take more time and want to think things through. I believe that the truth lies in between. You should think and iterate fast.

Virality is achieved when users promote the service to others while getting a utility by using it. 

It's a white hat version of a pyramid scheme, only that's legal. In fact it relies on the same mechanisms. You get rewarded in some way for promoting the service, while using it. It's a neat scheme and can be used often. Quite often people try to force virality on business that are actually not viral at all. Even worse, they start to design viral features, just to get recognition and not improve the business.

Non viral products examples:
- clients for social networks are not viral, underlying networks are
- stand alone products Apache, Firefox, MySql

Viral services examples:
- Skype: having others using Skype extends my utility
- Social networks: viral almost by definition :)

Don't get me wrong. Non viral products can use some tricks to complement their distribution strategy (e.g Gmail with invitations), however if they based their strategy solely on virality it would cause the team to misfocus their product development from creating utility to focus solely on distribution features.

Unfortunately that's often what some startups choose to do.

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