What Makes an Idea Viral Part 4

ILoveBees (ILB) was an alternate reality game (ARG) commissioned by Microsoft (produced by 4orty2 entertainment to increase buzz and awareness of their upcoming Halo 2 game. Like other ARG?s ILB?s Hook was its immersive online experience and the novelty of the imposition of alternate reality on actual reality. ILB players were drawn in by a sense of curiosity to solve a series of mysteries in the game?s plot, but ILB distanced itself from traditional games by blurring the lines between real life and game life (sort of like the Lost, but more aggresive). Because of this juxtaposition the game pervaded its player?s lives and created a social experience. Not only did passer?s by witness the player?s odd behavior in public as they completed various tasks often surrounding pay phones (which are almost always in high traffic areas), but the players were driven by the urge of storytelling. Stories are powerful things and the desire to share them is what gives them their power, ILB created a rich and ever-deepening story that screamed to be passed along. The Payload in the ILB campaign was the brand awareness created by the fact that characters and situations presented in the ARG were from Halo 2 and at the end of ILB (which culminated on the same day as Halo 2?s release date) players were directed to the store to buy a copy of the game. As in the Hotmail example, the payload was enacted by the contagion, which was part of the hook.

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What Makes an Idea Viral Part 3

The spread of Microsoft?s Hotmail is one of the most oft-cited examples of intentional, commercial viral marketing. New internet users needed a free and easy way to use email, with very little commitment, Hotmail provided exactly that. And as people used Hotmail to send emails, a little signature line was attached with a link to join Hotmail.
I believe there are four major characteristics of successful viral efforts:

  1. Niche targeting
  2. Immediate user benefit or Hook
  3. Creator benefit/goal or Payload
  4. Element that ensures or promotes the spreading of the creative or Contagion

Hotmail chose a niche, new users, and found a foothold of need they could fill, this allowed them to present potential users with a desired and understood value proposition. This Hook is the mechanism that caused the users to spend their time getting into and setup with Hotmail, and building a user base is the goal of most any free web application project. Contagions can take many forms, but they very often possess two characteristics:

  1. Contagions are built into or are inherently part of either the Hook or Payload
  2. Contagions often take the form of some social functionality built into the creative?s interface

In this case the act of using Hotmail (the Payload) cause the user to spread the message to their friends, so Hotmail?s contagion has fit both of our assertions.

More case studies comin? at ya soon.

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What Makes an Idea Viral Part 2

Following up on What Makes an Idea Viral Part 1:

No one “gets” an idea unless:
a. the first impression demands further investigation
b. they already understand the foundation ideas necessary to get the new idea

I think these two points are all parts of the ?why does someone send an idea? line of thinking. The target, of course, must ?get? an idea, they must be able to understand it and it has to be ?truthy?, that is the idea must fit into the desired world view of the target. While the meme or creative may change the target?s current perception of the world, it cannot run counter to what the target wants to believe.

c. they trust or respect the sender enough to invest the time
There is a certain amount of self-selection that goes into deciding who a sender will pass a message to that ensures that a high percentage of the receivers will trust and respect the sender. It is also important to remember that, as noted in the last post, the effort required to send or get a message on the internet is extremely low, so there is a much lower threshold online for messenger respect. There is also a certain level of respect that can be waived if the meme has a strong hook and strongly entices the receiver to devote more time to it.

Next, I’ll do some case studies.

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What Makes an Idea Viral Part 1

Let me start the series off with a two part response to Seth Godin, here’s part 1:

No one “sends” an idea unless:

a. they understand it
On the surface this would seem to demand that the idea be simple, shallow, but it only dictates that the initial learning curve is slight. The iPod is dumbed down, it is simple but it is very smart. Everyone gets it, but nobody feels they are a too advanced user to buy one.

b. they want it to spread
I think this point should be rolled into the next one. Nobody does anything unless they want to do it, and so conversely if they want it to spread, it will. This means that the idea must give them benefit in spreading, as in Win Friends and Influence People, you must speak to what the target wants, not what you want.

c. they believe that spreading it will enhance their power (reputation, income, friendships) or their peace of mind
This doesn?t take into account viral creatives like the subservient chicken, where sheer humor was the driver, and I think peace of mind while clearly including things like urban myths, fails to address political messages explicitly enough. I would say that the idea must provide some benefit for the user if she/he passes it. There are too many ways to discreetly identify.

d. the effort necessary to send the idea is less than the benefits
Making a comparison like this seems like apple to oranges, and with the internet, the effort necessary to spread most creatives is extremely low. Most ideas, if they provide any benefit can arguably be said to provide more benefit that effort. I think this is better understood in two parts:
1. The idea must provide more benefit than predefined user-specific threshold. This threshold is roughly comparable to a sort of internet-jadedness quotient.
2. The person must have friends who they deem appropriate to spread the message to. This refers to obvious patterns like the fact that dirty jokes don?t get sent to mom, and general people only spread ideas to people they think will be topically interested in the message. Several factors influence what level of intimacy is required with a potential receiver for a person to send the message, probably the most important being the benefits described in point c. The amount of benefit is inversely proportional to the intimacy in some cases, that is, the more beneficial a message is, the further outside her close circle of friends someone will send an idea.

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AJAX Tail Implementation


I just whipped up a little PHP script that impliments the *nix command tail via AJAX in a browser, using any file available through a URL. This is useful for watching log files, because it will reverse the order of the file, that is, print what is being written to the bottom of the log file to the top of the browser window for easy viewing. The script uses AJAX to push the updates to the file through to the browser every 10 seconds. To use your file, just subsitutute your file ‘s URL for the text.txt URL given into the following URL:
http://www.danzarrella.com/tail.php?file=http://www.danzarrella.com/test.txt

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