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Viral Loop

January 20th, 2010 · Posted by Skuds in Life · No Comments · Life

I finished Viral Loop: the Power of  Pass-it-on, a book about how companies grow virally in the internet age, a little while ago but only just got around to writing a review of it – yes it was another of those Amazon Vine books.  They are starting  to pile up a bit now.  I have one book to read, one DVD to watch and a foreign language course to work through now, and a new Vine list comes out this week!

This is what I said about the book:

First of all, this is not quite what I was expecting: having not read the description properly I thought it was going to be about companies using viral marketing techniques to advertise their products.  It is actually about companies that that are themselves viral and which ‘sell’ themselves as much as their products, and mostly through word-of-mouth rather than any normal advertising.

For the most part this is a series of case studies of what the author calls viral companies – mostly internet-based businesses, but it starts with the story of Tupperware to show that the concept can, and has, worked for traditional companies albeit at a slower pace.

The style is quite straightforward, verging on the folksy at times, but very readable.  After a while you feel that the stories fall into the same sort of structure: one or two people start a website for amusement or a niche activity, the userbase grows exponentially, the servers fall over with the weight of traffic, it gets fixed and gets bigger, then a few years after it all started the founders sell up for tens or hundreds of millions of dollars.

Fortunately there are some exceptions, some notable failures are also covered and there are some theories about what a company needs to ‘go viral’ and take off. Nothing too specific of course – if the author knew how to create a website he could sell for millions in a year he wouldn’t be s[pending his time writing a book instead – but nonetheless the concepts seem sound.

So the book won’t make you rich, but for anybody who has used Flickr, eBay, PayPal, Ning or Facebook it puts a human face to the familiar websites, and the short history of the browser wars is a nice trip down memory lane.  It wasn’t that long ago really, but in internet terms it is delving into ancient history.

Certainly worth a read.

One thing the book didn’t do was dislodge the idea that the only sound business plan for an internet start-up is to grow it quickly and then cash in.  Some of the sites covered in the book are still being run by the creators, but in the majority of cases the sites were sold for unfeasibly large amounts – sometimes to subsequently die or get killed off by the new owners.

As such, the end of most of the case studies provide one of those why-didn’t-I-think-of-that moments.

It did make me think a bit more about the structures behind these household names, especially the bit about how it is almost inevitable that a successful site is going to reach a point where it cannot cope with demand – because you can’t afford to build scalability into something that, statistically, is unlikely to need it.

Quite light reading for a technology/business book.

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