October 24, 2010
I was chatting yesterday with one of the early leaders in building highly viral Facebook apps. When I asked him what he was thinking of doing next, I was surprised by his answer: NOT another insanely viral app.
His explanation was instructive. After a few years mastering the viral game, what he came to realize is that the most viral apps need to be purpose built to be viral in a particular channel. The problem this leads to, though, is that this focus on virality comes at the expense of being a great consumer experience.
The flip side is that applications that are wildly popular with users will become “viral” (or at least grow rapidly) in their own right, even if not strictly optimized for it. Mint.com is a great example, as is well described in this Quora thread.
The social app developer ecosystem is, albeit gradually, waking up to this reality. To be sure, plenty of energy is going into working the viral channels; but at the same time I am seeing more and more developers realizing that an overemphasis on virality delivers more short term gain than longterm value creation.