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Unleashing Idea Virus by Seth Godin

Unleashing Idea Virus by Seth Godin

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Published by zubarica
Seth's free e-book, from his website, most read full-text e-book ever.
Seth's free e-book, from his website, most read full-text e-book ever.

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Published by: zubarica on Aug 27, 2011
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08/02/2012

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Quick! Name an oil painting hanging in a museum somewhere in the world.

Did you say, “the Mona Lisa”?

As I walk through the Louvre, arguably one of the top ten most packed-with-high-quality-

paintings museums on the planet, I pass one empty room after another, then come to an

alcove packed with people. Why? Why are these people clawing all over each other in order

to see a painting poorly displayed behind many inches of bullet-proof glass?

The reason the Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world is

that something had to be the most famous painting in the world and it

might as well be the Mona Lisa.

Busy people don’t have time to look at every painting. They only have

room in their overcrowded, media-hyped brains for a few paintings.

And when you come right down to it, most people would like to see only the “celebrity”

paintings. And just as there can only be one “My most favorite famous actress” (Julia

Roberts) and one “this site equals the Internet” (Yahoo!), there’s only room for one “most

famous painting in the world” and the safe choice is the Mona Lisa.

There’s a name for this effect. It’s called Zipf’s law, after George Kingsley Zipf (1902-1950),

a philologist and professor at Harvard University. He discovered that the most popular word

in the English language (“the”) is used ten times more than the tenth most popular word,

100 times more than the 100th

most popular word and 1,000 times more than the 1,000th

most popular word.

Unleashing the Ideavirus

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www.ideavirus.com

It’s also been discovered that this same effect applies to market share for software, soft drinks,

automobiles, candy bars, and the frequency of hits on pages found on a website. The chart

above shows actual visits to the different pages at Sun’s website.

In almost every field of endeavor, it’s clear that being #1 is a lot better than being #3 or #10.

There isn’t an even distribution of rewards, especially in our networked world.

On the Net, the stakes are even larger. The market capitalization of Priceline, eBay and

Amazon approaches 95% of the total market capitalization of every other consumer e-

commerce stock combined. Clearly, there’s a lot to be gained by winning.

An ideavirus lets you make something like this happen to your idea, to your business, to your

product. While the benefits of being #1 for a public Internet stock or an oil painting are

clear, it’s just as important to small businesses and individuals.

Ideaviruses are faced with a brickwall filter. In electronics, a brickwall filter wipes out certain

frequencies and lets the rest through. There’s no room for second place or extra

effort—either you’re in or you’re out. Ideaviruses are win/lose propositions. Either the

velocity and smoothness are high enough that it becomes a bonafide epidemic, or they’re not

and it dies out. Either your ideavirus works or it doesn’t. Smart propagators know when to

quit if their ideavirus isn’t getting through the filter.

Definition: VELOCITY

The velocity is a measure of how fast the idea spreads from

one party to another. If an idea is going to hit ten people before it gets to me, the multiplier

effect is large indeed—fast steps lead to more people being infected before it dies out.

Unleashing the Ideavirus

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www.ideavirus.com

Definition: SMOOTHNESSHow easy is it for an end user to spread this particular

ideavirus? Can I click one button or mention some magic phrase, or do I have to go through

hoops and risk embarrassment to tell someone about it?

For example, it’s pretty easy to talk about your hairdresser. Someone tells you you’ve got a

great haircut, and you say, “Yeah, I went to Bob at Bumble & Bumble.” On the other hand,

spreading the word about your reflexology therapist is pretty tricky. You’re not sure when to

bring it up, and you really don’t have words to describe it.

The smoothest viruses, like Hotmail, spread themselves. Just the act of using the product

spreads the virus. There’s an obvious relationship between smoothness and catchiness. A

product that’s easy to recommend is often a product that’s easy to get hooked on.

Eric Raymond was a little known programmer when he wrote an essay called “The Cathedral

and the Bazaar.” It was a manifesto—an essay designed to become an ideavirus—arguing

why the open source approach to coding (creating stuff like Linux) made sense. But instead

of having a magazine or a book publisher bring it to market, he posted the essay online, in

text, postscript and audio form. And he gave it away for free.

Within months, tens of thousands of people had read it. Months after that, Raymond

published this essay with some of his other free essays in a book. That book became an

“instant” bestseller. Of course, it wasn’t instant at all. He had laid the foundation long

before, by building an ideavirus.

So, what has creating an ideavirus done for Raymond’s value? Let’s take a crass look at his

financial situation: The virus led to increased demand for his services as a programmer (he

can pick his jobs if he likes), as a consultant, and even as a public speaker. The last I saw, he

had just written an essay about what it was like to make a fortune during an IPO!

Unleashing the Ideavirus

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www.ideavirus.com

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