May 13, 2011 holman

A patrician in ancient Rome might be able to make a name for himself around his neighborhood over the course of his lifetime.

By the time the printing press gained widespread usage, an educated citizen might be able to write to her newspaper and reach thousands over a few days.

Today, a tenth grader who perhaps may not be our finest societal achievement judging from a cursory glance at her neck tattoo that proudly proclaims “To hot 4 you”, drunkenly sits on her keyboard and mistakenly sends out a tweet that six hundred thousand people read within the hour.

Does this blow your mind? Does it? Because it should fucking blow your mind.


A thousand years ago, kings and emperors would kill to have this power. At no other time in human history have even the richest, most famous humans been able to wield the power your average teenager has access to on their iPhone today.

We’ve never been so closely networked before. Your tweet on Twitter isn’t just for your direct followers anymore… each of your followers is a click away from broadcasting it to their followers. It’s a simple concept, but let that sink in. Every time someone retweets my blog post or my tweet or something I’ve done, I’m being exposed to their followers, who in turn can perpetuate the cycle.

Classic network effect. But that doesn’t make it any less amazing.

Fast Starts

It’s remarkable how quickly this can happen. When I wrote Facelette, I had a good idea that it was going to go viral as soon as I released it. I didn’t even get that far, actually; my coworkers tweeted it as soon as I pasted in the URL to our company chat, and within a couple minutes it was clear I couldn’t put it back in the bag. There were more than 2,500 tweets in the first 24 hours, and that all stemmed from those initial few tweets.

I saw the same phenomena happen for my coworker Corey Johnson when he released URL Hunter, a simple game in your browser’s URL bar. Because of how easy word-of-mouth is today, he was getting thousands of tweets about this little hack, which led to interviews in tech magazines and lol-worthy acquisition inquiries. All from a simple idea and a human compulsion to share cool shit.

Think about this stuff the next time you launch your product. Or tweet. Or post a photo. It’s good for you to stop being so goddamn jaded and realize that we’ve built a fucking awesome society.