This weekend, Adam Penenberg wrote a post at Techcrunch Let’s Kill “Viral”: It’s Time For a New Word in which, after being ridiculed by radio hosts over the title of his book 'The Viral Loop' he says:
The problem, I think, is the word “viral,” which comes from biology and was retrofitted to cover the phenomenon of word-of-mouth—or on the Web, so-called “word-of-mouse”—dissemination of ideas. I propose we kill it and replace it with something better.
As I said then, if you behave like a disease, people develop an immune system. I don't think changing the name is enough - we need to change practice too. Viruses are exploitative - they hijack normal reproduction to propagate their genes at the expense of the host. This is an accurate metaphor for the kinds of scammy social applications that Mike Arrington described in his Scamville: The Social Gaming Ecosystem Of Hell post this weekend, aimed at the same app developers I was talking to originally in 2008.
But a game built for adults, where communication could come more freely, would mean the social interactions would be much more fruitful.
They also have this exchange:
Penenberg: There's both a good and bad side to virality. Products with viral hooks that are so strong they coerce people to sign up--in order to achieve a huge initial viral rush--are obviously bad. Not only do they alienate users, they don't lead to a sustainable business. On the good side, you have organic growth, which comes as a natural byproduct of something that spreads simply because people like it--eBay, Hot or Not, and Flickr. I can't think of an antonym for it.
Fake: How about brute force growth?
Penenberg: That's good. Maybe we should trademark the term.
Clearly Adam is struggling with his stale metaphor here, trying to come up with better terminiology. When I mentioned this on twitter, Caterina responded with
Things on the internet grow fungally, not virally. The metaphor is completely wrong.and
I was a former member of the SF Mycological Society. Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of mycelia, underground...
Which fits perfectly with my organic reproduction metaphors.
So lets keep the term 'viral' for explotatative applications that violate trust to reproduce against the interests of their hosts, and we can use organic terms like 'fruitful', or if we insist on alliterative euphony, 'virile videos', 'fertile films' and maybe even 'philoprogenitive photographs'.