twitter,  YOFL

Twitter Flash debate – inducing virality

Scott dropped me a line the other day saying that, in relation to YOFL, one of the skills he was interested in was 'creating virality'. I think this is exactly the sort of modern digital skill that we should be considering as educators. I'm not sure if this is what Scott meant by it, but I can see at least three reasons why it's interesting as an educator:

  1. You want to create the same engagement with learning material for your students, as you see in popular memes or viral ideas.
  2. A viral spread of an idea, concept, approach or technology is an excellent way of engaging other academics. Indeed it may be the only way to really address many of the issues of training and staff development, as Jennifer Jones has tried to do with her concept of Viral Professional Development.
  3. As a means of engaging your wider network in distributed research, then what you are suggesting needs to have a 'viral' quality.

Of course, all this begets the question 'what do you mean by viral?' I don't want to get bogged down in definitions, but I think in essence it is an idea that people consciously or not, want to spread because it creates some level of engagement.

So, as my first YOFL experiment, here is what I am proposing – on Friday 30th Jan we have a 'flash debate' (you know, like Flash mobs where we all get together at a specified time, but in this case do something interesting and not just have a pillow fight) in Twitter around 'creating virality'. Tag it #YOFL and I should find it. I'll try and summarise it then next week.

(I realise this is all getting a bit recursive – I'm creating a viral activity about creating viral activities – if it doesn't work then that probably answers my question!)


  • Tony Hirst

    Has anyone posted an equation for twitter virality yet?
    Here’s one for virality of facebook apps – slides 11-16. It seems a bit simplistic to me though?
    Here’s a more involved equation:
    I guess the more complex consideration takes into account people already being ‘infected’, and, in the case of things like facebook applications and courses, the retention rate…?
    In the twitter case, that’s just a spread thing, I guess? If you consider a retweet like an invite, then you have to factor in how many people have already seen the tweet in terms of counting new infections, as well as how more or less likely people are to retweet depending on how many retweets of a tweet, if any, they havee seen, and who those RTs came from.
    For example, if i get a tweet from someone whose followers I believe largely overlap mine, i may not retweet. But if the vector is someone on the fringe of my network, i may think i can add value by amplifying it to my network?
    PS would another model for YOFL (or should that be ‘year of distributed scholarship’?) be having a person (an editor 2.0) farm out ideas to the community an then aggregate and publish the result under shared authorship?

  • Jared Stein

    I’m just beginning to mull this over, however what immediately comes to mind is the idea that there is “generalized” and “targeted” virality, and thus different ways to measure the success of each objective.
    (I almost typed “virility”–I can see the conference preso title now: “Fostering Virality Virility in Learners”)

  • Jennifer Jones

    I’m honestly regretting ever using the word, “viral.” There’s got to be something better. What types of things do you think are worthy of spreading in this manner? How do we determine what is important enough to attempt to spread?

  • Martin Weller

    @Tony – I think the overlap of audiences is a contributing factor, and applies to blogs also eg there is no point me just linking to something that Downes has linked to, because my readership is likely a subset of his (although adding commentary is valid).
    Could you expand on your farming out ideas proposal?
    @Jared – this is why I put ideas out, to get input like this. I hadn’t thought of targeted and generalised virality, but yes you’re absolutely right. And yes, it is a bit close to virility – I expect to spam emails offering me all sorts of surgery soon.
    @Jen – viral is okay if you accept it as a metaphor, since, like the first time you heard the term computer virus you instantly knew a lot about how they spread and their nature. So viral does capture some of the essence of the way some ideas spread. As an individual the threshold decisions you suggest are important. From the community perspective, we don’t ‘decide’ what is important, some things just spread and others don’t, which is where the viral notion separates it from something more top-down determined eg standards. PS yours was my 1000th comment on this blog, your prize is a meandering response.

  • AJ Cann

    Personally, I hate the adjectival usage of the noun “virus”, but that’s just my inner pedant. I’m prepared to tolerate it in the marketing/internet context where it has established currency and meaning, but not in life sciences 😉
    1001? 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *