Plague, the Viral Social Network

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Plague, where swipe is the new like.

What Tinder started Plague has taken to the social networks. At the moment it is very simple and very pure. (Let’s hope the developers keep it that way.) Here’s how it works.

  1. You write a card. (Photo with description or Text – instructions say hyperlinks are allowed, but I haven’t figured out how to add them.)
  2. Once posted your “thought” is either shared (swipe UP) or killed (swipe DOWN).
  3. Your thought card is then spread of exterminated over the course of the next seven days.
  4. While swiping other’s cards UP or DOWN you can also comment on them.

That’s the entire concept. And after a few days on the network here are my impressions.

There are always going to be people trying to “work” the system. Plague will be no different once it catches on. Let’s hope the democratic voting keeps spammy marketers to a minimum. Already you can see signs of the coming mess. People are Googling interesting images and memes merely to have content to post. That’s allowed, but a rather boring use of the network, and people are writing cards about not doing that.

There is a lot of talk on Plague about how to use Plague. The developers also post cards from time to time telling the network they can send their ideas to an email address. But the network will do what it wants, and it seems appropriate to voice your ideas about appropriate use of Plague as cards. There are a lot of cards calling out the Google-image posters. And there is even a trend of copying and reposting popular cards as your own, to gain popularity.

On this network you have something called an Infection Index. This is your efficiency at launching popular strains. (A meme or theme in Plague is called a Strain.) As you have a few posts that get more viral your index goes up.

But that’s also part of the coolness of Plague at the moment. There are no friends, no authorities, no power-users (although this concept is being seeded in the stats section). There is only the spread or death of your ideas via the UP and DOWN swiping of other Plague users. Very democratic. You’ve got one vote per card. That’s it.

The last cool feature of Plague, before we get to the content is the statistics. As you create cards you can open them up and see how and where they spread. And when you see a popular card that has been thriving for awhile it is often from Belgium or another European county. (There do seem to be a lot of Belgium Plaguers for some, as yet, unexplained reason.) And it’s in these stats that Plagues is setting the stage for super-users. When you examine your card’s journey Plague reveals the power users who gave your idea a boost.

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You can go look at their profiles. And you can populate your own profile with any information you like, except no links. The map is scrollable and zoomable. You can zoom right down to the street level in Google Maps to get the approximate location of your UP swipers. It’s very cool to see how far your information can travel, and that’s part of the fun.

The Content on Plague

After a bit of time on Plague you will begin to swipe cards before they fully appear. I have a distaste for animated gifs, so when I see the phrase “gif” in the description I will often swipe DOWN before the image has a chance to load. My Plague, my rules.

Here are the types of content I swipe with prejudice:

  • Pretty photos with no description or personal information (anyone can use Google images)
  • Cartoons from the web.
  • Instagram-ish memes and image/text posts.
  • Dumb ideas.
  • Duplicates.
  • People telling others how to use Plague. (though I’ve done a few of these myself.)

And a few types of content I really like on Plague.

  • Original thoughts.
  • Challenging questions.
  • Personal photos with descriptions about what we’re looking and and where it is.
  • Good ideas about the evolution of Plague.
  • Original photos from foreign places, or from my geographic area.

Finally there is a way to follow another user, apparently, if the card I read is correct. (Going to check this functionality now…) I have not figured this one out yet, but will update this post when I do.

Is Plague a Game or a New Social Network

Will Plague stick around and become another force in social networking? It’s hard to tell. They’ve got a cool niche app at the moment. But as Twitter and Instagram begin adopting SWIPE networking it will be interesting to see how Plague can become relevant. The one thing it has going for it, is the level playing field. There is no hierarchy in Plague. You simply share information and it either thrives or dies based on the activity of the network.

I hope that the developers can maintain the simplicity and beauty as they begin to evolve Plague with new features. At some point the developers are probably going to want to monetize their work and that’s where the rubber will meet the network, so to speak. As we have seen with Twitter, opt-in networks don’t work very well for paid-inclusion ads. Twitter Ads are a waste of money and effort, and I would imagine that a “promoted Plague card” would suffer a swift and downward life spiral. But that is to be seen.

Spend a little time with Plague and you will understand how the swipe is set to become the next interface movement for all apps. (In fact in mobile phones it already is. Try swiping an email, a text, a contact address and you will likely have options that you may not have been aware of. But as Plague has demonstrated there is value and fun in the swipe-only sharing of information. And Plague currently has an “anything goes” policy about creating accounts (no known restrictions on names or validity of the content you share.) And of course the gamers, pornsters, and marketers will jump onboard as soon as Plague reaches critical mass. Let’s hope the network will purge the bad content creators and reward the ones who tell personal stories and  give flight to original ideas.

Beyond that, who knows. Plague might be the most addictive app I’ve touched in 2014, and that’s after only a few days. When the novelty wears off I’m not sure what value I could derive from Plague activity other than distraction and play. Those are fine activities for an app, but don’t point towards a viable ecosystem for growth.

I’m on Plague’s side. I hope to launch better cards into the network. And I suggest you try it as well.

You can grab a PDF of this image from Slideshare: Plague the Network

And let me be your inception point: http://plague.io/

John McElhenney
@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)

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