Sunday, January 10, 2010

Implications of Ideas from Adam Penenberg’s Book “Viral Loop” for Educators

Yesterday, I completed reading Adam Penenberg’s new book entitled Viral Loop: From Facebook to Twitter, How Today’s Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves. This was one of the most fascinating books I have read in recent times. Penenberg provides an interesting look at how entrepreneurs are capitalizing on a characteristic of the Internet to create successful online businesses. Not really a “how-to-do-it” format, Viral Loop provides example after example of both successful and non-successful businesses who have taken advantage or tried to take advantage of something called “a viral expansion loop” to create successful businesses. In common language, they created businesses that take advantage of the fact that Internet users tend to share links and information about sites and Internet services they like. This sharing in turn, creates more and more users of the site over time. (I think that accurately captures Penenberg’s terminology.) If you have ever wondered why sites such as Ning, Facebook, MySpace, or Hot or Not have experienced success, this book provides some insight into that success. The creators of such sites were able to tap into the viral nature of the Internet and make their number of site users grow phenomenally. I suppose the next question someone may ask is, “Why would a school administrator and educator even care about the use of viral loops and the creation of online businesses?” Personally, I think there are some interesting things from this book that help educators further their own understanding of the Internet in general that also might enlighten educational policy. First of all, understanding viral loops as described in this book helped me, as an administrator, understand even more fully why educational leaders’ efforts to fight to keep sites like MySpace and Facebook out of schools is largely a futile act. The number of users of these sites continues to grow exponentially. These sites now play a central role in our culture, and to ignore them as if they do no exist is just plain ridiculous. This means that schools not only are fighting against a cultural force akin to rock music in the fifties and sixties, they are also ignoring an enormous part of the current youth culture. The “viral nature” of these sites is much too strong, and at some point schools are going to look ridiculous as they continue the fight to keep access to these out of schools. Secondly, what about the educational establishment using the “viral nature” of the Internet to meet its own goals and aspirations? I am not sure what this means at this point, but just maybe, educators need to be looking at how entrepreneurs are doing it, and then use viral loops to promote learning and maybe even teaching. I am not sure where to go with this yet, but I do know educators can also take advantage of the nature of the Internet to make learning happen too. At this point, I am still digesting some of Penenberg’s thoughts, but there has to be some kind of implications for us as educators and school administrators.

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