Viral Loop: Jason Calacanis Q&A From the Top of the Leader Board

The leader board, which ranks the top 20 Viral Loop Facebook app users by value, has a new name at the top: entrepreneur and Mahalo founder Jason Calacanis.

Viral Loop: Jason Calacanis Q&A From the Top of the Leader Board

Changes at the Top: Not only are the number of Viral Loop app users doubling, so are their values.

Serial entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, founder of human-powered search engine Mahalo, is a social media power user. He has a lot of friends–more than 5,000 of them on Facebook alone. (The average Facebook user has about 120 friends). So it’s little surprise that once he downloaded the Viral Loop widget he jumped to the top of the leader board.


I got to know Calacanis a few years back when I wrote a profile of him for Fast Company. He agreed to talk about how he taps social media to extend his brand, publicize his companies and keep him abreast of the latest happenings in tech.

PENENBERG: What social networks do you use and what are their respective advantages?

CALACANIS: Ninety-percent of what I do is on Twitter because it’s the most lightweight and quickest. I also get the highest click-through-rate on Twitter (1 to 2% will click on a link, for example, sending 500 to 3,000 folks to a story). I syndicate my Twitter activity to Facebook, but I get very little traffic from it. Whenever I go to a city I try and host an “Open Dim Sum,” which I promote to my Twitter, Facebook and email lists. My email list gets 60% of the RSVPs, 30% from Twitter and maybe 10% via Facebook. I find very few folks are watching their Facebook feed, some are watching their Twitter feed and all of them are watching their email box. So, while social networks are nice, email is still the killer application.

PENENBERG: Do you ever feel too connected and want to run over your iPhone or Blackberry with your car?

CALACANIS: The only time I felt a little too exposed was for a week then I started life-streaming for a couple of hours a day on Qik and Ustream. It became very much like the film “We Live in Public.” I started to feel the need to feed the audience… which basically made me into low quality, cheap fast food. I prefer to be a high-end steak…. and that comes in the form of my email newsletter (“Jason’s List,” with 17,000 subscribers), “This Week in Startups” (my weekly podcast) and TechCrunch50 (my yearly conference with Mike Arrington). I’m feel better when I’m being consumed in my finest form…. no soylent green wafers.


PENENBERG: There are viral characteristics to Mahalo. Can you pinpoint a few of them?

CALACANIS: We pull in questions from Twitter via our @answers and @questions accounts. Just put either of those words at the end of your question and your question will be added to Mahalo Answers and you never have to visit our site (or create an account!). It’s fairly magical to Tweet a question and have quality answers just start flowing in.

PENENBERG: You’re a former journalist. What’s the “big takeaway” from all this?

CALCANIS: Social media, like blogs, are truth-seeking technologies. In fact, the Internet itself is the greatest truth-generating device ever created. Everything in our lives gets put into the Internet, mashed up, manipulated and eventually spit back out as the truth. It’s easy to lie and deceive on the Internet, but it’s impossible to hold back the truth. Wikileaks documents, Scientology videos on Gawker, the Smoking Gun mug shots, Engadget’s secret sources within big consumer electronics companies and TMZ’s legions of waiters and security guards sending them SMS tips on the latest celebrity overdose are all components of this never ending truth processing system. The truth shall make you free, and the Internet is the truth.

September 25, 2009


The Viral Loop app is spreading. I know this because:

a.) Studioe9, the design firm that created it, tells me so: Thousands of Facebook users have sampled our widget, and the installed base is growing every day.

b.) The leader board, which ranks the top 20 Viral Loop app users by value (shown above), has undergone a drastic shift. Yesterday, the top value was $290, with several users clustered in the $220 to $260 range. Today a value of $290 wouldn’t get you listed on the board. In fact, the 20th-ranked Viral Loop value, belonging to Travis Farral, registers $422.40. That’s 50% higher than yesterday’s champ.

The leading Viral Loop app user has 3x as much value to Facebook as yesterday’s leader. Going down the list, I am struck by another encouraging sign: I don’t know anyone on the list. Because I was an early adopter of the widget, and invited my Facebook friends to sample it, it wasn’t surprising that some of them made it on to the leader board. For instance, #2 on the list was James Hong, co-founder of Hot or Not, with a value of $279. Hong is a social guy, online and off-. On Facebook he has 1,227 friends. Now he doesn’t even make the grade.

Here’s another observation. Hernan Nadal, #1 on our list, may be an avid Facebook user with thousands of friends, but it seems he keeps his profile private. The most social person using the Viral Loop app also goes out of his way to protect his privacy.


September 24, 2009


Sure Facebook is viral, but perhaps the most potent viral landscape right now is Twitter.



Last night I was in a digital daze, bouncing back and forth from the Viral Loop widget, Facebook newsfeed, and Twitter, when I came across a tweet from Fast Company: Nine Scientifically Proven Ways to Get Retweeted” It pointed to a post by Dan Macsai, who profiled Hubspot viral marketing scientist Dan Zarrella, author of the upcoming release The Social Media Marketing Book. Zarrella had sifted through roughly 5 million tweets and 40 million retweets, seeking common characteristics in those that went viral, and those that didn’t.


The currency of Twitter is retweeting. It’s how you gauge the impact of a post. As a monk might ask: If a tweet hits the transom and nobody spreads it, did it ever happen? So like most Twitterati, I’m always looking for ways to retweet my reach. And Zarrella’s conclusions were fascinating. For example, certain words like “please,” “you,” “help,” “retweet” all lent themselves to retweeting. Expressions such as “haha” and “lol,” or energy-sapping terms like “tired,” and “bored,” didn’t. Writing in clear English promoted virality. Jargon and abbreviations squelched it. Time of day appears to have an impact, as does the kind of URL shortener you use. And you know what really snuffs out retweeting? The poor, hapless semicolon, which Macsai likened to “Satan.”

Of course I had to retweet this information. Within two minutes someone following me retweeted my retweet. That someone was journalism professor Jay Rosen, my colleague from NYU, and Jay has more than 26,000 followers. Then the retweets came fast and furious, with whomever was following Jay (and happened to be on Twitter last night) encountering his retweet of my retweet of Fast Company’s tweet.

Other retweeters emerged: Digital ad guru Steve Rubel transmitted the meme to his 30,000 followers. Writers Steve Silberman of Wired (1,254 followers), freelancer Heidi Moore (1,437 followers) and Mark Glaser of PBS MediaShift (5,908 followers), and dozens of others disseminated the post.

Within the hour my original retweet had been retweeted had hit hundreds of thousands of users, and by the next morning–with my @penenberg username long stripped out of it by then–reaching perhaps a million. Of course, the irony is it took a post about how to get retweeted that got me retweeted. (Hey, Fast Company: I’ll bill you later for the marketing/promotion.)

It’s the power of virality. And, as I explore in my book, Viral Loop (read an excerpt here), when a business can design a product that users will spread for them, you can grow a company like never before.


September 16, 2009


Feel guilty whiling away hours on Facebook? Now you can tell
yourself it’s worth something—to Facebook.


If Facebook counted 3 million users instead of 300 million, it
wouldn’t have its stratospheric valuation. The truth is, users have
value. But how much is each person worth to Facebook?

It’s a question worth asking, because viral companies like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter derive their value from their users. That’s because unlike conventional audience members, users of social networks tend to be committed participants and contributors. In this user-generated world where some companies achieve billion-dollar valuations in a few short years, users themselves develop proprietary cravings. Do they own the photos they share, their tweets, their relationships? From one perspective their interactions (leaving comments, sharing photos, spreading links and information, chat and messaging, etc.) create value for the Facebooks of the world. It also works the other way. As Mark Zuckeberg put it in a recent interview, “The value that people get is tied to how much information everyone is sharing.”


That’s where the Viral Loop widget comes in. Inspired by my book of the same name, it tells you what you are worth–in dollars–to Facebook, based on your level of activity, the activity level of your friends, your influence, all of this combined with Facebook’s current valuation. What’s more, the app can also tell you what your friends are worth.

This real-time leaderboard shows the most valuable players in the viral loop game. I’ll be updating this page with research findings as the app spreads.

What are your friends worth?

Read an excerpt: Viral Loop: From Facebook to Twitter, How Today’s Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves.

About the author

Adam L. Penenberg is a journalism professor at New York University and author of several books