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Viral Loop: From Facebook to Twitter, How Today's Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves

3.58  ·  Rating Details ·  572 Ratings  ·  83 Reviews
Here's something you may not know about today's Internet. Simply by designing your product the right way, you can build a flourishing business from scratch. No advertising or marketing budget, no need for a sales force, and venture capitalists will flock to throw money at you. Many of the most successful Web 2.0 companies, including MySpace, YouTube, eBay, and rising stars ...more
Kindle Edition, 288 pages
Published (first published October 1st 2009)
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May 21, 2011 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My initial thinking was that this book would provide reasons for the viral spread of something. Rather it turned out to be more about the stories behind products and ideas that gone viral. That still proved very interesting and seems to reinforce the concept that there is no specific 'formula' for what makes something go viral.

The book provides some interesting insight into many of the products and services we know well, such as Netscape and EBay, that have grow from humble beginnings into multi
Nov 28, 2011 Patrick marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
I'm not sure if it was the narrator -- probably the most annoying in the history of audiobooks -- or the content that made me pull the plug on this one. Said content was like some strange time-warp to 1999 where the internetz was gunna revolutionize everything all god's children were gonna own their own submarines. Isn't there enough of this BS out there already? Whatever. But to believe this twaddle you need to be without critical faculty, without sense of history and utterly devoid of common s ...more
Kevin Suitor
Viral Loop
by Adam Penenberg

Adam Penenberg wrote the book Viral Loop to help us understand why things go viral, and how you can do it for your business.

Building a “viral business” isn’t a new concept. Tupperware has selling plastic containers since 1948 by employing a viral loop. The entire model is predicated on current salespeople bringing in more salespeople.

But there’s a big difference between making a viral video and building a viral business. A viral business builds the virality into the
Yevgeniy Brikman
This book is a fun read if you want to hear the stories of a number of viral companies and products. However, if you want to learn how to create something viral of your own, you won't find it here. The writing is a bit boring and cliche; the tiny overviews of psychology and sociology are shallow and feel like padding; and while many of the "case studies" are classics and worth learning about, a few feel out of date and obsolete (e.g. the book touts Ning and Open Social as the next big thing).

Abhijeet Jain
The "title" and the "cover design" mend the perfect impression , good enough to make the book look exciting and promising.

But unfortunately the book wasn't any good (atleast to me) , except few of the stories like that of Tupperware , others couldn't make stick to the book.

I believe its the narration of the author which was boring 80% of the time and infact the language he used wasn't quite gripping , the book would had been far better if the terms and language used was aimed at ordinary reader
Nov 05, 2016 Orlando rated it liked it
High-level overviews of viral web companies

The Audible narration was over the top and distracted from the content, which itself is a bit light. Book gives a quick overview of 6-10 viral companies, covering their origin, growth, and where possible, fate.
Jan 06, 2017 Lei rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lots stories on each individual company became viral. Though it's mostly narration; little unique insights.
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Viral Loop From Facebook to Twitter How Today's Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves by Adam Penenberg

This book is about the network effect. The idea is that for every person that is added to a communication platform like email, telephones, and the internet, the number of potential connections increases exponentially. In its earliest form, it was used by Tupperware to sell products, or people creating chain letters. The book basically says that the network effect is good. I disagree with the idea
Feb 10, 2015 Alex rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business
The book is ok. If you read this thinking that you are going to get real insights on how and why things go viral, you're not. The reason that I gave it 3 stars and not less is because despite this, the book is still pretty interesting and entertaining. Just don't think you're going to come out the other end with a deeper understanding of virality.

Rather than write my own review, and because I'm lazy, I'm going to quote someone else's review from This guy pretty much nailed it on the
Craig Rowley
Oct 26, 2014 Craig Rowley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Viral Loop was an entertaining read with some quality guidance on how one might get their own Viral Loop started for their business. It continues to amaze me that large companies continue to ignore simple guidance and learnings from Silicon Valley startups. However, a great point from Penenberg is that companies who fail to scale, will fail completely. So, I've learned to interpret the "pause" as a potentially smart move... but hold for too long and the waiting will become procrastination and wi ...more
Shawn Morel
Apr 07, 2013 Shawn Morel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Short version, I generally liked it. It's accelerated and framed some of my thinking in the area. I think you have to look at it through the right lens though.
Longer version. I was frustrated by his treatment of a few different things.
Section 3 on viral networks was the strongest. The viral marketing section was touch and go - I think he just lacked a basic understanding of mass media.
1) His need to infuse a larger drama that he did a poor job of crafting a narrative for
2) His understanding of t
Apr 19, 2010 E rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Intriguing guide on how to use the Web’s amazing viral potential

In 2000, the “Naked Scientists,” a group of Cambridge University physicians and researchers who popularize science, satirically described the viral path of an odd growth industry: Elvis Presley impersonation. At that time, more than 85,000 Elvis impersonators actively performed around the world, “compared to only 170 in 1977 when Elvis died.” The Naked Scientists jovially argued that, at that rate of growth, “by 2019, Elvis imperso
Feb 03, 2010 Desiree rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this book! Mostly concentrates on web 2.0 type companies and other corporations that have influenced most of our lives in the recent past, like Google, eBay, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, etc....

Great stories of how these companies started and spread, some like wildfire, virally through the net. A current book, not about failed companies that never survived the dot com bust earlier this century. The usual strategy is for companies to get big and get bought out, bringing untold riches
Jan 14, 2012 Jay rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business, audiobook
Reading this now, with a few years age on it, the examples seem quite dated and beg the question "What happens when a company built as viral flames out", as a few of the examples are long gone. The most interesting example was taking the viral story back to Tupperware, partly because that story is not as oft told as, say Facebook. I did find it funny that when discussing brain functions, where you would normally quote an expert, the author quoted Al Gore. I found that disconcerting, a bit more p ...more
Mar 16, 2010 Carrie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Useful and interesting book about online businesses that have exploded in growth at an exponential rate. Penenberg distills some commonalities among these businesses while also sharing lots of examples and details of of how the likes of PayPal and Netscape got going.I'm not a big fan of the general lingo of most business/marketing books, which always seems a little breathy and light on theory and making connections to bigger ideas and themes, but that could just be my bias.

My favorite chapter w
Franco Arda
Oct 03, 2011 Franco Arda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Some say that in order to understand today's viral business models, one should read a book on virology or epidemiology. Well, thanks to Penenberg's book, that's not necessary anymore.

Some critics of this book argue, that the book could have been condensed to only a few pages. I tend to agree. Penenberg spends a lot of time giving detailed background to the genesis of some of the most famous Internet companies today. For some readers, this could be a bit boring. But that's like criticizing a Ferr
While I did learn a few things from this book, I feel that it is inaccurately named. Seeing it on my library's online catalog, it looked a lot like a guide to growing your business. However, this is really more of a comprehensive history of businesses who have grown using viral marketing. Therefore, this book really wasn't that helpful to me.

However, Penenberg does a great job of compiling an interesting history of the viral loop. I'm not a "techie" and can barely function on my own computer and
Feb 08, 2010 Kelsey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was really informative. I enjoyed reading it and learned a lot about viral companies and how things spread over the internet. It provided a lot of really great examples of how the internet started and grew into the phenomenon it is today. It also was interesting to see the similarities between the creators and founders of all these internet companies.

It was also interesting to read the back story behind the rise of the internet. I saw it from the consumer/user side, so it was nice to
Amy Denim
While extremely interesting and informative on the history of viral loop businesses I did not find the subtitle - From Facebook to Twitter, How Today's Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves - reflective of the contents. I now know a lot about some of the fastest growing and most successful business in the world from Tupperware to Facebook and lots in between, but not exactly how those businesses grew themselves besides having a great idea that they luckily figured out how to spread the word about ...more
Jan 01, 2014 Ninakix rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-2010
I would have given this book 3/5 if it weren't for one thing: it's clear that the author doesn't actually understand that much about internet companies, which turns out to not be that much of an impediment until he begins to mention how Google is in a tough spot because - well, basically, the internet is a scary place. Yes, the internet is a scary place, and that makes it true that searching the larger internet does have some risks, but there are some benefits to that, you know. Anyways, what wa ...more
Sep 21, 2015 Jeff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read, offering some good stories about how companies have been stunned by viral growth patterns and also how certain companies have deliberately strived to seed things to grow in viral "loops." My only criticism was that there were frequent wording and/or pronunciation errors in the audio book I was listening to. I did not cross check with the printed book, but a key word in the book is "virality" which is often mistakenly said "virility" (quite different) by the performer, and simil ...more
Richard Sparks
Well, I was hoping for more... This book tells you a lot of stories about companies that have benefited immensely by setting up their products/services in a way that spreads it quickly to new users. From Tupperware to Hotmail to Facebook, the fastest growing products happen when customers spread it to others simply by using it. Unfortunately, much of the stories are how those companies dealt with scalability issues caused by rapid grown. I was looking to find step by step insights in how to dupl ...more
A tech book on how not only internet things, but how certain businesses have grown organically. There was a whole section dedicated to Tupperware, which I thought was really interesting. Definitely more of a history book then a how-to, which I always kind of like more in this industry. I find all this sort of stuff interesting. There was chat on Ebay and Paypal, which was interesting too and how while both kind of hated each other at the beginning, they kind of need each other now to survive. An ...more
Arun Subhash
Jun 14, 2013 Arun Subhash rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Its a good book that gives the reader an insight into the Viral business models. The business terminology used in the book is very simple. It provides a in-depth details of the origins of viral marketing i.e. the Tupperware era (1950-1960) to the modern day Viral Networks(e.g. Facebook , Youtube etc.). The author has neatly arranged various viral trends in the following groupings :

1) Viral Businesses - e.g. Tupperware, Ponzi Schemes
2) Viral Marketing - e.g. Hotmail's Viral marketing techniques
May 03, 2015 Sunny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From Tupperware to Facebook, Adam covers almost every noticeable contemporary viral loop that have touched us. A sneak peak into how the new software app startup think and use the virality coefficient is also fascinating. A successful viral loop is a self multiplying, self powered machine that starts after attaining a certain number of people and then doesn't stop after that. Harnessing and mobilizing this loop can provide a classic hockey stick curve of exponential growth. The new marketing phe ...more
Feb 17, 2010 Sam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Verdict: mosty unoriginal, but pretty readable accounts of some good valley/startup history. A good telling of the HotOrNot story in particular. The book relied too much on second-hand sources from Andrew Chen’s blog and Sarah Lacy’s Once Your Lucky, Twice Your Good.

Fun factoid on eBay history. According to the book, eBay stood for “Echo Bay”. The site, orginally called, Auction Web, was launched on labor day wekend in 1995. Omidyar ran it as a free service, during his nights and weekends, until
Jul 19, 2012 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great internet/social media history book! It begins with the history of the internet leading up to current times. Midway through the book, Penenberg defines the viral loop, how some groups have viral growth and the different tools some groups use to generate viral growth.

It was unlike some of the other social media books I have gone through because he not only talks about the tools, but also the designers and the tools that didn't make it far.
Jan 11, 2010 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business
sorry ...

started slow - a little tired - a little old news. got better - and promised at one point to be a good read - and then trailed off with what i consider to be a half hearted attempt at introducing the rules by which you can measure likelihood of something going viral and got into discussion of stackability of viral loops and

in the end - glad i read it - always nice to see what is out there - but not going to change my world ... but - it might change yours !
Igmidio Galingan
The use of known companies though they indeed went viral felt like a distraction. The book does try to explain how certain companies or products went up and viral but knowing some of these examples are down now feels like the story/explanation is insufficient.

Maybe for optimal use of this book some background reading on the examples laid out are required for you to get the feel you get the full picture. And not get the 'missing' feeling that I got.
Jonathan Mckay
I would recommend this book to somebody in the government (or in the developing world) trying to understand how Silicon Valley works.

It does well as an entertaining history of why companies like Facebook have grown so fast, but tends towards over-exuberant and over-generalized proclamations about what leads to success in technology.

As another reviewer stated, this book doesn't provide much beyond typical Fast Company articles.
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Adam L. Penenberg is a journalism professor at New York University who has written for Fast Company, Forbes, the New York Times, The Washington Post, Wired, Slate, Playboy, and the Economist. A former senior editor at Forbes and a reporter for, Penenberg garnered national attention in 1998 for unmasking serial fabricator Stephen Glass of the New Republic. Penenberg’s story was a watersh ...more
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