#22 Twitter's newest viral loop
Plus: "ambition", and how to become an elite (build social capital)
Welcome readers old and new. This is one of Thomas Hollands’ notes in his search for ideas which are surprisingly general, or generally surprising. You can find all past issues here.
The newest viral loop on Twitter
Wordle is a fun word game that’s taking Twitter by storm—exactly as its designer must have intended.
It’s a well crafted product: fun to play, effortless to share, and intriguing to encounter.
Most people come across Wordle through a mysterious array of coloured squares, accompanied by commentary, on a social media feed:
What does it all mean? You can find out for yourself here.
Wordle has spread virally for a few reasons:
The product is fun and habit forming: By requiring only a few minutes per day, every day, people enjoy, get used to, and look forward to playing.
The product is easy and delightful to share: By showing the colours of the squares but hiding your guesses, the share mechanism lets you brag to your friends without giving the game away.
The shared content is intriguing to a new user: It’s eye-catching on your social media feed. What is this mosaic of coloured squares? What does 3/6 mean? The tweets don’t even include a link to the game—if I want to see what this mysterious Wordle is about, I have to google it for myself.
Because shares don’t include a link to the game, the Twitter algorithm doesn’t suppress them. This means each tweet reaches 10x the number of people it would otherwise.
The game’s synchronicity: the new Wordle is released at the same time for everyone around the world. For Twitter users this means an inundation of green and yellow mosaics at 15:00 Pacific Time—seeing all your friends tweet the same thing makes you very likely to figure out what it is.
Here’s a back of the envelope calculation of Wordle’s viral factor:
Let’s assume 10% of Wordle users share their result daily to Twitter. Or, put another way, the average Wordle user shares her result once every ten days.
Let’s assume the average shared Wordle tweet receives 100 impressions.
Let’s assume 10% of people who see a Wordle tweet decide to play. Or, put another way, the average person needs to see ten Wordle tweets before they decide to play.
Let’s assume 90% of new Wordle users decide to keep playing the game after the first day, and 100% of returning Wordle users keep playing.
This means that an average Wordle user will convert 10% * 100 * 10% * 90% = 0.09 new users every day, or, 1 user every 11 days.
This means Wordle’s user base doubles every 11 days. It’s about as viral as the early waves of covid! As of today, there have been 210 days of Wordle, which is ~19 user base doublings. If Wordle had 10 users on the first day, then assuming this amount of exponential growth has held steady, it would have about 5 million users today.
We have lost the meaning of the word “ambition”
When I was at university, seemingly everyone wanted to work in consulting (myself included), or banking. I once sat in an “internship Q&A” at UCL. The girl next to me leaned over and said: “Isn’t this amazing? Ever since I was a little girl I dreamed of being an analyst.”
We told ourselves that these were jobs where you could “gain exposure to lots of different businesses”, and “optimise for building skills”. But in reality the only thing we were doing was moneymaxxing: optimising for was the net present value of our future earnings.
In university, unlike almost every other time in your life, you have both time and energy. You have an opportunity to consider the things you like, and the things you don’t. To ruminate on how specifically you’d like to make the world a better place—and if you come up with a definite, positive vision of the world, there isn’t anything stopping you from working on realising it.
Choosing to work in consulting or banking is a decision to not think about how you’d like to make the world a better place. Instead, you get assigned to other people’s projects, solving other people’s problems. You trade your time and energy for cash: you’re paid well to become a cog, turning inside someone else’s machine until at last you wear out.
And the funny thing is: people who choose this are socially rewarded, even called “ambitious”. At the time, I remember thinking that attempting to transition from my elite university education to an elite consulting firm was an ambitious plan. But looking back now, it seems absurd. Ambition is about having a specific, positive vision of the future, and then turning that dream into reality. Considering I went top university full of self-declared “creative” and “ambitious” people, it’s amazing how little imagination there really was.
Most “ambitious” students today want to skip that first step. They have no deep desire to improve society at all. Instead they want to jump to the outcome of ambition: multiple properties, maybe a yacht. They want to have enough money to insulate themselves from the degeneration of society. To live in a golden cage—amass enough wealth to ignore the world, but not enough to change it.
There is good news, though. Because so many would-be elites are abdicating responsibility, for the earnest among us, it’s easier to become an elite than ever.
Samo Burja’s underrated ideas for becoming an elite
Young people today are chasing low-volatility paths to wealth that will enable them to escape our degenerating society. While social capital in Western societies is at all time lows, there are more up-and-comers chasing financial capital than ever.
This means, if you’re willing to put the effort in to build social capital, you won’t have many competitors. You can build up large amounts of social capital very effectively.
Samo Burja, an independent researcher on elites & society and a certified Big Brain, recently did an excellent podcast with Palladium magazine. He had this to say on the underrated ways one could arrogate social capital and gain power in today’s society:
Make your resources available to others. If you have a guest room or guest house, host people often! If you’re fortunate to have plenty of money, share it with people liberally: buy gifts, host parties and dinners. If you’re short on money but long on time, do favour for people you like. Build social capital.
STEM is a highly useful way of knowing, and applying it to society at large is underrated. Self-educate in the humanities and use your scientific mindset to figure out social systems. But remember to stay humble—you don’t want to end up like Isaac Newton, decoding the Bible for hidden messages that purport to reveal the foundations of our world.
Become gainfully unemployed. Deliberately spend time outside institutions working on things you care about. You’ll develop a feral, undomesticated sense of agency.
Consume fringe ideas and participate in fringe communities. There is a higher rate of meeting weird people with bad ideas in fringe communities, but the return is greater too. Every valuable new idea was once unorthodox. All the best ideas you’ve never heard of are on the fringes.
Stay loyal to friends and family. In our atomised society, this is rarer than ever.
I don’t have a guesthouse, but I do have an air mattress. If you’re visiting Vancouver, drop me a message. You’re always welcome.