thinking outside the tank

Google, #googmayharm, and the power of viral networking

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I understood but didn’t really feel the power of viral networking until yesterday when Google confused the world with its “This site may harm your computer” message which appeared against every search result. If you still don’t know about this, take a look at:, which is Google’s explanation of what happened.

If you did know about this already, how did you discover it? Perhaps you were googling and it started to happen. If so, how did you react? I wonder how many people believed what they read and didn’t try to access the search results. If you mainly listen to the radio then, in the UK at least, you wouldn’t have heard about it until Sunday morning. However, if you were logged in to a micro-blogging site and you have a reasonable number of connections to other users, the chances are you read about it within minutes of it happening. My own experience was as follows:

On Saturday morning, I connected to LinkedIn which is a professional networking site. I applied to join a group for entrepreneurs called “on startups” and was accepted. I viewed the group’s page and noticed they have a Twitter account and I started to follow their messages. Using TweetDeck as my Twitter client, which I like because I can create a narrow window which I park over to the left of my screen, I was getting on with my day, which meant I was writing ASP.Net code to use the RSSToolkit. Whenever a new message arrives, TweetDeck gives an audible notification (probably a lyre bird imitating a mobile phone).

My first warning of the Google problem was when onstartups tweeted:  Google seems to be broken. Most sites in the search results gives me a ‘this site may harm your computer’. Click through gives an error.

A short time later onstartups posted another message to say they were setting up a topic, which in Twitter is defined by prefixing a word with the # character. The selected topic was called #googmayharm. All messages within a topic can be viewed by doing a Twitter search on the keyword, and I started to watch the messages come in. Every few seconds there were fresh messages on the topic, and pretty soon #googmayharm was the hottest topic on Twitter. Then people started to retweet which is the mechanism by which you share a message you’ve received with the rest of your network.

This was the point I really appreciated the power of viral networking. Everyone on Twitter has people who ‘follow’ their tweets, and naturally each person has there own set of connections, different from everyone else’s. This creates a network of networks – a sort of Intertweet. If you retweet an incoming message to your own network and someone in your network retweets to their network, then the message is getting to people you don’t know, and this enables the message to be spread quickly among the online community. Given that I, a complete nobody, have only three degrees of separation from Barack Obama on LinkedIn, I imagine it would not take long for the message to spread very widely indeed.

There were some interesting and amusing tweets on this topic. Some thought that the sky was falling and the end of the world was at hand. Others vowed only to use Yahoo from now on while yet more, recognising the likelihood of human error, simply forecast the dismissal of the brain attached to the fingers that had the trouble. More interesting though, is that there is clearly a possibility of communicating important messages, globally, and in seconds. I know Twitter is strongly anti-spam and have various ways of detecting abuse, but I’m curious to know whether they  have a ‘broadcast’ option that would allow them to send out a message to every user. If so, they could usefully retweet messages that were genuinely of interest to everyone. Can you afford not to be connected?

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst 2009


Written by netkingcol

February 1, 2009 at 10:59 am

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