10 Reasons Why #HowOldRobot Gets Viral

A small demo app from //build 2015 went viral in the last two days. Since it was launched yesterday 4/29, the volume has grown from 0 to 700 queries per second and trending up! Right now is 8:39PM PST 4/30, every minute there are tens of new shares in Twitter under the hashtag #HowOldRobot. It certainly went viral.

But an interesting question to me is what are the reasons that this tiny web app gets viral. I put some thought into it and believe here are the ten key ingredients that lead to this great result.

1. It’s extremely easy to use.

The web app has an extremely simple UI. It is easy to understand. It allows users to search on Bing to get images with faces, or just upload an image of your own. Just a search or two clicks, the results are presented in front of you. The age is a number and gender is an icon. They are overlaid on the faces and it’s done. Simple and straightforward.

Even though the UI is simple, the technology is deep. Behind this tiny app, there are image search, face detection, gender detection and age detection, each of which is a deep topic in computer vision and image understanding. The app successfully hides all the technology and complexity from users and only shows users the minimal and the necessary.

2.It appeals to people’s narcissistic side.

I did a quick analysis on Twitter. 5 of 10 shares are talking about the guessed age is younger than their real age, with a sense of being flattered. 3 are neutral and 2 are self-deprecation or anger.

Here is an example of a lady being guessed as 20: “thanks for being so generous #HowOldRobot :D”

3. It invokes awe, laughter or amusement.

When the app gets the age right, people feel science is awesome. When it’s a bit off, people laugh at themselves. This positive sentiment is contagious. People like to start conversations around these wild stupid guesses and laugh about them.

4. It gives you an image to share.

Many studies show that posts including images are more likely to be shared on social media. This app gives you an image that you’d love to share.

5. It gives you a story to tell.

The image itself with age and gender icon tells an interesting story by itself. I have seen commercials riding on top of this app to communicate to their audience. This is pretty smart idea, isn’t it? Hyundai is tweeting an #HowOldRobot image of their latest car model saying it’s 1 year old and gender is “car”.

6. It has an sticky hashtag.

#HowOldRobot is sticky. It’s crispy, short and clear. #HowOld tells what it is about. #Robot depicts a vivid robot image behind the scene. If people like the guess, they will thank the “robot”. If they don’t like the guess, they will shout at it. It makes the sharing more conversational and sticky.

7. It has a good, short, and dedicated URL.

The URL “How-Old.net” is very crispy, short and clear too. It’s easy for sharing and search engine friendly. The web app is cross-platform. It runs well on Windows, Mac, iOS, and android. But it needs a URL to start the experience. Having a short and easy to remember URL helps the word of mouth sharing. People talk about it and share it even in 3-minute chats in hallways.

8. It does only one thing.

It only does one thing. After it detected age and gender in the picture, it’s done. Users don’t need to make choices. You don’t need to decide between A or B. It has only one task. All you need to do is to finish the task itself, have some fun and share it.

9. it does not have language barriers.

The images are intuitive with a number for age and an icon for gender on top of the face image. It can be understood across all languages. People from US, India, Turkey and China all can understand the results very well.

10. It starts with fans.

When it’s launched, the engineers sent emails to a group of fans. It’s quickly spread out to all the continents and the requests went up very rapidly. Fans are very important here to engage with the app and spread the word of mouth in their social circles.

Try the web app here http://how-old.net. It works on mobile browser too. Let me know how you think about it.

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