Viral communications app Plague “infects” 150K in two months

It’s been an interesting two months for new social communications app Plague as it tries to prove its concept of a content sharing network built entirely on viral principles. When we first covered Plague after its launch in November, it only had a few hundred users, but in two months time, the app its seen 150,000 downloads and attracted a community of 38,000 daily active users, the app’s co-creator Ilya Zudin told me.

That’s pretty small potatoes compared to the giant social networks of the world, but its just getting started and to be frank, this rather sinister sounding app isn’t for everyone. Plague (not to be confused with the mobile game Plague Inc.) is designed as a way to spread content the same way a pathogen would spread across the globe.

A user creates a content card – say a photo, animated gif or plain text message – and that card “infects” the four nearest smartphones with the Plague app located. If you’re on the receiving end, you can choose to spread the infection further by up-voting the card or impede its spread by down-voting the card. Any up vote sends the infection off to the next four closest Plague users.

It’s a pretty simple concept but one that’s taken off in Plague’s small but growing community, Zudin said. So far users have created 334,000 cards, and through Plague’s viral vectors those cards have crisscrossed the globe 70 million times to infect other users’ phones. The most up votes a single card has received is 6,674 (with a nearly equal number of down votes), but the average infection is spread on 83 times, Zudin said.

An infection map for a typical Plague content post
An infection map for a typical Plague content post

As the app has taken on more widespread user base, the creepiness that characterized some of its early content shares has largely gone away, replaced with much more innocuous posts, ranging from celebrity quotes to amateur photography. What surprised Zudin and Plague’s developers at Lithuanian startup Deep Sea Marketing is that users began gravitating toward the comments sections of individual content post. So while each pathogen stops infecting new phones after seven days, their content lives in comments.

“Now that we understand how people are using Plague, we’re seeing they’re using it as a platform to have conversation,” Zudin said. “Our users are creating a community.”

But that community isn’t like another social network community. Users can’t follow or friend one another, and they remain strangers within the app. They can only interact within the context of a single content card they’ve all managed to become infected by. Some posts have generated over 1,000 comments.

Consequently, Deep Sea has tried to bump up the community features of Plague, Zudin said. Last week it launched an update to the Plague iOS and Android apps that allows users to follow comment threads on a particular content card as well as tools that let you share cards via SMS, email, Twitter and Facebook.

When I first spoke to Zudin he was concerned that Plague could be used as way to anonymously spread offensive or illegal material like child pornography, but he said those fears turned out to be unwarranted. Though Plague has option to report a particular user or post, the community has been largely self-policing, he said. After all, if a post is truly distasteful it usually gets voted down before it can spread beyond the first four Plague users, thus disappearing from the network.