Virality is tough to bottle and even harder to prolong. When a tweet, a video, or a mobile application goes viral, it skyrockets from obscurity to ubiquity, then disappears as quickly as it emerged. It’s a fad, just like pet rocks or Rubix cubes—the digital realm only accelerates the process.
But sometimes new apps evolve from fads into something greater, something indelible even. These platforms cement themselves into our everyday lives, establish themselves as a force of change. They’re trends, or, if they’re seriously disruptive, paradigm shifts.
So what separates the fad apps from the mainstays? What made Facebook different than MySpace, and what separates Pokemon Go from the forgotten Farmville? And most importantly—how can you discern between fads and trends and make business decisions accordingly?
As we’ve said, fad apps are any application that experiences a meteoric rise in popularity and prevalence in a short amount of time, then disappears.
Sometimes fad apps are easy to spot—I don’t think anyone expected Flappy Bird to stick around long—but other times an app’s permanence is a bit harder to discern. I’d imagine the VC’s that threw $1 million at the anomalous social media fad may regret their investment.
Yo, an app where you just…say ‘Yo’ (Source)
From a business perspective, fads aren’t inherently bad, just short-lived. If your company can capitalize on the fad’s transient wave with relatively quick, reversible adjustments, then it could be a quick payoff.
What is a decidedly poor decision is to base your entire business model or application on the fad. If you’re going to an app development company with a central premise that can’t exist without a fad, or is a fad itself, you’re not going to come out with a sustainable, long-term solution.
Typically, trend apps also experience the same rapid adoption by the masses, but without the fleeting lifespan. Their longevity results from a simple principle, and the major differentiator between fads and trends: trend apps are born out of necessity.
They are the result of shifting changes in culture and technology, and usually help solve problems.
When trends amass serious influence, they can be described as paradigm shifts. The rise of social media was a paradigm shift sparked by Facebook. Uber and Lyft certainly aren’t fads—they’ve disrupted the entire taxicab industry, if not the entire transportation sector.
We’ve established the distinction between fad apps and trends, but even with this information, it can be difficult to discern which is which. Does it solve a problem, or address a larger need within the population? In some cases, that’s a tough question to answer.
Luckily, there’s other telltale signs that most (read: not all) fad apps possess. The most notable of these is finite variability. Finite variability refers to an app, platform, or overall any user experience, that becomes predictable or stagnant.
FarmVille experienced a viral surge in popularity roughly 8 years ago (Source)
The most flagrant examples of these are usually seen in the mobile gaming realm—think back to Farmville, a game that dominated the marketplace in 2009, but eventually subsided due to a lack of new functionality. The game’s creator, Zynga, didn’t roll out new features or versions that users liked.
In contrast, apps that become trends have infinite variability—their user experience is always changing. The best example of this is the success of apps with user-generated content, like Twitter, Reddit, or Tinder.
If you see a new app out on the market, or are thinking about hiring an app development company to create one of your own, consider the variability of the platform. The app could be incredibly addictive, but if the variability is too small, it won’t last long.
Why is it important to discern fad apps from the app trends? If you’re thinking about creating a highly successful application, it’s prudent to understand not only how the app economy works, but potential flaws in your model as well.
Even if you’re not building an app, your organization can capitalize off fads and trends by reacting to each appropriately. You don’t want to make major organizational changes to react to a trend, when it’s actually a fad. Likewise, you don’t want to confuse a major trend as a fad, a miss an opportunity for innovation.
Of course, it takes more than the right model for an application to go viral, whether it’s for a short-lived period or not. You’ll need quality UX design, the right marketing strategy, and a bit of luck too.