YouTube Tabblo Viral Growth Marketing Showdown

You’re probably still sitting in awe after reading in our last chapter about the perfect viral storm YouTube created back in the mid 2000s. You may also be wondering how you can create that same sort of thing yourself.

Reading over that chapter, all the decisions YouTube made may seem sensible enough to warrant the belief that with good engineering, virality is a slam dunk.

The truth of the matter is that it’s incredibly difficult to create.

Recapping YouTube’s Perfect Viral Storm


To start off, virality requires things like:

  • An incredible smart and capable team
  • Ultra-strategic architecture, UX design and engineering
  • A truly valuable product that solves a clear and present problem for a large population of people

These are the obvious ones. The not-so-obvious one, and the REALLY tricky one, is timing.

To achieve true viral growth on the scale of YouTube, the product you’re working with must be introduced at the perfect moment and accepted with open arms. Both in comparison to competitors and also in comparison to what the market is positioned to accept based on other factors in their life.

To explain more clearly, let’s look to a little-known startup called Tabblo.

A Brief History of Tabblo


Ever hear of them? If not, you’re not alone.

Founded in 2005 (right around the same time as YouTube), Tabblo was a really solid photo sharing platform with early potential to be a viral sensation. A user would post their photos on Tabblo and send a link to their friends so they could share in the experience by viewing and “liking” the photos.

Pretty cool, right?

Overall, Tabblo was a well-executed concept with solid theoretical value. So why hasn’t anyone ever heard of them?

That’s because there was a problem. A big one. The market was not ready for it yet.

Camera phones had not yet become prolific. Mobile apps were still conceptual. Photo editing software was still only a tool for professional photographers, and most cameras were still producing hard copies. Basically, 2005 might as well have been the Stone Age.

This was the landscape of the market, and it was all anyone knew or wanted to know. Thanks to years of accepting “it’s just the way things are,” most people couldn’t even imagine anything different.

Probably because they didn’t have to.

Old Camera Photographer Taking Picture

Okay . . . cameras weren’t QUITE this old-timey, but they may as well have been from Tabblo’s perspective.

The main issue that Tabblo experienced was NOT poor execution. It was bad timing. The world just had not yet adopted photography into the mass market digital age yet.

And Tabblo virally squandered as a result.

Comparing YouTube and Tabblo


When a YouTube user uploads a video and shares it, YouTube has an opportunity to demo the ease of use of their video player, as well as their uploading and sharing features.

However, YouTube did not have to actually create the viral media displayed inside their application. Instead, they relied on user generated content for their viral media.

In contrast, since Tabblo’s core value was more about uploading your own photos and sharing those memories with friends, they were inhibited in their viral potential. YouTube did not require their users to MAKE the content. Tabblo did.

That’s a big difference. But it’s not the only one.

Key Differences in Cycle Time


YouTube’s blend of user-generated content search, combined with all their other features, made their viral cycle time last only minutes.

Alternatively, Tabblo’s experience was much different. When a user uploaded photos, only a few would actually email those photos to friends. Some users merely used Tabblo for file storage, which was basically where virality went to die. In addition, social media was nowhere near as mainstream, and integrations with third party tools had yet to be a thing. So overall there were far fewer viral engines to work with on top of Tabblo lacking the YouTube-esque features to compensate.

Though I should note that those friends who DID get sent photos WOULD sign up for Tabblo relatively frequently. However, it unfortunately often took months for those same users to come back and upload their own photos.

Cameras at that time were still large, non-networked devices, and the photo upload process was far more lengthy and tedious. (Remember having to plug in your point-and-shoot camera, upload its photos to your computer, and then upload them again to your social media accounts? Seriously, how did we even survive?)

In hindsight, there were so many factors working against Tabblo. Of course at that time none of them were obvious on the surface.

Winning the Waiting Game


I know what many of you are thinking.

Isn’t Tabblo basically Instagram, but before Instagram was Instagram?

You’d be correct. Instagram is definitely similar to what Tabblo wanted to create, but Instagram had something very crucial on its side that Tabblo did not.

Namely, Instagram arrived on the scene over a decade later when quality cameras were now in everyone’s pockets, and the upload process was next to instant (hence the “Insta” part).

Instagram Photo Feed - Viral Marketing

In other words, Instagram worked where Tabblo failed, in part, because they had timing on their side.

Timing is Everything


Because Tabblo was ahead of its time, it couldn’t become the viral sensation it may have become today. This was NOT due to poor execution by their team. The product by all accounts was pretty solid. In fact, it was so well-executed that it was acquired by HP in 2007.

However, the consensus was that the acquisition was more of a future-minded acqui-hire (i.e. Tabblo was purchased for the talented people working on it) by a publicly-traded entity looking for a stock boost.

The takeaway?

A major reason why YouTube, Tabblo AND Instagram ended up the way they ended up – good, bad, or viral – was market timing. At the end of the day, you might do everything right on the engineering front, but if you haven’t yet hit Product/Market Fit in the CURRENT landscape, you’ve got no shot at virality.

So when you’re planning on creating the next greatest viral sensation the world has ever seen, take a look around you first and see if the time is right.

What’s Next


We’ve just spent our past six chapters going over some real-world examples of viral marketing in action. Now that you hopefully have a more practical sense of how to achieve success, let’s roll up our sleeves and get back to the mechanics of making it happen for your business.

Because although we’ve done everything right in creating your viral marketing engine, you still need the fuel to make it run.

So let’s get pumping!


Meet Your New Best-Friend: Non-Viral Marketing

You’ve got the viral marketing basics down pat. We’ve studied the success stories of other companies. You’ve even created your own viral engine. But now it’s time to feed the beast, but I guarantee you what’s for dinner is not what you think.



What did you think of this article?

  • Do you have any other real-world awesome viral marketing examples to share?
  • Is there anything I can clarify that we’ve gone over up to this point?
  • Can you guess Viral Panda’s favorite movie?

Hit me on Twitter, or comment below.


Travis Steffen
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