There has been a large and active community of cannabis users in this country for as long as I can remember, and that goes back to the hazy 1960s. The difference today is that it is not only socially acceptable to spark up, it also is legal in a growing number of states. According to a recent Gallup poll, 13 percent of U.S. adults said they were currently using marijuana in 2016, nearly double from 7 percent in 2013. More than 40 percent of Americans say they have tried it.
That sounds like an opportunity, and two years ago Alec Rochford and Russell Thomas launched a social media app for iPhones called Duby to anonymously connect tokers. They introduced an Android version of the free app last year and today they have around 100,000 users posting and passing dubies.
This app doesn’t depend on users following each other online. Posts go out anonymously to app users in the immediate area, who can then pass them along to others. There is a gaming element to it as well. The number of people who initially receive a post—called a duby—depends on the “influence score” of the original poster, based on how widely his dubies are passed. If your dubies go viral, your score goes up.
Users try to find tricks to get their scores up, said Rochford. And that fine with him. “It’s a good thing that people are trying to game the system,” he said. It’s not cheating; it’s a business opportunity.
The algorithm that distributes dubies, monitors how they are passed on and figures scores can also provide real-time feedback to advertisers. Duby plans a soft launch of an advertising platform in February with about 30 companies. If it works as well as they hope, there are more than 300 companies in the legitimate marijuana trade that are potential advertisers.
The secret tool
Creating the location-based algorithm took about 18 months, Rochford said. “It took a long time to figure it out. There are so many variables to make even one query,” he said. The first effort was cumbersome and required a lot of server capacity. “Now it works very efficiently,” and is handling about 200,000 dubies a day that include images, video and text.
Interestingly, the feature that seemed critical at the time—anonymity—has become less important.
“Two years ago when we launched it, it was more of an underground culture than it is today,” Rochford said. Now most of the users of Duby are legal users of doobies, so the need to create an anonymous community is not so great. Users are more interested in building their influence scores and seeing their dubies passed beyond their immediate vicinity.
But the tool that enables anonymity by calculating the influence of users and the spread of their posts also enables quantitative feedback that the creators hope will be valuable to advertisers. They are preparing to launch a real-time map that will let advertisers track how their posts are being distributed by users. “When we put it in front of a store, they get excited,” Rochford said.
Forming a community
When Duby was launched, one concern was that the subject matter might be too limited. It’s all about cannabis, after all. How many times can you read, “I am so wasted”?
“That didn’t turn out to be the case,” Rochford said. “It’s a lifestyle. People are excited to form a community with like-minded people. The content is very diverse.”
Despite the potentially controversial nature of the apps, there was no pushback from iTunes and Google Play, Rochford said. “They’ve been great to work with,” giving guidance on rules (you have to be 18 years old to download the apps) and advice on moderating content. “People report most of the things that aren’t supposed to be there,” he said. “Users feel protective about their community.”