Duncan Watts, a Yahoo! researcher who studies networks, has some interesting things to say:
“If society is ready to embrace a trend, almost anyone can start one–and if it isn’t, then almost no one can,” Watts concludes. To succeed with a new product, it’s less a matter of finding the perfect hipster to infect and more a matter of gauging the public’s mood. Sure, there’ll always be a first mover in a trend. But since she generally stumbles into that role by chance, she is, in Watts’s terminology, an “accidental Influential.”
Epidemics and many other contagion phenomena have a power-law distribution (large frequency of small number infected, small frequency of large number infected). When my colleagues and I studied the distribution of rat bar-press durations, we found a power-law-like function where the “size” wasn’t number but duration. Most bar-presses were quite short; a few were quite long. We also found that expectation of reward had a big effect on the slope of the power-law function. I think Watts is saying that more attention should be paid to what determines the slopes of these power-law functions.
A recent article by Watts. Thanks to Hal Pashler.