Saturday, August 6, 2011

Very popular

Duncan J. Watts is a researcher for the Yahoo organization with degrees in sociology and physics.  He specializes in the analysis of all sorts of networks.  His book "Everything is Obvious, Once You Know the Answer" contains quite a few thought-provoking gems.  Advertisers, politicians, pollsters and others are interested in the concept of especially influential people, those who are fashion setters and trend starters.  

Even though there is lots of data on the web, it is not all that easy to find ways to carefully search for the extent that some people influence others far more than average.  Watts explains that tweets, the short messages used on the web site Twitter, always bear identifying information, if they are relayed to others, if they are re-tweeted.  A research group including Watts examined 74 million tweets to see how often some extra popular ones were retweeted.

Out of 74 million, one or two were retweeted as many of 10,000 times.  Keep in mind that ten thousand is one percent of a single million.  Again, out 74 million, a few dozen were re-tweeted 1 thousand times.  The group of people who use Twitter are not a random sample of the population but 74 million is a very large data set.  It seems reasonable to conclude that in general, few people are all that influential.  At least as represented by retweets.

Watts goes to considerable effort to discuss predictability and uses various examples to explain what he takes to be rather fundamental non-predictability in areas such as fame, art and history.  He goes through the history of the Da Vinci painting, the Mona Lisa, the most famous painting in the world.  It was not considered all that important over much of its history.  It would have been very difficult during the painting's first century to predict that it would be as famous as it is at this time.

This subject reminds me of the business of the popularity of my classes or this blog.  It is reasonably nice if somebody signs up for my class or reads my blog.  But it is very easy to fall into the notion that a class attended by 100 is twice as good as one attended by only 50.  Maybe and maybe not.  A work, a comment, a post may help one person very much.  It may be vaguely attended to by 30 people and have been of no use for any of them.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Popular Posts

Follow @olderkirby