Thursday, February 7, 2008

Challenging The "Popular" Theory Of Group and Individual Interaction by puts his two cents in on the Fast Company article By: Clive Thompson regarding Duncan Watts' research.

Duncan Watts' research is challenging the theory that a small group of influential people are responsible for triggering trends as explained in Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point.

"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."

Perhaps the problem with viral marketing is that the disease metaphor is misleading. Watts thinks trends are more like forest fires:

"And nobody," Watts says wryly, "will go around talking about the exceptional properties of the spark that started the fire."

Jason has more here of what he has previously covered about the topic of the article.(link)

Seth's Blog by Seth Godin has its own perspective on Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point plus that of some other Web 2.0 elite via The Hyping Point.

As I understand it, people are influenced by the people around them. That we act, like buffalo, in a herd. The idea that a single influential individual (even a blogger like Guy or a talk show host like Oprah) can individually change the herd is crazy, and I don't think anyone has argued that.

What should be really clear, though, is that people with big audiences certainly count as one of the people around you. If the guy down the row at work buys a Mac Air, it counts. If Guy buys a Mac Air, it counts just as much (or possibly a bit more).

Since people with big audiences have more 'friends' and have more 'people down the hall', they have more influence. Not because they count for more, just because they 'know' more people.

Cory Doctorow's take on it is here. Steve Pyke provides a guest perspective at Guy Kawasaki's blog. Steve agrees with Seth that this is One more reason not to obsess about the A list in any media category. Worry instead about people with passion and people with lots of friends. You need both for ideas to spread. That was Malcolm's point all along. I can agree with that

Seth uses his own Unleashing the Ideavirus as an example which he says, didn't spread because 'important' people endorsed and promoted it. It spread because passionate people did.

I can't fully buy Seth Godin's thinking on this one. He seems to be trying too hard to keep everybody happy. One issue is that we are looking at this from a very slanted and narrow perspective - marketing. At least narrow when compared to the larger fields of human psychology and sociology. We could even go one step further and talk about organic and inorganic information systems and how they interrelate. This weblog has posted previously to the ability of birds to communicate individual data that is transformed into group decisions in flight, basically bird-brains can effectively work in unison. While humans afflicted with ancient hate have the same deterministic predictability as inorganic chemicals. Seth is right in that it is a matter of balance, but as has also been argued in a previous post Nature Is Better At Balancing Complex Systems Than We Are. The problem is that this seemingly goes against what was said about feedback to and from a subsystem within a larger (information) system when dealing with unintended consequences. This is going to take a bit more thought.

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