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Abstract: Social influence drives both offline and online human behaviour. It pervadescultural markets, and manifests itself in the adoption of scientific andtechnical innovations as well as the spread of social practices. Priorempirical work on the diffusion of innovations in spatial regions or socialnetworks has largely focused on the spread of one particular technology among asubset of all potential adopters. It has also been difficult to determinewhether the observed collective behaviour is driven by natural influenceprocesses, or whether it follows external signals such as media or marketingcampaigns. Here, we choose an online context that allows us to study socialinfluence processes by tracking the popularity of a complete set ofapplications installed by the user population of a social networking site, thuscapturing the behaviour of all individuals who can influence each other in thiscontext. By extending standard fluctuation scaling methods, we analyse thecollective behaviour induced by 100 million application installations, and showthat two distinct regimes of behaviour emerge in the system. Once applicationscross a particular threshold of popularity, social influence processes inducehighly correlated adoption behaviour among the users, which propels some of theapplications to extraordinary levels of popularity. Below this threshold, thecollective effect of social influence appears to vanish almost entirely in amanner that has not been observed in the offline world. Our results demonstratethat even when external signals are absent, social influence can spontaneouslyassume an on-off nature in a digital environment. It remains to be seen whethera similar outcome could be observed in the offline world if equivalentexperimental conditions could be replicated.

Author: J.-P. Onnela, F. Reed-Tsochas


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