April 19th, 2007

bswing

"I coulda been a contender"

Is Justin Timberlake a Product of Cumulative Advantage?
By DUNCAN J. WATTS, Published: April 15, 2007, New York Times Magazine

In our study, ... 14,000 participants ... were asked to listen to, rate and, if they chose, download songs by bands they had never heard of. Some of the participants saw only the names of the songs and bands, while others also saw how many times the songs had been downloaded by previous participants. This second group - in what we called the "social influence" condition - was further split into eight parallel "worlds" such that participants could see the prior downloads of people only in their own world. ...

In all the social-influence worlds, the most popular songs were much more popular (and the least popular songs were less popular) than in the independent condition. At the same time, however, the particular songs that became hits were different in different worlds, just as cumulative-advantage theory would predict. ...

In fact, intrinsic "quality," which we measured in terms of a song's popularity in the independent condition, did help to explain success in the social-influence condition. .... But the impact of a listener's own reactions is easily overwhelmed by his or her reactions to others. The song "Lockdown," by 52metro, for example, ranked 26th out of 48 in quality; yet it was the No. 1 song in one social-influence world, and 40th in another. Overall, a song in the Top 5 in terms of quality had only a 50 percent chance of finishing in the Top 5 of success.
bswing

Tales of Corporate Oppression

I think the term "oppression" is over the top, but who doesn't identify with these stories?

I once got talking to a guy whose job it was to go into a company, sit alongside the Systems Administrator for two weeks, and write a professional audit on his processes and practices.

Naturally the sys admin would be on his best behavior, showing off all the clever things he did to keep the company's computer network ticking over.

At the end of the two weeks, the sys admin would be fired. There was never any audit: this was just the method the company used to replace their IT people without disruption, making sure the new guy was trained up and the old guy didn't cause any damage before he left.