Follow the trend or make a difference

Fang Wu and Bernardo Huberman have just published a very interesting paper in which they analyzed the temporal evolution of opinions about news and products posted on the Internet.

More specifically, they studied the online reviews of the 48,000 best selling books at Amazon, thousands of political resolutions voted on Essembly and many arbitrary opinions offered for voting on Jyte. They observed that (hence the title of the paper) if the cost of expressing opinions for users is

  • Low (eg, one-click review): Users express their opinions either by being neutral or by polarizing (reinforcing) the (positive/negative) trend set by previous opinions.
  • High (eg, Amazon’s full-text book review): Users bother to express their opinions whenever they feel they can offset the trend set by previous opinions.

From these results they concluded that:

“Just changing the order or frequency of given sets of views can change the ongoing expression in the community, and thus the perceived collective wisdom that new users will find when accessing that information.”

One Response to “Follow the trend or make a difference”

  1. mike says:

    I’ve heard of experiments in social psychology that showed a strong tendency for people to concur with opinions expressed by other members of a group. This paper seems to suggest that you might get a different result if there was a cost associated with offering an opinion. Fascinating implications for democracy… in particular for the argument that levels of participation must be raised at all costs (e-voting).