Viral media governed by Game Theory?

Paul Raven @ 08-11-2010

We talk a lot about the “viral” way in which trends and topics spread around the intermatubez; it’s a useful metaphor because it’s one we have a precedent for. But as with with most things, it’s not quite so simple as all that; Ars Technica reports on research that shows meme transmission can be modelled pretty successfully by the confusing (yet surprisingly ubiquitous) principles of Game Theory:

The popularity growth of things like websites or gadgets is often described as being similar to an epidemic: a network with a lot of connections between people increases exposure and then adoption, as do links stretching between dissimilar groups. When the trend in question spreads to a node with a lot of connections (like a celebrity), its popularity explodes. While this is fitting for some cases, in others it’s an oversimplification—a person’s exposure to a trend doesn’t always guarantee they will adopt it and pass it on.

It is not only the intrinsic value of a new technology (or other types of innovation) that makes it attractive. It is also the number of friends who have adopted it,” Amin Saberi, one of the authors, told Ars. In instances where there is incentive to make the same decision as people around you, the authors of the paper argue, the spread of innovations may instead follow rules of game theory, which differ in big ways from the rules of viral or epidemic trends.


The model seems to apply less to individual pieces of content, where simple exposure is enough to create huge growth. On the other hand, it could explain, for instance, loyalty to sites that distribute that content, like Digg and Reddit, or to particular genres of memes. The authors say it also crops up in choices that influence social connections, like the choice between voting Republican or Democratic, or to adoption of technology, like choosing between Verizon and AT&T.

Dr. Saberi gave the following example: “the reason I am using Facebook as opposed to another social network is not just its quality… it is also because I have a lot of friends who are using it”; he notes this could also apply to operating systems. Likewise, while there are many reasons to choose one cell phone carrier or another, features like free calls or texts within a network can influence a group of friends to migrate to the same network as each other.

Far from a complete explanation, then, but still an insight into the complexity of emergent behaviours at societal levels.

Unspinning the coal-powered cloud

Paul Raven @ 31-03-2010

All the anti-tech curmudgeons and doomsayers have leapt all over Greenpeace’s new campaign attacking cloud computing and the forthcoming Apple iYawn for their carbon footprint. (Fans of irony should note that the campaign documents can be downloaded in the ubiquitous PDF format from Greenpeace’s website.)

Of course, the energy appetite of any technology should be under scrutiny, but Greenpeace’s sloganeering is disproportionate when you actually look at the real numbers:

Computing accounts for a bit less than 3% of U.S. energy usage, according to Lawrence Livermore Labs. The global IT industry as a whole generates about 2% of global CO2 emissions.

Cars, on the other hand, which the vast majority of the people Greenpeace is trying to target also own, are the single largest contributor to climate change, according to NASA, exceeding all other sources in their impacts, and exceeding computing’s global impacts by more than a factor of ten. Greenpeace (I’m a supporter) has made a lot of noise about computing’s climate impacts, while the average commute or drive to the mall is likely far, far more a threat to the future than the average month’s Google searching…

That said, suggesting people drive less is an old tactic that’s had little success, so I suppose you can’t blame them for chasing a target that’s a little more trendy and newsworthy. Seeing this story bouncing around the blogs of the world is akin seeing “Drive Less, Walk More” billboards at a monster truck meet…

In other internet news, the rapid viral expansion of Chatroulette suggests that the internet’s cultural clock is running faster and faster… which means more irritating memes per year, I guess, though if you extend the logic they probably won’t last as long. Mixed blessings, AMIRITE?

And finally, Jeff Jarvis has penned a Cyberspace Bill Of Rights over at The Guardian. It’s all very sensible stuff, carefully worded… and hence lacks all of the naive flash and glorious geek bravado of John Perry Barlow’s Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace from back in 1996. Amazing how we’ve gone from wild frontier to corporate federation in just fifteen years, eh?

News cycle identified

Tom James @ 13-07-2009

lipstickonapSome glorious and fascinating reportage-porn at memetracker that shows how news stories are taken up and how long they last and what their impact is:

They found a consistent rhythm as stories rose into prominence and then fell off over just a few days, with a “heartbeat” pattern of handoffs between blogs and mainstream media. In mainstream media, they found, a story rises to prominence slowly then dies quickly; in the blogosphere, stories rise in popularity very quickly but then stay around longer, as discussion goes back and forth. Eventually though, almost every story is pushed aside by something newer.

There is something truly wonderful about seeing this information laid out in such an intuitive manner. This kind of analysis of the growth, spread, and retention of ideas is certainly an area that will expand and grow over time.

[via Physorg, from MemeTracker]

Stephen Hawking on transhumanism

Tom James @ 03-07-2009

curved_lawnPhysicist Stephen Hawking has commented on transhumanism and the future direction of humanity:

Hawking says that we have entered a new phase of evolution. “At first, evolution proceeded by natural selection, from random mutations. This Darwinian phase, lasted about three and a half billion years, and produced us, beings who developed language, to exchange information.”

But what distinguishes us from our cave man ancestors is the knowledge that we have accumulated over the last ten thousand years, and particularly, Hawking points out, over the last three hundred.

“I think it is legitimate to take a broader view, and include externally transmitted information, as well as DNA, in the evolution of the human race,” Hawking said.

This point has echos of Jack Cohen and Ian Stewarts ideas of extelligence, Richard Dawkins‘ notion of the meme, and Kevin Kelly‘s concept of the Technium. What is special about humans is as much about what happens outside and between our minds as any other intrinsic properties of homo sapiens sapiens

[via George Dvorsky, from The Daily Galaxy][image from Peter Kaminski on flickr]


Paul Raven @ 12-10-2008

Benchmark - Does Not Equal

Does Not Equal is a webcomic by Sarah Ennalscheck out the pre-Futurismic archives, and the strips that have been published here previously.

Futurismic readers in or near Toronto, take note: Sarah is going to be at the Kelp Queen Press table at the Royal Sarcophagus Society‘s bazaar on October 19th with her serialized novella, “Supervillain,” and she’s been accepted into Speakeasy’s one-night Comics Show at the Gladstone on November 6th.

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