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The Whales of Social Networks have outsized influence in those networks.


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A tiny number of curators can have outsized influence in their networks.

Reddit, Digg, and Netscape are but three examples:

Back in 2007, the Wall Street Journal did an analysis of more than 25,000 user postings from several of the largest sharing and collaboration Web sites of the time.  On AOL's Netscape site, which then had roughly a million users, the paper’s reporters found that 13% of the postings rated “most popular” came from a single user—a 27-year-old Dayton, Ohio, computer programmer with the screen name STONERS.  And at Digg, a full third of the postings popular enough to make it to the home page came from just 30 of that site’s 900,000 members.

But perhaps most interesting of all was what the reporters found at Reddit.  In 2007 Reddit had 400,000 members, but one of the most influential and widely read was a man named Adam Fuhrer, who specialized in newsworthy items about criminal justice and software releases.  Fuhrer had garnered particularly favorable ratings from other Reddit members for his appraisals of the security flaws and price tag of Microsoft’s new Vista operating system when it was released, for instance. So when the Wall Street Journal’s reporters looked him up to better understand how he had come to have such influence, imagine their surprise at learning that Adam Fuhrer was 12 years old.  He lived with his parents in Toronto, where he attended elementary school.

This example of a few users influencing most users is also (anecdotally) common today on sites like Wikipedia and Twitter.

A network evolves over time by “preferential attachment” – meaning that whenever a new member joins or a new connection is made, it is highly likely to involve those current members who already have the most connections.

With preferential attachment, positive feedback loops kick in:

So how did Adam Fuhrer acquire such remarkable influence on Reddit? Most likely because he authored something very smart that someone else who already had a great deal of influence voted up (giving Adam "karma" points, in Reddit lingo). And because this influential member shared his own favorable opinion, other members began to pay attention, and more members tracked the next item that Adam posted – which, if it was also reasonably smart, would attract even more attention, and more karma points for Adam. This is a positive feedback loop -- a self-reinforcing mechamism that is common in many network phenomena.

Networks cannot predict WHO their Adam Fuhrer's will be.

They can only predict THAT THERE WILL BE AN Adam Fuhrer on any growing network. Just like there was that one Netscape user with 13% of the home-page postings there, or those 30 Digg members who generated a third of the most popular postings there.

The power-law distribution of influence is an emergent characteristic of every online social network, so it is quite predictable, even inevitable.

On PandaWhale, we call those most-influential users our WHALES.

We love our whales.

And so do our hundreds of thousands of readers.

(Soon to be millions of readers!)

 so awesome

And companies or individuals who pay ludicrous amounts to campaign contributions have an outsized influence in the legislature/congress/laws.

That's true. Sometimes it doesn't even take ludicrous amounts.

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