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The depressing truth about web stardom

Persistence actually reduces the chances of success, according to a new study of YouTube stats

The web is a classic “attention economy”–a system in which people compete for attention. Ask many experts for the secret of success in such a system and they’re likely to point to persistence and high quality content.

But a study of the success of videos uploaded to YouTube suggest that quality has little affect on success and persistence seems to actually reduce it.

Fang Wu and Bernardo Huberman at HP Labs in Palo Alto, studied the hit rates of some 10 million videos uploaded by 600,000 users before 30 April 2008. They classified a success as a video that is among the top 1 per cent of those viewed.

Their rather depressing finding is that “the more frequently an individual uploads content the less likely it is that it will reach a success threshold.”

That much is clear from their data. What is rather less clear is why this happens. After all, uploaders clearly get better at producing videos as they persist, presumable because their video editing and uploading skills improve. And in fact video producers receive higher ratings for their later videos, even as their success rate declines.

Wu and Huberman suggest a reason: “when a producer submits several videos over time, their novelty and hence their appeal to a wide audience tends to decrease.” Perhaps.

A more puzzling question is why the producers persist in the face of declining audience figures. Here Wu and Huberman are a little more convincing. They argue that like gamblers, video producers overestimate the chance of winning when the probabilities are small.

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/0904.0489 :Persistence and Success in the Attention Economy

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