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What determines the music we like?

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Back when DSN was headquatered at Columbia, it helped out a bit with Matt Salganik and Duncan Watts’ project on runaway popularity effects in music downloading. The paper is now out in Science (vol 311, page 854): Experimental Study of Inequality and Unpredictability in an Artificial Cultural Market.

It’s a fascinating look at how popularity breeds popularity in a controlled but realistic setting with an enormous sample size of over 14,000 people. Have a read.

“One explanation for the observed inequality of outcomes [in cultural markets] is that the mapping from quality to success is convex (i.e., differences in quality correspond to larger differences in success), leading to what has been called the superstar effect, or winner-take-all markets. Because models of this type, however, assume that the mapping from quality to success is deterministic and that quality is known, they cannot account for the observed unpredictability of outcomes. An alternate explanation that accounts for both inequality and unpredictability asserts that individuals do not make decisions independently, but rather are influenced by the behavior of others”

Books by Duncan Watts
* Small Worlds
* Six Degrees