The Science of Hits and why you can’t pick them

New research shows us the old adage “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like” – is just not true. We don’t know much about art -or- what we like. A recent study shows that intrinsic quality of a work (in this case a song) is at best a 50% predictor of it’s future popularity.

Can’t remember if I pointed to this article before but it is enormously important.

…predicting hits is not only difficult but actually impossible, no matter how much you know about individual tastes.

The reason is that when people tend to like what other people like, differences in popularity are subject to what is called “cumulative advantage,” or the “rich get richer” effect. This means that if one object happens to be slightly more popular than another at just the right point, it will tend to become more popular still. As a result, even tiny, random fluctuations can blow up, generating potentially enormous long-run differences among even indistinguishable competitors

This article seems to keep coming up in everything I’m looking at these days. It also influenced my think around flavour as in the line between how much of the flavour of our modern world is deliberately arbitrary vs how much the result of the uncontrollable chaos of snowball effects, tipping points or butterfly wings in the amazon? Alternately if we are building social media platforms – or content – how we can harness, or at least make the best of, these effects.

I strongly believe these affects are fundamental to all mediums affecting everything from fashion, to technology adoption to political ideas.

That memes (or mediums) can be popular just for being popular. Who would ever have guessed.