Surfers conservative when it comes to judging web talent

The dynamic and global nature of the web is analogous to many of the features of human society; the web evolves, allows different levels of interactivity, and enables commerce. The transparency and quantifiable nature of the web, however, enables researchers to study phenomena that might be difficult to asses in wider society. Joseph Kong, Nima Sarshar, and Vwani Roychowdhury took advantage of the the World Wide Web to study a significant social question: does experience trump talent? HangZhou Night Net

At numerous points in our lives, we have to choose between experience and new talent. Would you choose to hire people with a full résumé, or those who are promising newcomers? Are you more likely to trust news from a seasoned reporter, or fresh recruits? What about elected officials? In all of these decisions, we must balance the needs for stability and innovation. The same issue plays an important role on the web. Is it easy for new websites to thrive in cyber-society, and how often does that success come at the expense of established sites?

Kong, Sarshar, and Roychowdhury decided that, to answer those questions, it is simplest to look at the number of links web pages receive over the course of a year. They defined "experienced" web pages as those that start out with a large number of links, while startups only begin with a few links. For them, web pages that obtain over 1,000 links over the period of a year are winners.

From June 2006 to June 2007, they found around 10 million web pages that made it through 13 months without being deleted. That's actually quite an accomplishment; they estimate that websites vanish with a minimum turnover rate of nearly 80 percent. For most of the survivors, nothing changed; the number of links to the page remained relatively static.

Entrenched web pages are not unshakable—it is not that unusual for established web pages to start off well and then fail to gain much further attention. The authors also determined that it is extremely rare for unknown web pages to reach over 1,000 links, but the probability rises steadily as the number of initial incoming links increases.

The high turnover rate also meant that there were many new sites appearing, which partially offset the rarity of success. As a result, out of all the pages that attracted over 1,000 links, 48 percent represented fresh talents.

The authors suggest there are comparisons to be made between the web and one type of idealized society. "In this regard, it is much like what we observe in high-mobility and meritocratic societies: People with entitlement continue to have access to the best resources," they write, "but there is just enough screening for ?tness that allows for talented winners to emerge and join the ranks of the leaders and gain higher revenue through online advertisements."

Although the scientists created a methodology that numerically gauges the competition between experience and talent for the World Wide Web, their methodology could easily be expanded to other systems. For instance, the network of scientific publications is worth studying, as one expects established scientists to have a significant advantage.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2008. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0805921105

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