Information overload from the internet is causing more people to be influenced by what their friends are doing
The rise of the internet has made word of mouth recommendations more important than ever because of information overload, a new study by Oxford University suggests.
People are becoming so bamboozled by endless bestseller lists for games, music, apps and books, that they are now far more likely to be swayed by what their friends are saying on social media.
Researchers developed a mathematical model to test whether users were influenced in the choice of apps that they install on their Facebook pages.
They found that they are far more likely to ‘copy’ what is happening in their social network.
Dr Felix Reed-Tsochas, of Oxford University, said: “We found that copying in the social network environment is driving behaviour more than bestseller lists are.
“Obviously global popularity is important to some extent, but what people in your social network have been doing seems to play a more significant role in online behaviour.
“This might be because users need to make quick decisions in information-rich environments, but other research has identified similar imitative behaviour in the off-line world.”
The mathematical model examined data from a study published in 2010, which had tracked 100 million installations of apps adopted by Facebook users during two months.
In the 2010 study, based on data collected in 2007, all Facebook users were able to see a list of the most popular apps on their pages, as well as being notified about their friends’ recent app installations.
By incorporating figures from the installation of Facebook apps, they found that users selected apps on the basis of recent adoptions by their friends rather than by using the social networking site’s equivalent of a best-seller list.
The researchers found that, although users seem to be influenced by both, the stronger effect on popularity dynamics was caused by the recent behaviour of others.
The bestseller list did have a ‘mild’ effect on the behaviour of Facebook users, but an instinct to copy the behaviour of others was by far the more dominant instinct.
Professor James Gleeson, of Limerick University, said: “This study reveals how we can explore different scenarios using mathematical models to disentangle what drives people to behave the way they do using large data sets from the real online world.
“This opens up lots of new possibilities for studying human behaviour.”
The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.