A Simple Generative Model of Collective Online Behaviour
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, vol. 111 no. 29, 10411-10415.
36 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2013 Last revised: 23 Jul 2014
Date Written: May 28, 2014
Human activities increasingly take place in online environments, providing novel opportunities for relating individual behaviors to population-level outcomes. In this paper, we introduce a simple generative model for the collective behavior of millions of social networking site users who are deciding between different software applications. Our model incorporates two distinct mechanisms: one is associated with recent decisions of users, and the other reflects the cumulative popularity of each application. Importantly, although various combinations of the two mechanisms yield long-time behavior that is consistent with data, the only models that reproduce the observed temporal dynamics are those that strongly emphasize the recent popularity of applications over their cumulative popularity. This demonstrates — even when using purely observational data without experimental design — that temporal data-driven modeling can effectively distinguish between competing microscopic mechanisms, allowing us to uncover previously unidentified aspects of collective online behavior.
Keywords: modelling, collective behaviour, online social networks, branching processes, complex systems
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