Each year in Boston we have a road race, a marathon. All I knew about marathons before I moved here I learned in grade school. It’s bad news: you die at the end. But in compensation you get remembered as a mythic hero. Now that I live here I picked up some random knowledge. For example it is important not to sprint out into an early lead early. You gotta pace your self. Hearing that again this year I thought: yeah! that’s not the advice we give to startups.
Instead we counsel that you gotta get momentum early. I recall that Steve Jobs advised the Segway team that they needed a huge PR campaign to launch if they ever hoped to trigger the kind of change they imagined. They didn’t take he advice, and they didn’t trigger the change. So, see!
Information cascades are one of the many processes that generates power-law distributions. Kieran Healy reports on some fun research into this. The researchers hacked the early days of a random sample activities at Kickstarter, Epinions, Wikipedia, and Change.org. They blessed some projects with in a small way and then waited to see if how much it helped. It helped.
Kieran is a professional and his commentary is very astute. Of course, if you’re interested in hacking, helping, defending systems like these then it’s very nice to have some experiments reported publicly.
Apparently this year’s Marathon winner did take an early lead. There is a touching story about collective action that possibly explains why that worked for him. One would assume a marathon is the archetype of an activity immune to collective action, but you’d be wrong.