Facebook is proof of our herd instinct
Technology may have moved on but it seems people cannot shake off the herding instinct, a study of 50 million Facebook users found today.
The Oxford University-led research looked at the rate at which members of the networking site added software applications, known as apps, to their pages -- and found social influence had a large role to play.
Analysing the anonymous data, the researchers found people display a herding instinct, making them want to use the same product as others, but only once it has reached a certain level of popularity.
Dr Felix Reed-Tsochas from Oxford University's Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, said: "Our analysis reveals a very interesting new finding. Users only appear to be influenced by the choices of other users above a certain level of popularity, and at that point, popularity drives future popularity.
"Below this threshold, the effects of social influence are imperceptible. Because popularity seems to depend mainly on the choices of others in the community, rather than intrinsic characteristics of the applications themselves, it does not appear possible to predict which applications will succeed and which will fail ahead of time."
A computer was set up to monitor Facebook every hour, recording how many of the website's then 50 million users had signed up for each app.
When the research was carried out, Facebook published a list of the most popular apps on its website, and also notified people when their friends downloaded a new one.
This meant that users were open to influence not just from their local network, but from the whole community of Facebook members.
Dr Reed-Tsochas said: "It was very interesting, because usually when you see the spread of a product or an idea, you don't know to what extent that is because there has been a media campaign, and to what extent it's word of mouth."
He said Facebook was an ideal site to study when looking at the spread of ideas and influence.
In the two-month study carried out in 2007, the researchers tracked 100 million installations of apps. They found that the popularity of an app soared after it reached a rate of 55 applications a day.
On average, an app would be installed by 1,000 users, but the most popular during the period, called Top Friends, was used by 12 million people.