Researchers at MIT have concluded from a research study that the spread of Twitter occurred through traditional social channels. That might not seem earth shaking because, well, how else would a new social technology spread? As the report notes, “MIT researchers who studied the growth of the newly hatched Twitter from 2006 to 2009 say the site’s growth in the United States actually relied primarily on media attention and traditional social networks based on geographic proximity and socioeconomic similarity. In other words, at least during those early years, birds of a feather flocked — and tweeted — together.
But the significance of the study and its results is better summarized by lead researcher Marta González, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and engineering systems at MIT, who is co-author of a paper on this subject appearing this month in the journal PLoS ONE. “The big question for people in industry is ‘How do we find the right person or hub to adopt our new app so that it will go viral?’ But we found that the lone tech-savvy person can’t do it; this also requires word of mouth. The social network needs geographical proximity. … In the U.S. anyway, space and similarity matter.”
While the diffusion of innovation has been studied exhaustively for durable goods, little research into how free things like a website go viral. “Nobody has ever really looked at the diffusion among innovators of a no-risk, free or low-cost product that’s only useful if other people join you. It’s a new paradigm in economics: what to do with all these new things that are free and easy to share,” says MIT graduate student Jameson Toole, a co-author of the paper.
So maybe we can finally get a definitive answer to whether the freemium model is a good idea?