Is the Tipping Point Toast? Trendsetting
In the past few years, Duncan Watts, a network-theory scientist who recently took a sabbatical from Columbia University and is now working for Yahoo, has performed a series of controversial, barn-burning experiments challenging the whole Influentials thesis. He has analyzed email patterns and found that highly connected people are not, in fact, crucial social hubs. He has written computer models of rumor spreading and found that your average slob is just as likely as a well-connected person to start a huge new trend. And last year, Watts demonstrated that even the breakout success of a hot new pop band might be nearly random.
Any attempt to engineer success through Influentials, he argues, is almost certainly doomed to failure. "It just doesn't work," Watts says, "A rare bunch of cool people just don't have that power. And when you test the way marketers say the world works, it falls apart. There's no there there." And this is not, he argues, mere academic whimsy. He has developed a new technique for propagating ads virally, which can double or even quadruple the reach of an ordinary online campaign by harnessing the pass-around power of everyday people - and ignoring Influentials altogether.