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Second Life Data Offers Window Into How Trends Spread

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Second Life virtual world

University of Michigan researchers are using information available through the Second Life virtual world to study how "gestures," or pieces of code that users must acquire to make their avatar perform certain motions, make their way through the online community. About half of the hand gestures the researchers studied spread through the virtual world from friend to friend, instead of everyone going to the store and obtaining gestures from the source, potentially reflecting how trends spread in the real world. "There's been a high correspondence between the real world and virtual worlds," says Michigan assistant professor Lada Adamic. "We're not saying this is exactly how people share in the real world, but we believe it does have some relevance."

The researchers found that the gestures that spread from friend to friend were not as widely distributed as gestures that were distributed outside of social networks, like those sold in stores or offered as give-aways. The researchers also found that users who adopt gestures early, among the first 5 percent to 10 percent, are not necessarily influencers, or users who tend to distribute gestures most broadly.

"In our study, we sought to develop a more rigorous understanding of social processes that underlies many cultural and economic phenomena," says graduate student Eytan Bakshy, the author of a paper on the study. "While some of our findings may seem quite intuitive, what I find most exciting is that we were actually able to test some rather controversial and competing hypotheses about the role of social networks in influence." Bakshy will present the research at the 10th ACM Conference on Electronic Commerce, which takes place July 6-10 at Stanford University in Stanford, California.

From University of Michigan News Service
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