Listen to this summary of a new paper (PDF) by the reknowned internet researcher Bernardo Huberman (now at HP Labs):
People persistently upload content to social media sites, hoping for the highly unlikely outcome of topping the charts and reaching a wide audience. And yet, an analysis of the production histories and success dynamics of 10 million videos from YouTube revealed that the more frequently an individual uploads content the less likely it is that it will reach a success threshold. This paradoxical result is further compounded by the fact that the average quality of submissions does increase with the number of uploads, with the likelihood of success less than that of playing a lottery.
Whoa! So even though their later videos are ranked higher in quality, additional videos posted by users will usually fare worse in popularity than their earlier ones. One caveat: Success in this experiment is measured as the top 1% videos, so in fact the number of views might increase, but the ranking of the video in the overall world of YouTube decreases; it is less of a “hit.”
The researchers say they have no explanation for why folks continue to persist in posting videos despite their lowering hit rankings, but they note, they would have better luck on a lottery. Hit-ness must not be as important as many folks think. I am more impressed that this paper shows that persistence increases quality — which is what any artist will tell you.
So the Persistence Paradox says that persistence increases quality but not hits.
Worse than the lottery. The red line plots the success probability of YouTube producers as a function of their persistence level. The blue line plots the success probability of a producer who participates in a lottery with 0.01 winning probability for each draw, as a function of her persistence level.