Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Are You Infected?

Someone asked me a question today about how e-publishers market their books. She was concerned because she didn't see any e-books on the Publishers Weekly best-seller lists or any mention of them in the Arts and Leisure sections of newspapers.

I was tickled because, although she asked about electronic publishing, she sought validation for it in the traditional print arena. The Internet is a whole new publishing world with brand new rules.

This reminded me of a really interesting article I read back in 2004. It was written by four IBM researchers and was presented at the International WWW Conference that year. It looked at models for information diffusion on the Internet. One of these was the disease propagation model, the theoretical paradigm developed by mathemetician Daniel Bernoulli in 1760.

Bernoulli postulated that an epidemic begins with an infected host. The host comes in contact with other persons. Those persons will either be susceptible to the disease or resistant to it. Those who are susceptible become infected; those who are resistant do not. The newly infected persons then go off to interact with a new generation of people, and the process is repeated again and again, spreading the disease.

If each infected person only infects one other person, the disease remains contained. However, when the infected people infect more than one person each, the disease grows exponentially, and this "contact" process becomes an epidemic.

So, why am I nattering on about this? Think of it in terms of "buzz" on the Internet. Remember, back in December, when I got so excited about Irish author, John Connolly? For simplicity's sake, let's say 100 of you read my blog that day. Say, too, that of the 100, only 35 of you found the idea of a cross genre mystery/horror novel interesting. That means 35% were susceptible while 65% were resistant. Of those 35% who were susceptible, say 10% actually cared enough to go out and find Connolly's latest book, "Black Angel." Of those ten people, five liked it enough to recommend it on their blogs. If 100 brand new people read about it on each of those blogs, we're looking at a total of 500 more persons who will either be susceptible or resistant. Each new generation spreads the "buzz" about Connolly broader and broader in the Internet population. THAT's the disease propagation model. And that's how information is communicated on the Internet. It's much more decentralized than the old communication venues. Individuals decide who to trust and where to find information.

The whole point is that we now have entirely new ways of communicating and disseminating information.

Another illustration of what I'm talking about: Four months ago, I cancelled my subscription to a daily newspaper. Because it was a traumatic event for me, I blogged about it on November 10.

About a week ago, the daily newspaper began showing up again. The first day a paper appeared on my front lawn, I called them. They explained that I would receive one week's worth of free papers. They were trying to entice me to return to their journalistic fold.

The interesting thing is I haven't opened even one of those newspapers. After YEARS of receiving a daily paper, I am now addicted to getting my news in real time on the Internet. I can't be bothered to open the paper, looking for the story I want.

Pay attention to the world around you, folks. Begin thinking about it in new ways.

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