Is Information a Virus?

June 13, 2008 01:42 PM
by Liz Colville
New research suggests that “viral information” spreads in a very different way than an actual biological or computer virus does.

30-Second Summary

A new study has indicated that the so-called viral spread of information has a substantially different pattern than the spread of biological or computer viruses.

Jon Kleinberg, a computer scientist at the forefront of network theory, studies “social and information networks that underpin the Web and other on-line media” at Cornell University. The research he conducted with David Liben-Nowell of Carleton College examined the dissemination of a chain e-mail petition.

According to Kleinberg’s colleague, mathematician Steven Strogatz, online social networks can be “incestuous”; that is, information tends to travel within a limited social circle. In contrast, viruses—caught from someone who sneezes on the bus, for example—aren’t limited or discriminatory.

While Liben-Nowell and Kleinberg’s paper indicated that an e-mail may have to pass through hundreds of inboxes before reaching a particular recipient, an earlier study suggested that it’s possible to transmit an e-mail between two points in only five to seven steps.

Such studies are part of network theory, which examines the connections among people and how information is passed among them.

Headline Link: ‘Network theory’ debunks viral marketing myths

Reference: ‘Tracing information flow on a global scale using Internet chain-letter data’

Background: ‘Six Degrees of Separation’

Related Topics: Real-World Uses for Network Theory, Viral Marketing

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