Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I'm a bit slow but just got sent the link to this video of an ad by T-Mobile.

Angry Birds in the flesh is hilarious. But it raises for me two questions. Why is Angry Birds so popular? Is this the right way for a network operator to promote smartphones?

The popularity of all cultural objects - songs, movies, TV shows and computer games - is a perplexing field. No "expert" can accurately predict the popularity of specific items, and the distribution of popularity is extremely uneven, with "blockbuster" effects (like Angry Birds) and "superstar" effects (especially big names in movies).

A good empirical study of this was by Salganik Dodds and Watts in Science in 2006. They studied the ratings given to a randomly selected sample of new songs when individuals were given no idea how much other people rated them versus the case where they did have an indication of other people's ratings.

The study showed that "social influence contributes to inequality of outcomes in cultural markets" and that "as individuals are subject to stronger forms of social influence the collective outcomes will become increasingly unequal." (an extension of the study by Salganik and Watts appeared in 2009).

In other words there isn't necessarily anything particular special about Angry Birds - it just is.

But more interestingly is the relationship of Angry Birds to smartphones. The only use made of the phone functionality is to download the software. The game itself doesn't require connectivity, the use it makes of smartphone functionality is simply the touchscreen.

Contrast this to other simple apps like weather or maps that make the most of both parts of the functionality. Much harder to demonstrate I guess but more logical than a network operator saying "come subscribe with me to get a subsidised smartphone that you can just use as an independent game console."

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

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