Positive feedback can kick-start success

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Posted: Sunday, May 4, 2014 12:00 am

Does success breed success?

In an era in which the economic gap between the richest 1 percent of the population and the remaining 99 percent has been growing for years, that’s a pressing question.

Now some scientists say that a little initial success not based on merit can create a positive feedback mechanism, widening the disparity between those who do and don’t get the early win.

The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that a little nudge goes a long way.

An international team of researchers ran a real-world experiment on a wide variety of efforts, including fundraising drives, political causes and product reviews. They did it in an arena in which they could easily introduce a “success” into a system and track its potential effects: the Web, specifically the websites Kickstarter, Wikipedia, Epinions.com and Change.org.

The scientists sampled 200 unfunded Kickstarter campaigns and made a donation to 100 of them, to see if those that got the initial money did better than those that didn’t. They took 305 new, unrated product reviews at Epinions.com and gave some of them a “very helpful” rating. They sampled 521 top-rated editors at Wikipedia and gave a portion of them an award for their work. They looked at 200 early campaigns on Change.org and gave 100 of them a dozen signatures each.

Then they watched what happened with those that received the early initial success compared with those that did not.

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