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What Makes a Song a Hit?
Why are some songs so much more popular than others? To your average teen with an iPod, the answer is simple: because they're better. But if so, why is it so hard to predict which songs (and books and movies) will be hits, even for experts?
Researchers, reporting in Science, claim the answer to both questions is the same: people tend to like what they think other people like.
To test this idea, Matthew Salganik and colleagues set up a Web site where people could listen to and download unknown songs by unknown bands. Participants in one group were given only song titles and band names as their guide, while other groups could also see how many times each song had already been downloaded.
The researchers found that popular songs were more popular (and unpopular songs less popular) in the groups where participants had access to other people's opinions; but which particular songs became very popular was less predictable. "In general, the 'best' songs never do very badly, and the 'worst' songs never do extremely well, but almost any other result is possible," Salganik and colleagues say. In a related "Perspective" article, also in Science, Peter Hedström discusses how Web-based experiments like this one can help sociologists understand the relationship between individual and group behavior.
13 February 2006