We have those things in life we prefer over everything. You have those people who wouldn’t use any other phone other than an iPhone and those that believe that Android is the best thing ever. There are those that would only ever buy jeans from Gap. Quite rightly, some would call this brand love – though it’s just an extreme use of preference.
I’m sure you can think of many occasions where you have exercised this right. It’s perfectly natural to only want an Innocent smoothy when you are in a smoothy mood – you’ve tried the other ones and they don’t satisfy you the same way. I’m the same about grapefruit juice, I’ve tried to enjoy Tesco grapefruit juice… trust me I have but I only have time for Tropicana grapefruit juice. It’s the best.
This behaviour you will see again and again. It’s called preferential attachment. It’s a term used in network science to help us understand how networks are formed.
The more links a ‘hub’ has, the more likely it is to receive links in the future. It’s kinda like a snowball down the mountain effect.
Pause for thought though, what makes people act this way? It’s content – the best content naturally gains traction and has lots of fans who want to talk about it (think Lady Gaga – again!) so it makes sense that more people will know about it.
There is a good reason why in Hollywood, you get a script and a budget then you really start to worry about which actors you attach to a project. A flimsy script and a star that lots of people know such as Will Smith in I Am Legend can mean paydirt for the movie studio. These ‘hubs’ or superstars are known as “bankable stars” by having their name on a movie poster, you can virtually guarantee making money at the box office.
Let’s just say it’s late at night and you are channel flicking through some movies, there is one film with Will Smith (it is I Am Legend sadly) and the other choice of film is an Italian subtitled film. It’s some kind of love story and very melodramatic. Would you watch the Will Smith movie or the unknown Italian romantic movie?
Most of you will naturally pick to go with Will Smith. Big Will won’t let you down, he was in The Fresh Prince and made you laugh. He was in Seven Pounds and made you cry. His daughter did that “Whip My Hair” song. He is so good that he makes you forget that he did Wild Wild West and had an album called Big Willie Style. Gosh.
In the opposite, you might be the biggest Italian film buff in the world and know an actor who never does a bad film. You’ve exposed yourself to lots of his content, so you trust him to deliver. The process is the same. It’s that belief in delivering results that makes us preferentially attached.
This doesn’t mean that your preferential attachment can’t change, Tropicana might change their recipe and I’ll have to change which grapefruit juice I can get. I might even give up grapefruit juice altogether. What I do know is, I’ll give it only one or two chances before I decide that Tropicana grapefruit juice has changed for the worse.
Can you remember Geena Davis? Geena Davis was a “bankable star” during the late 80s with movies under her belt including Beetlejuice, The Fly, Thelma & Louise and a League Of Their Own. Things were going great for Geena, then one day she starred in one of the biggest flops and box office disasters ever called Cutthroat Island. It lost an astonishing $80m!
So what happened to Geena Davis after this? You can guarantee the reason her career nosedived is because of this movie. How could you attach her to a project when the world knew she was in Cutthroat Island? It was major turn-off. Particularly for the fact that her rise to stardom was very quick and she didn’t have years and years of box office hits behind her. The trust from the studios was gone and therefore her “network” eroded – her fans had nothing new to talk about (that was worth talking about anyway).
To close this off, we can use a very recent example of a huge network that lost out to another. MySpace.
Millions of people were using MySpace and then one day Facebook turned up, everyone transferred their online-life to Facebook. MySpace had it all it seemed, so many people preferentially attached to its service and then *poof* another social network came with better features and it was all over.
There are many, many more millions of users now preferentially attached to Facebook. In the online world it has lots of trust placed on it from those users to deliver. What an enviable position to be in! There are many companies like this in industries who have earned this trust and their competitors cannot break them down.
In Summary: Preferential attachment – Exceptional content delivered time and time again brings lots of fans and they prefer you over the competition. Don’t let them down!