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Twitter and Income Distribution

UPDATE 11:35am: don’t think I obsess about Twitter numbers (see end of post)

I posted a link on Twitter to yesterday’s great post by Laura: “Does Japan need your donation?”. A little while later the traffic on Aid Watch exploded. Being still pretty clueless about social media, I didn’t know why. Much later in the day, the reason became apparent — it had made it into @TopTweets Favorites, which I had never heard of  but apparently has, oh, 1, or 2, or a million followers.

An aggregator like @TopTweets picks out what is already getting noticed and then makes it a LOT more noticed, makes it “famous for being famous.”

Aid Watch was reasonably underwhelmed by the experience but did think — there must be a development lesson here somewhere…

Indicators of human ability like IQ follow a bell curve – a normal distribution (as do other human attributes like height). But income distribution does NOT follow a bell curve. As a previous post noted, under the bell curve the top 1% of American men are more than 6 foot 4 inches tall. Under the distribution that income actually follows, the tallest 1 percent would be more than 46 feet tall! (14 meters).

One possible story is that income is partly driven by aggregators like @TopTweets. Twitter Fame itself is bankable, as Paris Hilton (3.6 million followers) could tell you. So is a lot of other fame.  The top authors, doctors, lawyers, investment bankers, movie-makers,musicians etc. keep getting recommended and re-recommended and get very noticed and very rich (assuming also that they can keep expanding their business with their fame).  Other of only slightly lesser talent never quite make the cutoff to explode into 46-foot-tall-land.

UPDATE 11:35am: don’t think I obsess about Twitter numbers…. Wow, @TopTweets boosted me over 12,000 followers! Oh, #$%^&!, still 7,600 to go to catch up to @jeffdsachs.  And he probably doesn’t even do his own Twitter account….

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  1. Jens wrote:

    Well in research policy and sociology, this is called the Matthew effect:

    Which possibly coudl be developed in Development economics, possibly related to trust issues or something that the economic actors that are well known will have more offerings to participate in economic transactions, somehting something..

    Posted March 18, 2011 at 4:10 am | Permalink
  2. Troy Camplin wrote:

    Basic scale free netowrk geometry. Have to love power laws.

    Posted March 18, 2011 at 8:03 am | Permalink
  3. Tajul wrote:

    Look perfect what is expecting for a long time.

    Posted March 29, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

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  2. By Rafe’s Roundup March 19 at Catallaxy Files on March 18, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    […] Tweet with care. You might make the top 20. […]

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    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

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